Los Cortaderos: Mobilization, Organization and Training of a Semi-Rural Community


1.- History, background and context

The first community activities in la Villa were promoted by external actors and were interrupted in 1976 with the military dictatorship and as a consequence of the State terrorism. Between 1976 and 1983, the only experience which allowed preliminary organizational learning was the operation of a sports club. With the democratic opening of Argentina, the potential of community organization work was able to emerge.

In this case, SERVIPROH’s intervention demand originated through a religious congregation teaching catechism in la Villa (1985). The population group was characterized by its geographical and socio-cultural isolation due to the origin of the settlement (internal rural-urban migrations), the type of economic activity of the families, and the generally withdrawn inhabitants.

At that time, the first social leaders took part in learning and exchange experiences with other community organizations, which in the decade of the 1970s had formed part of the Villero Movement of the city of Crdoba. This connection would be key in the sociopolitical perspective which the experience would assume.

The first experience developed through the formation of community groups to work to improve living conditions in the settlement through establishment of a health clinic and community hall, provision of a drinking water network with public faucets, public lighting along the main entranceway, and other works.

2.- Objectives, strategies and scope


  • Conform a locally representative organization.
  • Favor a self-management process for the collective gradual resolution of community needs.
  • Generate a stimulation-training process to develop knowledge of rights and obligations.

Strategic criteria:

Capacity of sociopolitical insertion of the popular organizations in the State apparatus, based on stimulation, training, organization, and linking of needs and demands, and the development and proposal of solutions.

Size of the participating and beneficiary population:

60 original families which have now expanded to 174 (due to population growth).

Territorial scope:

Settlement of Los Cortaderos and neighboring areas.

Innovative aspects:

  • Consolidation of organizational development and high management capacity.
  • Administration of funds from various sources (international cooperation, public resources, and family funds).
  • Construction of a cooperative oven for production of construction components.
  • Purchase of (unurbanized) lands with public resources for the location of the settlement.
  • Negotiation of a municipal ordinance to authorize a zoning change.
  • Territorial and sector insertion of the base organization.

3.- Actors involved and their roles

  • Beneficiary population: Promotes the organizational process at the neighborhood, territorial and sector levels; procures the satisfaction of its needs (diagnosis and design of projects and proposals, with technical support); produces solutions (organizes and executes projects and services); administrates resources, and internally monitors and audits.
  • Base organizations from the area and the city: Advance the constitution of and actively participate in the development of the social movement; articulate demands; address collective issues; promote pressure and social protest actions.
  • NGOs: Support social capacity-building and socio-political formation; provide technical support (in the areas of social organization, construction, and economic-financial questions); support the development of projects and solutions; project design (social, urban, and infrastructure); technical supervision of works contracted to others (infrastructure); monitor and evaluate processes and impacts.
  • Government actors: Design programs; formulate public policy proposals; develop political procedures (to address or dissolve demands) as well as legal, technical and administrative tools, including in reference to resource allocation; execute works or benefits; finance, monitor and audit projects; elaborate urban regulations and apply urban norms as city regulatory entity.
  • International cooperation and local corporate foundations: Finance social projects and thereby stimulate the channeling of other public and private supports; back-up and legitimize civil society actors; monitor and audit social projects.

4.- Project components

  • Habitat elements: A very well located urban plot was acquired and two community facilities were built. The first community plot has been fully urbanized (infrastructure and urban planning) and 60 basic 32 m housing-start units have been self-constructed. A second plot has been purchased where the settlement is located; the land was cleared and conditioned, and 21 homes have been built with paid work crews.
  • Social and cultural aspects: A participative research-action process was carried out with two target groups (the leadership and the social base), with high levels of involvement of the entire families. Complementary mediations took place in other areas, such as health and the environment (formation of promoters, control of growth, attention to the child population, coordination with mother-child state programs, nutritional education). Also, work with youth and job training in various trades; installment of two childcare facilities with subsidized meals and infant development programs for children ages 0 to 5. Women fill prominent leadership roles throughout the process, demystifying the idea that material housing issues are men”s domain.
  • Economic strengthening of the participants: The values of the services and other satisfiers acquired and produced by the organization have increased.
  • Contribution to urban development: An urban residential area has been consolidated in the first settlement, and a depressed area in the second settlement has been expanded and renovated, without expelling poor families. In-site relocation has taken place, and there is strong potential for growth, planning, and improved property values in the entire area.
  • Process and level of integration of the diverse components: The integral perspective of the process takes into account everything from context analysis, community diagnosis, project design, community management, organization of solutions, organizational and technical-construction training, socio-political formation (workshops on Popular Habitat and on Identity and Political Meaning of Collective Action), execution and monitoring, and process evaluation. The base organization actively participates in the sectoral entities (protest and mobilization actions, workshops and assemblies of the movement, participation in leadership positions, management and negotiation in relation with various actors).

5.- Primary instruments used

  • Socio-organizational: Community dissemination and mobilization methods used include booklets, videos, murals, work in the streets, community rounds, opinion surveys, etc. Diagnoses and design work are pursued using multiple techniques including photo interpretations, collage, drawings, scale models, blueprints, group productions, various evaluation techniques, etc. The entire social base is involved in working groups which serve as smaller information, consultation and decision-making spaces. The Community Assembly is a periodic space to provide overall direction to the neighborhood work.
  • Financial and legal: The organization was legally constituted as a cooperative in 1987. In general, the members of the directive body have been democratically elected, and the leadership enjoys a high level of legitimacy. All resources secured and administrated are funds allocated as family subsidies.
  • Administrative and management: There is very good administration of the public and private funds obtained, thanks to the training provided in management and administration of community organizations (workshops and technical support), with internal control and information mechanisms on resource use.
  • Promotion and dissemination: A variety of graphic and oral methods have been used over the years.

