Leaders and Intermediaries as Economic Development Agents in Producers' Associations
The development literature considers associations an important economic development tool that allows producers to pursue their economic welfare collectively and through participatory means. This paper comparatively analyses the experience of three associations of agricultural producers in the underdeveloped regions of Brazil and Italy that were successful in this economic development task. Their experience, however, challenges a commonly held view about the participatory nature of associations. The main explanation for the success of these associations s that they occupy relatively high-profit market niches, characterized by limited competition. However, most of the r members would never have been able by themselves to identify and access these profitable markets. The associations owe their commercial success to external agents like NGOs, consultants, and marketing intermediaries, or to dynamic and educated group leaders. These development agents, being less embedded than the average producers in culturally isolated economic systems, have been able to identify in some cases, or construct in others, these lucrative marketing opportunities of which the group members were unaware. Such a development sequence that leverages the knowledge and connections of certain individuals to build a discontinuity with the present state of underdevelopment of producers may appear in conflict with the principle of homogeneity of group interests and values. In fact, this s not the case: homogeneity of membership and autonomy of leadership may go hand in hand. The homogeneity of interests and the strong collective identity of these associations allowed them to grant to their leaders enough autonomy of decision to pursue development strategies that most of their members did not fully endorse.