Hugo Medina Huerta

Ashoka Fellow
Concepción, Paraguay
Fellow Since 2002


This profile was prepared when Hugo Medina Huerta was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2002.
The New Idea
Hugo asserts that social and economic development projects fail to improve the poor conditions in indigenous communities because they often undermine basic tenets of local culture. He has worked with the Paí-Tavyterá ethnic group in the Guaraní community of Paraguay since deforestation and destruction of native habitats began to threaten its very existence. By recovering traditional Guaraní systems of reciprocity, Hugo developed a new economic model that helps change the local mode of production without changing the way of life. He addressed the issue directly, noting that many potentially beneficial, resource-generating activities had become environmentally, socially, and economically harmful enterprises in the hands of large companies and farms. Typically associated with ecological destruction and business monopolization, cattle-raising emerged as a practice worthy of reform in line with indigenous values.
According to Hugo's food resource fund model, cattle are "banked" in a community fund from which families borrow and repay with units of livestock. The community develops its own infrastructure for the project and collectively monitors consumption to avoid land damage and overgrazing. Similar to the principles behind village banking, the cow banks represent a way to maximize efficiency, production, and output through shared responsibility and communal benefit. Although the banks deal in strictly nonfinancial terms, the cow "savings" model trains its participants to consider the value of local commodities, a concept that Hugo helps translate into market rhetoric. In his highly objective and replicable model, Hugo has successfully applied traditional values of cooperation to a modern community-banking format and has facilitated investment from local people in order to preserve native lands and promote sustainable development.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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