Rutgers–Camden Center Receives $3 Million USAID Grant to Support Efforts to Grow Democracy in Paraguay

By Mike Sepanic

The USAID (United States Agency for International Development) has awarded a $3 million grant to Rutgers University–Camden in support of its efforts to launch a Higher Education Center for Ethics, Equity, and Transparency (HECEET) in Paraguay.

The three-year grant will allow the Community Leadership Center at Rutgers–Camden to collaborate with the Universidad Nacional de Asunción (UNA) to create Paraguay’s first national higher education anchor for addressing issues of government corruption, public accountability, and equality. The HECEET will improve the capacity of higher education institutions, government entities, school leaders, and the public and private sectors to advance a culture of lawfulness in Paraguay.

Gloria Bonilla-Santiago, a Board of Governors Distinguished Service Professor of Public Policy at Rutgers University–Camden, notes that Rutgers is well positioned for this unique partnership designed to promote much-needed democratic reforms in Paraguay. Respected in New Jersey for launching the innovative and successful LEAP (Leadership, Education, And Partnership) Academy University charter school that has transformed the lives of thousands of Camden families, the Rutgers–Camden scholar served as a Fulbright Specialist in Paraguay in 2018. It was then that she witnessed first-hand the need for higher education to become an engine for social growth in that country.

“During my Fulbright experience in Paraguay, it became apparent that transparency, ethics, and equity are significant concerns in that country,” explains the director of the Community Leadership Center at Rutgers–Camden. “I worked with the UNA to hold a national conference that helped to reposition the UNA as an anchor for Paraguay’s socioeconomic development.”

Citing a 2016 USAID study, Bonilla-Santiago notes that “there is a generalized perception that government is disconnected from the people, and that trust in governmental institutions and officials is low, which translates into substandard levels of citizen participation.  This disconnect is amplified for women and marginalized populations and leads to the growth of inequity and inequality.

“The HECEET emerges at a critical time. Paraguayans wants to shift their national paradigm, and our center will help to address issues of corruption and ethics in the public sector and to impact the ethical and civic formation of its people.”

The USAID-funded center will create curriculum and training for public, governmental, and legislative leaders in Paraguay, while also providing capacity-building skills and support to that nation’s higher education leadership, students, and young professionals. Collectively, the HECEET is expected to reach more than 2,500 people in Paraguay through institutes and targeted training offered face-to-face, online and in hybrid formats, as well as via academic exchanges and other forums.

A team of experts from across Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, will contribute their substantial expertise and resources to implement the project.

“In today’s society, it is important for government to keep its public well informed, and an informed public is critical to a democracy,” says Bonilla-Santiago. “A healthy system of government is an open government that allows all who desire to know to find the information they are seeking. This project emerges at a critical time in Paraguay, as the country is embracing efforts to address issues of corruption and ethics in the public sector.

“Globally, corruption is considered one of the most stubborn barriers to meaningful democracy, economic wealth, and human well-being. Corrupt systems are among the underlying causes of economic and financial crisis that impact society as a whole and result in high levels of inequality that amplify unemployment, and poverty, and lead to substandard living conditions. Higher education is in a good position to help address corruption and unethical behavior by placing itself at the epicenter of producing individuals that are capable of operating with the highest standards of ethics and public accountability.”

During her decades-long leadership of the Community Leadership Center at Rutgers–Camden, Bonilla-Santiago has leveraged Rutgers expertise to serve the City of Camden and communities across New Jersey. Her engagement work with Rutgers also has placed her in such countries as Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Ghana. She looks forward to extending those best practices in Paraguay.

“As a sociologist, my scholarship integrates elements of social policy, community and economic development, and education as pillars for profound community development,” she says. “The skills that we have used to transform education in Camden are transferable to other settings in development work. These experiences and knowledge will make it possible to direct this effort in Paraguay.”

Bonilla-Santiago is the author of three books: The Miracle on Cooper Street: Lessons from an Inner City, Breaking Ground and Barriers: Hispanic Women Developing Effective Leadership, and Organizing Puerto Rican Migrant Farmworkers: The Experience of Puerto Ricans in New Jersey. She has received numerous honors for her transformational work in Camden, including the Cabrini Ivy Young Willis & Martha Willis Dale Award and the 2018 Power of Women Award presented by the LUPE Fund.

A regular media commentator, she received her doctoral and master’s degrees from the City University of New York, her master of social work degree from Rutgers University–New Brunswick, and her bachelor’s degree from Rowan University (then Glassboro State College).

Posted in: Community Outreach

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