For students in Costa Rica’s remote Sepecue community, getting to school is a two-hour journey by local horse, tractor, and boat. Many are unable to afford it, and government reimbursements only cover official public transport. This is just one challenge faced by many of Costa Rica’s indigenous communities, who have long been underserved by and underrepresented in government. Legislation mandating the government consult with indigenous communities passed in 1977, but the progress on instituting an actual dialogue has been slow.
In 2012, Costa Rica joined the Open Government Partnership (OGP) and committed to working with reformers and indigenous leaders to meet the community’s needs using the OGP process. This OGP approach includes presenting information in local languages and requires all government agencies to engage in meaningful dialogue with the public. Indigenous leader and campaigner Luis Ortiz says the new approach “feels different this time.”
And it’s yielding results. The new process has led to the construction of five schools. New doctors assigned to indigenous areas have been improving healthcare. Ten new water sources have been established. Travel allowances now cover all the methods students use to get to school, and night classes are available for those unable to attend during the day. The results are clear: listening to — and hearing — indigenous voices has created a better environment for policy decisions and has translated into tangible improvements in people lives.