Much of the world’s prosperity has been fueled by the successful harnessing of mineral and natural resources, which has, ironically, often maligned the very people literally living above these mineral and fossil-fuel deposits. Many of these development projects have left behind open mines, unrestored lands, polluted waters, and devastated livelihoods, which have had long-term—if not permanent—repercussions on surrounding communities. Through the work with the governments of Colombia and Peru, the 2020 Columbia University Capstone team empowers these communities by calling for a paradigm shift that makes them “partners” and puts them on equal footing with the companies and the government through a Community Partnership Agreement (CPA).  

Viewing the community as a partner is a paradigm shift for multiple reasons. It empowers the community to determine the face and features of what equitable development should look like from their vantage point, and in consultation with the government and the project company. More importantly, it gives the community the power to say no and stop a project that has not met its social, environmental and human rights obligations and their related standards—a legally binding mechanism without precedence.  

The proposed agreement, and its associated guidebooks, lay out a win-win strategy for all three signatories: the community, the private-sector project developer, and the government. If complied with, community members will finally be in a position to take control of their destinies, companies will become world leaders in sustainability planning, and both Colombia and Peru will attract worldwide attention by pursuing equitable development strategies benefiting all its citizens.