Effective work with Indigenous peoples: How does my organization measure up?

Ana Grigera

Ana Grigera

Let’s begin with a quick assessment!

My organization…

i) has set up a definition to identify Indigenous peoples;

ii) knows the history, worldview and governance structure of the peoples it works with;

iii) knows and applies the notion of “development with identity”;

iv) has a mandate and standards to conduct consultations and create participatory processes through project co-design, co-implementation and co-evaluation;

v) has an operational policy to work with Indigenous peoples.

The above statements help to ascertain whether an organization recognizes the identity and the rights of Indigenous peoples in its work. If most answers were “Yes”, the organization is on the right path towards the effective recognition of Indigenous peoples. If most answers were “No”, the organization needs to work on the effective recognition of Indigenous peoples.

Effective work with Indigenous peoples not only implies recognizing their rights –such as the right to self-determination and to previous consultation– but also their identity –i.e. their governance structures (forms of organization and decision-making), worldviews, health and education systems, etc. as well as their visions and expectations concerning development– so that their identity and governance structures can be placed at the core of development processes.



Institutional polices are a powerful way to promote effective work with Indigenous peoples. In fact, an institutional Indigenous policy sets the foundation for an institutional roadmap that includes the vision, the commitment and the basis of the work conducted with Indigenous peoples. It helps to generate a systemic impact, establish standards and strengthen institutional capacity to work in unison with Indigenous peoples.

In addition to its new strategy for engagement with Civil Society, which recognizes indigenous organizations as actors of development, the IDB has established a specific operating policy for Indigenous peoples. Similar initiatives have been implemented by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the International Fund for Agriculture Development (IFAD), among other development institutions. In line with this good practice, USAID is currently preparing its Policy on Indigenous People’s Issues.

While multilateral development agencies consolidate their policies on Indigenous peoples, it is crucial that non-Indigenous Civil Society organizations (such as foundations, NGOs, research centers, civil associations and executing agencies) move forward in the development of policies on Indigenous peoples, which is essential for the region’s development processes. According to estimations, Latin America and the Caribbean is home to 50 million individuals from 500 Indigenous peoples who speak 420 different native languages. Despite this enormous cultural, linguistic, historical, knowledge and natural resource heritage, Indigenous peoples are still disproportionately disadvantaged compared to the non-Indigenous population in terms of education, health, nutrition, connectivity, wealth, etc.

For example, the number of Indigenous households affected by material poverty more than doubles the rest of the population. We know that Indigenous peoples are involved in many development processes, but faced with this reality, can we really affirm that they are properly recognized and involved?

Effective recognition is much more than just tagging the beneficiaries of a program as Indigenous beneficiaries. Working from a full recognition perspective –i.e. recognizing Indigenous people’s rights and identity and considering them equal partners– creates new spaces for innovation, sustainability, cultural relevance and effective development. The potential impact of people’s identity in the different development processes is beyond question. But as long as we fail to acknowledge and consider this reality appropriately, we will miss the chance to be more effective in development and in the recognition of Indigenous people’s rights.

How does your organization evaluate the effective recognition of Indigenous peoples? Is it perhaps time to develop an operating Indigenous policy?

In order to move in that direction, it is important to develop a policy in conjunction with Indigenous peoples, making them visible and underscoring their identity as key elements of success in development projects, and supplementing new institutional policies with strategies, tools and training programs that help to implement them.

Ana Grigera

Ana Grigera

Ana Grigera is a consultant in development processes with identity for the Division of Gender and Diversity of the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB).

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