I have often blogged before about the value a heritage conservation organization brings to a heritage site and its local community. And about the seeming conundrum of having state, national and international organizations working on this when “All Preservation is Local.”
In my international work over the last several years, and especially since coming to the Global Heritage Fund full-time, the value of being an “outsider” has become more apparent. It is more than the items I listed a year and a half ago:
- Capacity Building
- Credibility and Context
These are all true. We focus on sites of outstanding universal value, lending credibility to local preservation efforts. We partner with UNESCO and the World Bank and USAID and national and local cultural, archaeological and historical agencies, and many universities. We train locals in conservation and crafts and business development, and of course we bring financial and technical resources not available locally.
Wen Chung palace, Weibaoshan, Yunnan
I think most people focus on the simple issue of resources, but usually the sheer size of resources available for heritage conservation is greater within a country or community than without. The value of the outside comes in how those resources are deployed or organized. This is my job in a nutshell
With Unidad de Ejecutora de Marcahuamachuco, Peru
When Han Li, who runs our China programs, spoke to our Board and donors last week, she outline the true “Value Proposition” of an outside NGO working in a place like China: we do what the local entities cannot do. They can fund infrastructure projects and adopt plans, but they may be hampered bureaucratically from producing the type of plan that incorporates heritage, or from sequencing a project in the best way. Moreover, as was apparent to me in Weishan last year, different agencies within government operate independently and sometimes at odds with each other: the outsider gives them the excuse to work together.
New bridge at Confucian temple reconstruction, Weishan
Han also pointed out how Global Heritage Fund can not only bridge over the “silos” of bureaucracy to get projects done, but can operate in private arenas where governments can’t go. We provide a mechanism for completing projects.
Workers at Marcahuamachuco, Peru
In Peru, we are proposing to bring high technology to projects that don’t have it – that is probably a more obvious advantage of an outside NGO (especially one from Silicon Valley) but I still think the key value is logistical: a non-governmental, non-profit organization can straddle all sorts of boundaries. We can provide seed funding or planning to get a project going; we can provide technical and community development expertise to round out a heritage conservation project and make it work better for the community; we can leverage other public and private funds to make a minor project and major community asset.
Huaca Ventaron, Peru, courtesy Ignacio Alva Meneces
My job at Global Heritage Fund includes maintaining contact with international experts in architecture, archaeology, community development, conservation, training, cultural resource management, finance, planning and all sorts from geology to botany. The goal is more than saving an historic site: it is to develop that site in a way that brings economic benefit to those who live there. It is never that simple to do, but the goal is simple, albeit a little counterintuitive to those who think of heritage as a luxury, or preservation as an elite activity.
This is a building used by archaeologists and conservators at the twin sites of Chotune and Chornankap near Lambayeque in Peru. They have made amazing discoveries of royal and religious tombs here, and they are conserving great artifacts. But the most exciting story is on that little plaque there – this is a building that houses archives and conservation labs. And they have a museum with a life-size diorama interpreting the landing of Nyamlap, a famed 13th century event in the area. And the community is TOTALLY into it. The Mayor BUILT their lab. Everyone in town has their wedding photos taken here. It is THEIR site.
This is a major shift from 20 years ago, when local residents near heritage sites might become looters, digging and destroying the sites in the hope of a quick, short-term profit. The value of heritage, of course, is that in context and with local development, it is a sustainable, self-renewing resource, unlike the looting.
Archaeological site of Chotune
Many parts of the world – like Iraq, or as recently as Sunday the important World Heritage site of Hampi in India – are beset by looting as people seek a quick fix for an economy in chaos due to conflict. It is very satisfying to see this new development in Peru – if looters show up at Chotune, the locals chase them away.
The old saw about teaching a man to fish rather than giving him a fish comes true in heritage development: if you exploit a heritage site, which is to say destroy it by demolition or looting, you eat for a day. If you develop the site, by rehabilitation and interpretation, you eat for a lifetime. This is our value proposition. Visit our website and join us!