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Investigaciones Médicas en Salud (Lima, Perú)

Bringing community groups together to build organizational capacity

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Strategies

  • Building a strong network of MSM and transgender groups
  • Creating a safe space to support community mobilization
  • Supporting legal registration for community groups to increase access to resources
  • Providing comprehensive capacity-building training programs for community groups
     

MSM and transgender groups in Lima are dispersed widely across the city and in most cases they have not coordinated their activities. Yet while MSM comprise the largest proportion of HIV cases in the country—prevalence is more than 15 percent, far greater than the general population, which is less than one percent*—they suffer from lack of recognition and remain on the margins of the health system.

Peru
LGBT community leaders attending a strategic framework and management session (Photo: Sandro Llerena)
  
 

 In 2008, in order to bolster the collective impact of grassroots MSM and transgender groups in Lima, Investigaciones Médicas en Salud (Inmensa) brought eight of them together to form a consortium. Inmensa is a well-established nongovernmental organization that conducts biomedical research, runs clinical trials, supports community involvement and education, and promotes public health, principally with the MSM community. As a first step, Inmensa listened to the priorities of the community groups and established a physical space for the consortium to meet. Until then, MSM and transgender organizations in Lima had nowhere to gather. Even with Inmensa’s efforts, finding a safe space was not easy; the lease on the first space they rented was abruptly cancelled when the owner learned who would be using it.

Inmensa also set out to tackle an issue that has stymied many grassroots groups in Peru. According to Rosario Leon, coordinator of communications at Inmensa, “Many of these organizations have been around for 10 or 15 years but they did not have legal status. Having legal status gives them the chance to establish a legal record that enables them to apply for funds.” Moreover, it would increase their visibility in the public arena, giving them a new level of credibility when advocating policy change.

Obtaining legal recognition and ensuring long-term sustainability required considerable effort and involved much more than paperwork. Although consortium members had been working against HIV in their communities for many years, they were generally run by volunteers without formal training in management. So Inmensa conducted capacity-building activities on a dual track: helping with the completion and submission of complex legal forms to assist groups in obtaining legal recognition, while also leading workshops aimed at developing planning and organizational management skills. Two workshops covered legal responsibilities, budgeting, strategic planning, and corporate governance, among other things, while another focused on business development to assist participants in generating more income.

 

In addition, Inmensa led two advocacy workshops around human rights and health issues. This included collaborative efforts with ASICAL, a Latin American MSM and gay rights network, assuring the participation of the consortium organizations at the LGBT forums leading up to the Latin American HIV/AIDS Forum 2009. Ms. Leon says that this allowed the groups “to work with other gay, transgender and bisexual leaders, which is important because they had the opportunity to exchange opinions about empowerment, citizenship, and health issues for LGBT persons in the region, including access to quality health services.”

The impact of the trainings and the submission of legal recognition papers became apparent within a short time. Five of the eight organizations in the consortium obtained legal status. (Two others already had legal papers before joining the consortium.) “That is a very big success of the project,” says Ms. Leon, “considering that this is a country where legal rights are not often extended to this kind of organization.” Planning and management training have helped develop new leaders with the skills to carry on their programs and make a long-term impact on their communities. And by organizing the groups into a consortium, Inmensa has helped build a stronger, more unified voice that can help sustain HIV interventions in vulnerable MSM and transgender communities.

Inmensa has emphasized the importance of listening to small community groups and balancing their competing priorities with the overall capacity-building goals of the project. “It was challenging trying to reach the outcomes we set for ourselves,” Ms. Leon says, “because the needs and interests of the different groups sometimes were so different and specific. But to succeed, you have to combine the priorities of the organizations with the public health needs of their communities.” 

Ministerio de Salud del Perú. Análisis de la Situación Epidemiológica del VIH/SIDA en el Perú, p. 93. Lima, Dirección General de Epidemiología. 2006.