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  • Hometown Associations and

    their Present and Future


    New Development Opportunities?

    Manuel Orozco

    Inter-American Dialogue

    Report commissioned by the

    U.S. Agency for International Development

    Washington, DC

    September 2003.

  • Acknowledgments

    The research and evaluation of this project is part of a group effort of colleagues and institutions

    concerned with hometown associations. The study is first dedicated to a much appreciated and

    missed colleague, Federico Torres. He analyzed remittance flows and sought to equally

    understand the economic contributions of hometown associations. Our conversations about the

    importance of these contributions are remembered and acknowledged in this report in his


    The study involved meetings and interviews, and data analysis. My colleague Natasha Iskander

    played an important role in the initial stages of this project in jointly conducting some of the

    interviews in Mexico. I thank Carlos Gonzalez Gutiérrez, now executive director of the Institute

    of Mexicans Living Abroad, who provided substantive support to this project with information

    and contacts about hometown associations. Carlos believes in the Mexican diaspora and its

    national identity. Fernando Creixell of the Mexican Embassy in Washington, and Malú Guerra

    at SEDESOL offices in Mexico City, provided very important support in meeting with

    government officials in the four Mexican states. I also thank Mario Riestra of the Office of

    Attention to Migrants of the state of Puebla for his assistance in identifying government officials.

    Diana Álvarez of the Guanajuato office offered us invaluable support to carry out the analysis in

    that state. Thanks also to Elizabeth Chavolla Sánchez of the Jalisco office who also dedicated

    her time to identify and speak to key officials.

    In Washington I thank Michelle Lapointe and her substantive research assistance in preparing the

    datasets and editorial work for the study and Gillian Morejon, who with Michelle, worked in

    reviewing the literature and carrying out interviews in Chicago and Los Angeles with community

    leaders. The team work effort of this project contributed to improve the quality of the study.

    Stephanie Larson, Seth Kroop, Eric Jacobstein, and Mariandrea Chamorro also worked in

    various stages of this project, particularly in conducting interviews with hometown associations

    and preparing the datasets. Finally, thanks to Jeremy Smith at USAID for his comments and

    earlier encouragement to conduct this study and commitment to find development partnership

    opportunities with HTAs and its diaspora. I also thank Jolyne Sanjak at USAID for her thorough

    review of the study.

  • 1


    Transnational migration and globalization have transformed the relationship between the United

    States and Latin America. New players have emerged, expanding the scope of international


    One player promoting local development is the hometown association (HTA) formed by

    immigrants who seek to support their places of origin, maintain relationships with local

    communities, and retain a sense of community as they adjust to life in the United States (Orozco

    2000). Hometown associations fulfill several functions, from social exchange, to political

    influence, to the pursuit of low-scale development goals in their home community.

    This report is an assessment of the development capacity of HTAs and the effectiveness of

    matching grants. Among the findings in this study are that hometown associations are small

    philanthropic organizations that generally provide assistance to their communities of origin and

    often participate in collaborative development efforts. The aggregate amount of their

    contribution and the support relative to the community needs provides important effect on local


    As the report will show, the majority of the associations’ activities involve support to public and

    economic infrastructure activities, such as road construction and pavement, electrification, and

    construction of school and health facilities.

    The study also analyzes a partnership scheme between the three levels of government (local,

    state and federal) and hometown associations, known as 3x1. The analysis of 3x1 projects show

    that they deliver significant resources to rural areas in Mexico. More importantly, when the

    contributions are viewed in the context of the local receiving communities, the impact is more

    substantive. Most 3x1 projects involve work in public infrastructure, and there are differences

    among states and municipalities.

  • 2

    The report also offers some recommendations geared towards forging a collaborative

    relationship between HTAs and institutions such as a foreign aid donors. These

    recommendations include technical assistance to identify social development projects,

    partnerships similar to current foreign aid donor projects, and support in the provision of a

    financial infrastructure in areas where 20 percent of households receive remittances but no

    financial institution is present.

    The study is based on an analysis of more than one hundred interviews, visits to officials in four

    Mexican states and over 30 communities in Zacatecas, Guanajuato, Jalisco and Michoacan. The

    study was conducted with a grant from USAID to determine the development role of hometown


    1. Hometown Associations, Development and Local Change

    This is an assessment of whether HTAs function as development agents and whether

    opportunities exist to enhance their capacity.

    Among the findings that emerge from this study are that HTAs are generally philanthropic

    groups with the capacity to work on various kinds of development projects. Below are some of

    the findings:

    1. Mexican HTAs are small philanthropic organizations; 2. Their organizational structure is commensurate to the groups’ proposed goals; 3. The activities focus on basic health, education and public infrastructure; 4. The resources raised are relatively small in volume; 5. Donations are significant to the recipient localities; 6. Partnership with governments enhance development goals.

    This report reviews specific patterns of HTAs relating to their partnership capacity and their

    goals in promoting development.

    Central to this section is a balanced view about the development capacities and opportunities that

    HTAs pose for Mexico. These associations perform an array of activities and in many cases

    provide a valuable source of social capital and a potential for development. These projects have

  • 3

    a positive development effect on the receiving communities because these projects target the

    community’s basic needs.

    This report is based on contacts with over 400 Mexican HTAs and interviews of more than 100,

    visits to more than twenty communities implementing 3x1 partnership projects, and interviews

    with government officials and community leaders in the United States and Mexico during a

    period of seven months (see methodology in the appendix).

    a. Hometown associations at work and their relationship to development

    Hometown associations fulfill several functions, from social exchange and political influence to

    the pursuit of low scale development goals in their home community. Organizations made up of

    Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Mexicans, Guyanese, Dominicans, as well as Colombians and

    Nicaraguans, have increasingly been working to improve their towns.

    Although few studies had been conducted on HTAs prior to 2000 (Alarcon 2000, Orozco 2000,

    Zabin 1998), there is a growing movement of literature that is paying attention to HTAs.1

    The literature has focused on four areas: a) to build a theoretical framework related to

    transnationalism or diasporas; b) to introduce new conceptual understandings of migration trends

    by providing a description of the attributes of HTAs; c) to provide case studies that may

    constitute building blocks from which to generalize; and d) to look at the relationship between

    their work and its impact through partnerships with the state.

    Central to this literature is that the activism of associations possesses a transnational dimension,

    which is tied to strong social networks and capabilities that define their agendas. The literature

    has also shown that the practices of these groups stretch into social, political and economic


  • 4

    With the emergence of HTAs and their efforts to improve their communities, it is important to

    determine the extent of their ability to participate in development and to forge alliances with

    other players. Little is known about the effectiveness of their efforts on local economic


    Certain features that make it possible for an organization to work on development projects

    include: choosing to promote some form of social, economic, or cultural development, the ability