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My role and training as an ICW specialist

by Steve Mann

Reprinted from Notes on Anthropology and Intercultural Community Work 18:16-22
© 1995 Summer Institute of Linguistics, Inc.


This paper contrasts the more traditional approach of CD by means of "projects" with the broader view based on a process to strengthen the initiative of a group of people. The author describes the different ICW roles he had in Peru relating to both approaches and shows how his background and training helped his own fieldwork.


When I was taking my first community development courses at SIL in 1978, one of the ideas emphasized to us was that a community development (CD) worker would probably be filling a variety of roles in his work. Since then I have found this to be very true. This paper will describe some of the roles I have filled. I will consider not only the traditional concept of community development but also the broader definition.

When I arrived in Peru in 1982, I was introduced to several older branch members who had the job title of "CD worker." One ran a beef cattle operation; another developed well pumps and ran a small mechanics shop; another fought government red tape for the training and placement of indigenous elementary school teachers; a fourth person, working part-time, oversaw expenditures of funding from one main outside source for the purchase of small agricultural machines and the funding of CD "projects."

While all of this was good and had its place, it tended to restrict the branch's real definition of community development. The idea of seeing CD as a process, strengthening local leadership, and based on the initiative of the people themselves was only incidentally related to what some of these SIL workers were doing. CD, for most branch members, was a matter of introducing Western technology and doing "projects."

I am sure this difference of perception between the textbook definition of CD and that of many of SIL's fieldworkers is what led to the change of terminology in SIL's academic training programs. I think the move to Intercultural Community Work was a wise one, although my impression is that the new name has not become part of the vocabulary of my branch's administration or language teams. It has certainly not replaced the term CD or how it is perceived. All this discussion is background to describing the roles I filled on the field. Some of those roles fit the definition I learned in my SIL training. Other roles fit the more traditional perception of CD within SIL, that is, that community development is centered on the introduction of Western technology to an ethnic group in order to improve its standard of living. "Projects" overseen by the expatriate worker would be the means of implementing the "improvements."