Feb 1, 2019
by Adele Negro

Founder's Welcome

ECOPA: Intersections for Sustainable Living, whose website we are delighted to launch here, has been many years in the making. Both the website and ECOPA as an organization are the creative handiwork of a group of talented and committed people, for whom my gratitude and appreciation are unsparing. I particularly wish to thank the nine teams of graduate students who, during the course of almost a decade, between 2006 and 2015, devoted their enthusiasm, skills, insights and hard work to lay the groundwork for what would become ECOPA.

Sowing the Seed

The seed for ECOPA as an independent organization, however, was sown ten years ago by my good friend Kate Littleboy, a professional program developer and grant writer. When I described to her the graduate immersive field practicum known as “Team El Salvador” (TES) which, by 2009, I had been directing for 3 years at the then Monterey Institute of International Studies (MIIS), Kate immediately said, “You should create a center of your own to do this work.” The suggestion had a ring to it, but at the time seemed implausible and unnecessary.

TES had already become a robust, on-the-ground experience for numerous MIIS students across disciplines, affording them the opportunity to acquire real, hands-on understanding of what it meant to do sustainable development work of the kind being implemented by rural communities in El Salvador—and to apply their emerging professional skills in support of it. The idea for a center of my own thus lay dormant for another 6 years.

It was not until 2015, when it had become clear that funding could no longer be allocated to sustain the work of Team El Salvador at MIIS (by then, the Middlebury Institute), that the relevance of Kate’s suggestion was brought to the fore. At the same time, I was introduced to two visionary social entrepreneurs who not only “watered” that seed, but galvanized me to make it grow.

Jerry Hildebrand encouraged me to recognize the social entrepreneur I myself was becoming through the work in El Salvador, and he soon introduced me to David Hopkins. With unmatched creativity and perceptiveness over the next 3-plus years, David helped me brand, name and develop the organizational structure that has become ECOPA. In that effort, we were aided by the exceptional work of several dedicated student teams consisting of former TES participants and their enthusiastic classmates, under the instrumental guidance of a handful of professors.

Team El Salvador

But the origins of this story have their roots in the ground which was prepared by the two visionary creators of Team El Salvador, who invited me to say “yes” to that pilot endeavor they envisioned back in 2006: Dr. Ed Laurance, then Dean of International Policy Studies, and Yuniya Khan, a Masters student in Public Administration and International Management.

It was in October of 2006 that Dean Laurence contacted me to propose that I accompany a multi-disciplinary team of graduate students, as their language faculty, to the richly biodiverse, but impoverished rural area of El Salvador where Yuniya had interned that previous summer. She had come back deeply inspired by the strategic and democratically-led development work being spearheaded by the grassroots organization, La Coordinadora del Bajo Lempa, in the communities it represented. It only took an hour’s conversation over several cups of good coffee for Dean Laurance to convince me to say “yes,” and “the rest is history” indeed.

This genesis story is amply and eloquently described in the two other inaugural blogs of this “coming out” edition, the first by Dr. Laurance himself, and the other, by ECOPA board member, Tate Miller, who has been an integral stimulus of this endeavor from its inception.

ECOPA

As we begin this new year and new chapter of our work, we are excited to highlight ECOPA’s current priority programs. In furtherance of our mission to build human capacity by connecting people’s needs with people’s skills, we are focusing on three key areas:

  • Revitalizing communities through the design and rehabilitation of their public spaces;
  • Strengthening “clean” fishing practices and policies for the ecological and economic betterment of coastal fisher communities
  • Fostering U.S./El Salvador farmer-to-farmer exchanges so as to bolster the viability of community food systems.

These are multi-year programs which build on the collaborative work we have carried out with our Salvadoran partners for over a decade. At the 10-year mark, it became clear that the nature of the work required not only student participation, but the involvement of professionals in the various fields of needed expertise. This expanded and growing engagement embodies ECOPA’s vision of empowered, vigorous communities whose people can flourish and prosper in the places they call home.

Moving Forward

We warmly invite you to follow the progress of this multifaceted work.

Contact us: we welcome your feedback, support and involvement! In future blogs we also plan to feature guest writers who can share stories of other people and organizations doing innovative, inspiring, solutions-based work in countries and communities across the globe.

To reiterate what is highlighted in our video, El Salvador is a microcosm of the world and its threats, but also of the visionary ways in which people respond to those threats--and, in so doing, are transformed.

If I was moved to accept Dean Laurance’s invitation to accompany that first student team to El Salvador and, for the last 12 years, to continue renewing my commitment to that challenge, it’s because I, along with millions of other people throughout the world, recognize that we are all in this together.

In my many years of work as an interpreter and translator, I have become ever more convinced of the profound power of language, dialogue, and cultural understanding to bridge the divides between us. The more deeply and sustainably that we can engage with one another across and beyond borders--wherever those borders are untenably set— the greater the chances are that we can confront and resolve our humanly shared, inseparable problems, achieving lasting transformation for us all.