6.- Achievements and primary lessons learned

Primary impacts:

In the first housing process carried out by Cooperativa La Ilusin, five years after moving in to the new neighborhood, residents participated in an impact-indicators evaluation. The results were as follows:

  • At the individual level, residents perceived improved self-esteem and active and critical attitudes. They expressed feelings of improved well-being and comfort in their new homes, and they dedicate more time to care for personal physical aspects. Residents are active in their search for solutions to the labor problem (women have improved possibilities to join the workforce).
  • The majority have good neighbor relations and identify themselves as members of the organization, although they miss the family members and neighbors located in the original settlement they came from. They feel less united and the solidarity attitudes are in response to their urgency (greater tendency to “close toward the interior of the family).
  • In reference to integration to the new urban area, they faced discrimination and resistance prior to and during execution of the plan, but they have since gained gradual acceptance and have increased participation and leadership in area institutions.
  • In general they enjoy a sense of improved urban security, linked to their better quality of life in the new habitat (the existing insecurity has to do with lack of jobs and the inability to cover expenses).
  • In reference to gender issues, there is a progressive shift toward increased flexibility in childrearing practices, moving beyond traditional dictates. Community participation is delegated to the women, and they play a key role in election of the leadership. Womens presence in leadership positions has increased and they actively participate in all public spaces (the mens participation relates to construction tasks).
  • Important improvements have taken place in the health conditions of the child and female populations (decreased malnutrition, decreased skin diseases and respiratory and parasitic infections), thanks to vaccination campaigns and prenatal and childrens healthcare programs (state health programs). In general, there is better geographical and cultural access to health and education services and benefits.
  • Important lessons have been learned in relation to the housing construction aspect, which includes women. Housing costs have increased, but the new location allows residents access to less-expensive stores. All of the families have improved the surface area of their homes; the majority have increased the number of bedrooms, and almost all have improved the sanitary conditions (bathrooms and running water). The construction quality of the initial unit produced through mutual aid is good, while the quality of the expansions produced by the individual families is only moderate, demonstrating that the collective work undertaken by organizations which do not include qualified labor is quite positive. Overcrowding has decreased, with a more than 50% increase in surface area per occupant. Most of the residents easily adapted to their new homes. The experience allowed participants to recover skills they had previously developed (brick production for the walls, and training and production of roof tiles by the women).
  • Location within the city was improved, as well as linkages with neighboring areas. Purchase of the land at low cost followed by the value added through the investments in housing and infrastructure produced positive economic impacts. In the assignment of individual lots, the larger spots were allocated to the younger families. The provision of infrastructure and urban planning improved (streets were opened and consolidated and one route has been paved; drinking water, public lighting, and electricity systems and gutters have been installed, and a plaza has been built). Access to urban transportation routes and garbage collection has improved.
  • In reference to organizational development, the organization has transformed into a multipurpose group with high management and planning capacity, able to simultaneously execute and administrate various projects, with different degrees of complexity.
  • There is a high level of solidarity with the families from the original settlement. Occupied lands are acquired and associated to the organization. Diverse proposals have been elaborated and negotiated with public institutions, with important mobilization and networking capacity. The leaders have participated in negotiation spaces on public policies and have obtained significant financial resources for the impoverished populations, reaching various degrees of institutionality.
  • The organization identifies itself as a social actor and links its practice with other city organizations, building a critical sector of the social movement to which it belongs. One of the greatest impacts achieved was the adoption of a municipal zoning change ordinance to allow the urbanization and housing plan to be built on the lands acquired by Cooperativa La Ilusin.

Primary obstacles faced:

  • Each change in governmental administration produces abandonment and fracture of social policy negotiation spaces.
  • Finance for public policies is discontinued and established agreements are not fulfilled.
  • The prolonged time periods required for collective housing processes and the subsequent wear on the population are obstacles in themselves.
  • High investment is needed for the development of cultural and social capitals. The organized poor populations face social rejection and are stigmatized when they attempt to incorporate within the city, especially in upper or middle-upper sector residential areas.

Lessons of the experience:

  • The consolidation of a base organization and its constitution as a social actor demand high investment in socio-educational processes which must be systematic and designed based on the goals and abilities of the subjects.
  • Substantial lifestyle changes must be promoted in material and symbolic aspects, favoring critical and solidary interaction, and deliberative forms within the exercise of democratic leadership of community practice.
  • Socio-political formation spaces were developed in general and in specific relation to the habitat and city spheres, allowing the participants to transcend their own practice and strategically think about and project a vision of broader scale and impact of interventions.
  • Pressure and real or potential conflict were key power instruments of the social organizations in the negotiation and struggle for power among the actors that produce the city.
  • It is important to consider other complementary strategies that avoid the later expulsion of families due to inability to sustain the costs associated with their new habitat (taxes, and costs of privatized public services), which differentiate the social-interest residential plots.

7.- Key words

Argentina, Crdoba, Los Cortaderos, base organization, territorial and sector linking, social actor, social movement, popular power, mobilization, pressure, negotiation.

8.- Sources

Documentation of the Cooperativa La Ilusin housing process in Tramando vnculos (internal SERVIPROH document), and the Impact Evaluation Report, Indicadores de impacto de proyectos participativos de hbitat popular (extensive interviews with leaders, adult family members, public institution representatives and social organization representatives from the area, as well as observations and random-sample surveys among families).

9.- Contacts

Servicio en Promocin Humana (SERVIPROH)
Baigorri 544, Barrio Alta Crdoba
CP 5001 Crdoba, Argentina
Tel and fax: (54- 351) 4730404
E-mail: serviproh@onenet.com.ar