Back to top


Benjamin Zehr

Organization: Rimisp - Centro Latinoamericano para Desarrollo Rural
Summer 2014

In Ben's own words

How I contributed: Rimisp participates in a broad spectrum of development projects across Latin America, ranging from publishing policy recommendations to field work in countries such as Chile, Peru, Ecuador, and Mexico - all towards the goal of higher standards of living for rural communities in particular. My contribution to the organization's goals was focused on one particular region of Chile, Los Rios, where I conducted research based on survey data and first-hand accounts (via interviews) to determine how the regional government could create more effective policy in the future. My assignment was to define, in detail, what was meant by "Rural" in Los Rios - taking into account the spatial and social distribution of poverty, its concentration among various livelihoods, and the feedback of local actors at all levels. My deliverable was a formal report to the Regional Government, who hope to use my work to decentralize decision-making and craft better policy going forward.

What I felt most challenged by: I found the most challenging aspect of my internship to be the various in-person interviews I conducted while in Los Rios. Over the course of 7-8 days, I had to interview a number of stakeholders ranging from potato farmers to leaders of local advocacy groups, to CEO's of large infrastructure companies. Besides having a tight schedule, my schedule required that I spend up to 6-7 hours on a bus many of those days, traveling to remote towns to meet with my interviewees - most of whom spoke distinct dialects of Spanish. Perhaps the most difficult part of the process was essentially making a fool of myself repeatedly (due to my average Spanish) and having to actively translate and tactically plan my interview on the fly, based on what I understood at that given moment.

What I enjoyed most: Besides just the physical beauty of Chile, which is astonishing in and of itself, I found Chileans to be very hospitable, kindhearted, goofy, and fun-loving - while also being knowledgeable, hard working people. The work environment I was in was casual - my co-workers were all either in their 20s or 30s. However, they were all well versed in their areas of study. I was hesitant at first when I considered the option of working for an NGO; I've had bad experiences with NGO's in parts of Asia that run more on gut feeling than research and evidence-based work. Thankfully, this was not the case at Rimisp. Besides being surrounded by intelligent, helpful people, my work was fulfilling in that, throughout the process, I was able to feel a palpable connection to the people I was trying to help.

Would I recommend this experience: I would recommend this experience on a number of levels. Firstly, Chile is a wonderful country - beautiful landscape, wonderful culture, good food, and very livable overall in terms of safety and amenities in the capital city of Santiago. Secondly, Rimisp as an organization is doing great work in Latin America, and I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in economic or sociological research in the region. Moreover, I was given a high level of autonomy within my specific project to shape its structure, content, and my overall approach to the issue. Finally, I found living independently in Santiago to be rewarding in more ways than I can describe - by the end of my time in Chile, I can confidently say that I it felt like home.