News - Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School

Genesis of Recupera Chile

| May 14, 2013

Following Hurricane Katrina, the Belfer Center's Broadmoor Project was developed by then Belfer Center Senior Fellow Doug Ahlers to work with the Broadmoor neighborhood to rebuild the devastated community. Broadmoor is now a model of recovery, almost 90 percent rebuilt, with a new charter school, library, and community center. (See Broadmoor Project.)

With Ahlers vision and leadership, the highly successful Broadmoor Project has also helped other disaster-struck communities. Here, Ahlers describes how the Broadmoor model is currently assisting in the recovery of three Chilean communities nearly destroyed by the earthquake and tsunami of 2010.


The genesis of the Recupera Chile Initiative is two-fold:

1. The success of the Broadmoor Project gave us cause to believe that the Broadmoor model could be applied to other post-disaster or post-conflict situations.  To test the replicability of the model of community-based recovery that we developed in the Broadmoor Project, we felt that we should test the model in another disaster.  If it could work in another post-disaster situation, and work in a different culture, economic, political, and social, system, then the Broadmoor Project Model might truly serve as a wider solution to recovering and rebuilding in post-disaster situations. Chile's 2010 earthquake and tsunami provided a good test-bed for applying the Broadmoor model in another setting. In addition to applying the model to a different culture, we also moved from the urban environment of New Orleans to testing the model with rural communities.  It was also important for us to test the Broadmoor model in the developing world to be sure that the model was applicable beyond just developed countries (and beyond just the U.S.).

2. The opportunity presented itself at a meeting in Santiago, Chile in March of 2011 that was organized by Harvard's David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies (DRCLAS). The day-long seminar was a meeting of the heads of ministries within the Chilean government and Harvard faculty and staff, including President Drew Faust and Dean David Elwood. I presented our Broadmoor experience and recommended that the Chilean government adopt the community-based recovery model developed in the Broadmoor Project.  President Drew Faust made a general commitment that Harvard would work with the government of Chile to support them as they recovered and rebuilt the southern regions of the country that were badly damaged by the earthquake and tsunami.  DRCLAS has a regional office in Santiago, and the staff there took up the challenge of fulfilling President Faust's commitment. I had assumed that in a country with a very centralized governance structure, our decentralized community-based model would not go over well. But instead, the government of President Piñera was actually looking for ways to decentralize government functions and build local capacity and capabilities. Piñera's government is populated by many Harvard graduates (including HKS alums) and the Broadmoor Project model resonated with them.  As a result, the Recupera Chile initiative was born.  

The plan for Recupera Chile was to "adopt" (work closely with) three communities in Southern Chile. Like Broadmoor, we would focus our attention on only these communities and we would commit to a multi-year project so that energy and resources would be concentrated geographically, and projects, programs, interventions, training, and resources, could be cumulative over time.  This approach of being concentrated in the dimension of space, but expansive along the dimension of time is a key aspect of the Broadmoor Project model. Like Broadmoor, we "partner" with the communities, and build a coalition of external partners (a network of partners) to support the local communities in their recovery. While we have the approval and cooperation of the national, regional and local governments, we have set the project up to work "with" government (often closely) but not "through" government -- the communities themselves are our "clients".  The partnership network that we create is a coalition of government departments (at each level of government), corporations, Chilean universities, individual philanthropists, Chilean foundations (non-profits), and international NGO's and development agencies.  

Harvard is at the helm.  Much of the coordination activity of the initiative is done through DRCLAS as they have the in-country staff and knowledge to manage the project.  I serve as the director of the Recupera Chile initiative.  At Harvard, in addition to myself, DRCLAS plays a key role, as do faculty from the Harvard Graduate School of Design and from the Harvard Medical School.  Faculty at MIT also participate in the project team, as do faculty from the University of Bío Bío and the University of Concepción in Chile.  There are also several Recupera Chile full and part-time staff that work in either Cambridge (one full-time project coordinator and one part-time coordinator) or in Chile (2 full-time and 2 part-time people running programming in the field). The staff at the Santiago office of DRCLAS provide a great deal of their time and effort in the leadership and coordination of the project.  Recupera Chile also provides many opportunities for students to work on projects in Chile through semester long "client" based class projects, J-Term classes working in the disaster damaged communities in Chile, summer internships in the communities in Chile, and research assistant positions in Cambridge.

The three communities we are working with are:  Cobquecura, Dichato and Perales. Perales and Dichato were almost completely destroyed by the tsunami that followed the 8.8 magnitude earthquake (the sixth largest in recorded history in the world). Cobquecura was the epicenter of the earthquake. 

Perales is a very small rural village that is based on subsistence living -- they gather algae and shellfish for subsistence (not commerce) and they grow what they can from their plot of land around their home. The tsunami waves damaged the marine ecosystem and left the land with high-salinity and eroded top-soil. Plants and seed stock were lost, and clam and oyster beds were destroyed. Family milk cows, chickens, pigs, and work oxen were swept out to sea. Livelihood restoration is key to the recovery of Perales. 

Dichato is a summer beach resort (regional tourism), and it is the site of the largest earthquake displaced persons camp in the country. The camps are called aldeas (or campimentos) where families live in medi aguas which are temporary one-room wooden shacks that were provided by the government after the earthquake. Dichato has been the site of unrest and violent protests by residents living in the aldeas as they wait for permanent housing to be rebuilt (fortunately, the housing is now starting to be completed in significant quantities).  Three years of living in the aldeas and the lack of employment due to the disruption of the tourism industry has created a great deal of family emotional stress and mental health issues.  Child and adult mental health, the restoration of tourist amenities and jobs, and the rebuilding of housing in areas protected from future tsunamis have been the primary needs for Dichato's recovery. 

Cobquecura is a more isolated farming and fishing village with some tourism focused on the surfing in the area.  Cobquecura is a national historic district of colonial era adobe buildings.  The adobe buildings performed poorly in the shaking of the earthquake, but the restoration of the historic adobe buildings is critical to the community's identity and to the economic activity generated by tourists that visit Cobquecura for its postcard-like historic appearance. The challenge is to rebuild or repair historic buildings in a seismically safe way. Economic development (livelihood restoration and future development) is an important part of Cobquecura's recovery.

We work with the communities to solve their disaster recovery problems in the areas of physical recovery (built and natural environment recovery), cultural and heritage recovery, economic recovery, and social recovery. And like the Broadmoor Project, Recupera Chile is focused on the building of the capabilities and capacities of the residents and entrepreneurs of the communities. Our goal is not to come in and do things for the community, but rather to build the capabilities and capacity of the community itself -- to empower them to effect their own recoveries.

The projects we work on are varied:  early childhood education, environmental damage remediation, mental-health interventions, livelihood restoration grants, workforce training, community capacity building, business consulting, entrepreneurship and innovation contests, economic development planning, agriculture and aquaculture development, tourism amenity development and tourism promotion, seismically safe rebuilding projects, historic building restoration, artisan and craft development, tsunami mitigation projects, and many more.  But it is important to note that Recupera Chile is not an NGO or an aid organization -- it follows the Broadmoor model of providing the training, capacity building, and technical expertise to the communities so that they can tackle these projects themselves.

See Recupera Chile website (in progress). 


For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Ahlers, Doug. “Genesis of Recupera Chile.” News, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School, May 14, 2013.