Fellow Since 2006
This profile was prepared when Oscar Rivas was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2006.
The New Idea
Oscar Rivas has dedicated the last 20 years of his life to promoting a system for freshwater management that protects the rights and livelihoods of indigenous and peasant communities in Paraguay and beyond. At the core of his work, Oscar has reframed the debate over water by introducing a “continental waters” paradigm for understanding water health. Oscar believes that a well-conserved watershed is characterized not by the state of the water alone, but also by that of surrounding human and ecological communities. As such, improving water and improving communities becomes an iterative and self-reinforcing process: water issues can be used to mobilize communities and watersheds are laboratories for strategies that can inform other issues. Through his organization, Sobrevivencia, Oscar has worked on all levels of society, from the individual citizen to the largest international institution to involve relevant actors in bringing these ideas to life.Sobrevivencia has introduced participatory processes for local environmental management and for community promotion of fundamental rights surrounding water and other resource use. This work ranges from developing and disseminating the tools for sustainable local management to citizen participation in the global decision-making processes which impact water resources. In large part, the latter strategy has taken the form of citizen opposition to large-scale dam projects funded by international financial institutions (IFIs). Oscar has also built the resources necessary for local people to do this work—opening a school to train leaders and building a reference library of experiences for those in need of information. Sobrevivencia has become a reference in Paraguay and throughout South America for its work in freshwater management rooted in the assumption that water is a natural public good and that, as a result, all projects that involve rivers and watersheds must account for local social, economic and environmental factors.