Social capital problems between the poorest in Mexico

The Recepac network becomes Reocone
This blog is based on my graduation thesis that compares the Mexican Reocone ‘network’ (co-operative) with it predecessor Recepac. Until 1997 Recepac was a national network which included four states in Mexico. The Chiapanecan part of the network (Chiapas ia a Mexican state), with 14 member organisations (coffeeproducers, women- and religious organizations) against four organizations in all of the other states, chose to become independent. The main reason for that was that the Chiapanecan part of the network proved to be the only state with an important contribution in size and impact compared to the four organizations in the other states. All of the 14 organizations of Recepac remained in the later Chipanecan Reocone network, with no change in their main goal to fight their poverty by helping eachother.

Research goal
The goal of the research was to offer insights in if differences could be found in how social capital was created in the case of the Recepac network (measured in 1997) compared to ithe Reocone network (measured in 2001). The main research question was in what manner and to what extent the main objective of Recepac and the later Reocone ‘to create interrelations between organisations of the poor’ was realised in practice. With regard to the first subquestion, to what extent new relations were created, it can be said that the density figures showed that the amount of new relations created between network members remained equal in both networks before and after the split. The second subquestion is if and how ‘deep social capital’, or real collaboration, was created. This is more complicated and will be discussed in the following paragraphs.

The problems
It soon became clear that the perceived ‘joint spirit’ was bigger in the Recepac network than the Reocone network. This was due to the big influence of external advisors in the Recepac network, which was appreciated initially but these same advisors had put too much emphasis on applying money for projects. That proved to be an important reason for the later Reocone organisations to want to split up and become independent. Still on an internal level the dispute continued in Reocone reversely because too much emphasis was laid on internal solidarity (the creation of a ‘solidarity economy’). The shortage of resources was a reason for some members to want to apply for funding again which affected the joint spirit. Furthermore the coffee producers had a strong position with more resources. Overall, there was not fair but understandable, nearly no reciprocity in resources that the others could provide which undermined a feeling of trust and solidarity. All together the organisations had not enough and proper resources to can and will help eachother. The most important reason the network, at that time, did not yet fell apart all together was that they all knew eachother and had had relations for a long time.

Social capital
So the first most interesting aspect in the network was the class between solidarity and reciprocity motives which was clearly related to the very high level of poverty. The second aspect is that network development needs a lot of time and effort; the manifestation of social capital is typical circular: e.g. the development of Reocone’s most important asset, knowledge, costs time and repeated effort and inputs. The new network had not yet functioned long enough what led to the problem that networks did not had evaluation moments to value the legitimacy of each concrete activity. This second aspect the network lacked is very important for forming an identity: evaluations are important to find a joint compromise what solidarity means and develop an joint identity.

A clear identity
For a group to have a clear identity is indispensable. The focus on identity makes sure the perceptions of the network members themselves are incorporated. Social capital as well as is ultimately dependent on the network members perception of to what extent their practical objectives are realised. At least more practical than Reocone’s name: ‘the network to build a solidarity economy’ which also was somewhat equal to the the broad focus of the former Recepac network (‘the network against poverty’). On the other hand Reocone really needed a broad network identity to be more flexible to incorporate other less strong cooperatives: they had to deal with extreme poverty and social exclusion (especially with regard to the indigenous). Again, this broad identity delivered extreme pressures on reciprocity and solidarity demands between theorganizations. By the time of writing there the Reocone network doesn’t exists anymore. I conclude that a smaller identity, e.g. a solidarity network for only small coffee producers, or indigenous women orgnaizations, can go a long way in comparison to a cooperation that nearly existed. In their seperate case it allowes to attract more international solidarity abroad as the example of the succesful commercialisation of organic coffee by Max Havelaar shows.

Based on my Master Thesis Development Studies, Centre for International Development Issues Nijmegen, 2002.