Emperatriz Cahuache Casado
This profile was prepared when Emperatriz Cahuache Casado was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2002.
The New Idea
Emperatriz sees that weak leadership in Amazonian villages means that many indigenous communities falter in their efforts to manage natural resources, gain economic independence, take pride in their heritage and customs, play a role in shaping policy or allocating resources, and resist exploitation and encroachment. To advance what she calls the "peaceful revolution," Emperatriz is identifying existing and emerging leaders within indigenous communities and linking them to educational opportunities, helping them get formal leadership training to complement their natural skills. To bring these young people back after their education, rather than watch them leave their communities to seek better opportunities elsewhere, Emperatriz arranges incentives that inspire them to return to their communities and apply what they have learned in the settings they know best. She has also set up a regional committee that draws together communities to play an active role in the responsible allocation of public resources and is involving communities in addressing important issues currently neglected by the government, including housing, economic development, and environmental sustainability. While most indigenous leaders and organizations work at a very public, national level, Emperatriz works with communities directly, forming a concrete model of leadership and engagement that she plans to apply more broadly to indigenous communities in Colombia, Brazil, and Peru.