By: Cécile Robert, International Seminar Coordinator, Uniterra Program
Yesterday, we launched the 71st International Seminar. For the first time in its long history, the Seminar will be held in Bolivia and will focus on sustainable community tourism.
Established by WUSC in 1948, the International Seminar is an educational gathering that offers students and young professionals a unique experience to exchange and share knowledge across cultures. Now supported by Uniterra, a WUSC and CECI program, the Seminar’s objective is to connect youth across the world and engage them in a research project linked to sustainable economic development. The program is made possible through the guidance and support of local organizations in Africa, Latin America, and Asia.
The theme of the 71st Seminar echoes the United Nations’ declaration of 2017 as the year of sustainable tourism for development. The purpose of this UN effort is to provide an opportunity for different societies to share their heritage, foster greater cross-cultural understanding, and strengthen peace throughout the world. Through the International Seminar, we hope to also contribute to improving the economic and social conditions of several Bolivian communities.
This is part of a broader objective of the Uniterra program, that is to improve socio-economic conditions of local communities in 14 countries around the world, particularly women and young people.
This July, 11 students from Canada and 10 from Bolivia will get together to discuss the theme of tourism in Bolivia and explore the ways in which this promising sector can contribute to sustainable and inclusive economic and community development. Participants will conduct field research in two communities located in the mountains, about two hours from La Paz: Pampalarama and Llaullini. They will seek to better understand how these communities could attract more tourists and sustainably benefit from these activities.
The impact of tourism on a country’s economic and social development can be enormous. It can increase trade and investments, and create direct and indirect employment opportunities. It can also respond to the need to protect cultural heritage, traditions, and the environment. In Bolivia today, the tourism sector accounts for less than 7% of GDP. However, the country enjoys considerable advantages, such as the diversity of its landscapes and the richness of its culture. While these could be leveraged to create more economic opportunities, for the time being these attractions are accessible to the more adventurous tourists, who are ready to travel despite a lack of information and appropriate infrastructure. With 43% of its population living below the poverty line, Bolivia is the poorest country in South America. The development of community and sustainable tourism represents a real opportunity for communities to improve their living conditions.
To put together the 2017 International Seminar we are grateful for the support of two local partners: La Paz Maravillosa, the municipal tourism development agency, and the Universidad Católica Boliviana, one of the most prestigious universities in the country. By partnering with these institutions, participants will be better equipped to reflect on possible cross-sectoral collaborations and ways to foster the development of sustainable community tourism in the two targeted communities.
As the International Seminar Coordinator, my role is to oversee the event’s programming and logistics. It is with this in mind, I visited Llaullini this past Saturday with my Bolivian counterpart and a colleague from La Paz Maravillosa to refine this year’s Seminar program. During a community meeting, we had the opportunity to present the International Seminar to members of the community and to discuss our respective expectations. We invited them to participate in focus groups to share their experience of and vision for tourism in their community with the Seminar participants. The resulting exchanges presented some challenges. Some of the community members told us that outsiders have come to Llaullini in the past with the ambition to make a difference, but that the promises made to them were never kept.
The challenge is considerable. We will have to remain humble and attentive while ensuring clear and frequent communication with the communities. But I am convinced that the knowledge, skills, and dynamism of the 21 student leaders and of the Uniterra local partners will make a positive contribution.
Stay tuned with the hashtag #SIBolivia2017 on social media!
Uniterra is a leading Canadian international development program that is jointly operated by WUSC and CECI. Each year, 600 volunteers contribute their time and experience to positive and lasting change towards a more equitable world by dedicating a few weeks to two years of their lives to international volunteer work. The program also provides opportunities to get involved in Canada and play an active role in combatting poverty.
The Uniterra program receives funding from the Government of Canada, provided through Global Affairs Canada.