Posted March 23rd 2015 at 11:56 am by
in CoLab Philosophy, Stories from the Field

Human Scale Development: A Framework from the Margins

How do we create opportunities for communities to better satisfy their basic human needs? Do certain factors enhance this process more than others? What realities inhibit a community’s development?

These questions were central to a regional development workshop this past January, in which the Centro de Emprendizaje (CEM) of Universidad Austral de Chile UACh) brought together municipal leaders and youth from across the Los Rios region for a two-day workshop to discuss the role of youth and entrepreneurship in local community development.

Participants reflected on the challenges and opportunities for young people in their communities and identified linkages between the local and the regional scale. Because many of the workshop participants were young themselves, they drew on their lived experiences and knowledge to surface powerful insights on the realities, challenges and opportunities for the region. In doing so, they were participating in redefining what development means for their communities while reclaiming a sense of agency in the process.


Since its inception, CEM has built their program from the belief that students can be powerful agents for change in their own communities. Most traditional entrepreneurship programs facilitate skills development that encourages students to migrate to larger urban centers with greater economic activity like Santiago. El Centro is different; they are deeply committed to encouraging locally rooted leadership development and community-driven entrepreneurial projects.

One example of CEM’s philosophy in action is the student-led exploration of local service co-operatives focused on empowering Mapuche youth in the town of Paillaco. CEM supports a values-based approach to building opportunities such as these for local and regional change. Their unique model has created new spaces within the UACh system and drawn attention from other youth entrepreneurship programs around the world. Over the last three years, CoLab has partnered with CEM to support the development of their programming and to explore the potential for learning from their approaches to regional inclusive development.

CEM’s unconventional approach to entrepreneurship is grounded in the “Human-Scale Development” model, created by UACh’s own Manfred Max-Neef. This model suggests that development must fundamentally be about improving the basic human needs of the impacted community. Max-Neef proposed that basic human needs are the same across place and history. Each social context, however, creates very different ‘satisfiers’, conditions that facilitate realization, and ‘inhibitors’, conditions that pose obstacles, for meeting those universal human needs.

Hands on with the Human Needs Matrix

During the two-day workshop, we translated this model into a participatory process and aimed to identify the obstacles and opportunities facing Los Rios youth. Participants painted a picture of the youth, using the Human-Needs Matrix, to identify themes and linkages. They then began to develop projects that match the ‘human needs matrix’ for their specific locality.

Human Needs Matric

Through this process, the participants own the concept of development and redefine it for their own realities. The members of a community come to envision the transformation of their community. They have examined and built their project from a deep understanding of place and the needs of their people.

This theory of change and its application is one of several innovations coming from Latin America. The Human-Scale Development model has been deployed across the world and is transforming places to better suit the needs of local people. It is placing the power of vision and possibility into the hands of the community.

In planning, we often construct our processes of development and participation from a place of constraints (financial, political, social, etc). By leading from such confinement, we subordinate values and needs in decision-making. At best, we add new bins to our assessment process (social capital, natural capital, etc). What could we create if we were able to allow true vision and values to guide? As we grapple with planning and developing for a just world, the Human-Scale Development model is one innovative framework from and for people on the margins that we can add to our toolbox for change.

Post and Photos by Grant Tank Williams and Diana Xylina Bell.

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