An economist with a strong commitment to improving the economic opportunities and well-being of the poor, Miguel García has formed an organization of consultants and trainers to enable small producers to join together in networks and cooperatives to improve and expand their operations.
Miguel García is persuaded that improvements in the efficiency and market responsiveness of small producers can make a major contribution to the economic vitality of the communities in which they are located and to the opportunities available to poorer segments of Chile's population. Motivated by that conviction, he is inventing a new and timely mechanism that will equip small producers with the skills and information they need to improve and expand their operations and to take full advantage of national and global markets for their products.
To deliver the needed inputs, Miguel has assembled a group of trainers and consultants to provide a wide range of activities aimed at stimulating and strengthening networks of small producers and formally organized producer cooperatives. The group's activities are focused, in part, on various aspects of business planning, including market analysis, optimizing product mix, introducing improved methods of production and quality control, and reducing dependency on costly intermediaries in marketing their products. The trainers and consultants are also helping the small producers and producer cooperatives develop and improve environmentally sustainable practices.
At the current, early stage in the new organization's development, its members work at other jobs and offer their services on a pro bono basis.
In Chile's rapidly changing business and economic environment, small producers are at a considerable disadvantage. With few exceptions, they have had little or no exposure the principles of business planning and management, and they have few, if any, places to turn to for needed training and advice. With limited ability to acquire and make use of information about national and global demand for their products, they also find themselves trapped in local markets, where they are mercilessly exploited by market intermediaries (i.e., wholesalers and distributors). In part because of those deficiencies, they are rarely able to attract sufficient capital to expand the scale of their operations.
As a result, many, if not most, small producers are far less efficient in their operations, and much less sure-footed in their response to changing market conditions, than their larger counterparts, and they are able to compete only at a level of prices and earnings that provide them little reward for their labors. The consequences are similarly adverse for the communities in which they are located. Denied access to expanding markets and additional capital, the small producers are unable to expand their employment and otherwise serve as an "engine of growth" in those communities. And without the opportunities that more efficient firms could provide, familiar cycles of poverty, marginalization, and flight are reinforced.
The strategy that Miguel and his colleagues are employing to strengthen small producers has several elements, including workshops to assess their current situations and needs; stimulating the formation of networks and producer cooperatives; identifying new markets for their current products and the requirements of those markets; analyzing new product possibilities, with an emphasis on "environmentally friendly" and socially responsible options; establishing direct contacts with potential buyers of their products, both in Chile and abroad and finding other ways to reduce current dependency on intermediaries; and the providing of related training and technical advice.
Miguel and his associates place considerable emphasis on gathering and sharing information on foreign markets for their clients' products and on the quality, health, safety standards and certification requirements that they entail. They also help their clients negotiate related inspections and approvals from relevant public authorities.
To carry out these several tasks, Miguel formed a new organization, South Pacific Eco, in which he has assembled a volunteer staff that currently includes a half-dozen professionals with skills in engineering, marketing, organizational behavior, and other relevant fields. At its current scale, South Pacific Eco is serving a limited range of industries and clients, mostly in the south of the country, including fishing cooperatives, olive oil producers, a cooperative producing spices (with which Ashoka Fellow Dante Pesce is also associated), and a network of indigenous producers of medicinal plants who are also engaged in the development of ecotourism. As the organization acquires added experience and staff competence, however, Miguel plans to enlarge its geographic and sectoral scope.
Miguel grew up in Santiago. He was six years old when the Pinochet coup brutally interrupted Chile's democratic rule and introduced an economic regimen with harsh consequences for the poor and marginalized segments of Chilean society. During his high school and university years, while the Pinochet dictatorship continued to rule the county, Miguel was a leader of student organizations and political groups advocating social change.
In 1988, then in his early twenties, Miguel began working as a consultant in projects organized by various nongovernmental organizations, including House of Peace, which is headed by Ashoka Fellow Ximena Abogabir. With fellow students from the Catholic University in Santiago, he also went as a volunteer in the community of Illapel in a very poor region in southern Chile. There, working closely with Ashoka Fellow Dante Pesce in a venture that was most unusual for its time, he helped found a nongovernmental organization dedicated to the social improvement in the region that is still in operation today.
In 1991, Miguel accepted an appointment as a teacher in a public secondary school in the community of Las Condes, in the Santiago metropolitan area. He also entered a post-graduate program in labor economics, through which he developed and fine-tuned the ideas that he and his associates are now implementing in South Pacific Eco.