Marcela Benitez

Organization: 
Social and Economic Recovery of National Rural Villages at Risk of Disappearing (RESPONDE)
Year founded: 
1999
Country: 
Argentina
Website: 

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RESPONDE promotes social and economic opportunities in rural communities in crisis, allowing them to take advantage of existing resources and help their villages develop, respectful of their freedom, entrepreneurial spirit and self-improvement desires.

Focus: Rural Development, Green Economy
Geographic Area of Impact: Argentina
Model: Leveraged Non-Profit
Number of Direct Beneficiaries: 11,400 (2011)
Annual Budget: US$ 322,000 (2010)
Recognition: Social Entrepreneur of the Year, Argentina, 2006

Background
Rural to urban migration is a global pattern, and Argentina is no exception. Approximately 90% of the country’s population lives in large cities, many of which migrated from rural areas in search of better living conditions. According to Argentina’s National Institute of Statistics and Census, over half of the country’s rural villages are at risk of extinction. Many towns suffered economically with the growth of agribusiness and the closing of railways that connected communities to markets and each other. Roads deteriorated and basic state infrastructures collapsed, including health services and education. Violence and crime has increased exponentially in cities, and public services have diminished due to the demand of arriving migrants.

Innovation and Activities
From 2000 to 2010 RESPONDE developed social and economic projects in 60 towns, so villagers were not forced to migrate, benefiting 1.4 million people. The tourism programme in rural villages promotes local economic development, employing villagers as service providers of bed and breakfast inns, restaurants, tourism and artisanal products. The self-sustaining village programme offers self-sufficiency and good nutrition of small rural communities from natural resources at their disposal. Under the Wings programme, community centres offer space in libraries, museums, cafes, and virtual classrooms with Internet access for education and training, and showrooms to display local products. To address global civic responsibility, RESPONSE offers programmes where volunteers from companies or universities, or retired professionals from big cities, share their knowledge and experience to develop projects and business opportunities.

Between now and 2021 RESPONDE plans to scale the project to 500 rural villages. It proposes to map the sustainability of all rural villages in Argentina, based on field research, to ascertain their social and economic profiles, identify obstacles to development and the strengths that can help build their future. To make small villages visible to the world, RESPONDE is building a portal called “Presenting Villages”, where the most useful and interesting information can be posted, along with the projects they wish to create. In this era of communication, where social networks are main vehicles and important engines of all world events, RESPONDE believes that as rural villages become visible, civil society, companies and government will take account of them and help them grow. Hopefully government will implement appropriate public policies that assure welfare and development, private companies will establish new businesses in new locations, and more families will move to rural villages in order to discover and enjoy a new style of life.

The Entrepreneur
Marcela Benitez, a geographer and sociologist by training, spent seven years travelling throughout Argentina as part of her work as a researcher for the National Research Council for Science and Technology. During this time, she observed the economic and social problems arising in small rural villages outside of Buenos Aires and throughout the country. After completing her degree, she began researching how these rural villages were slowly dying, and developed ideas on how to reverse the situation. Based on this, Benitez created RESPONDE, which has galvanized thousands of people, universities and companies to become involved in generating new opportunities for these villages. Her work has received multiple national and international awards, made possible through social responsibility programmes in conjunction with the private sector, such as American Express, LAN, Apache and the Cargill Foundation.