The Power of “Agency” for Individual and Community Development

The Power of Agency

Seeds for a Future Highlights Agency as a
Powerful Force for Lasting Change. 

Why is agency important? 

How can agency transform lives and drive community development to produce food security, health, nutrition, and income opportunities? 

Defining Agency

While "agency" is a frequently used term in development contexts, it's often misunderstood outside academic circles.

Agency refers to the capacity of individuals or communities to actively and autonomously make choices, set goals, and influence their development trajectory.

It's the ability to act as agents of change, take control of their lives, and participate in decision-making processes that shape their future.

An agency-oriented approach encourages individuals and communities to make their own choices and take action. This approach exists in sharp contrast to the age-old paradigm of paternalistic development, whereby external actors make decisions on behalf of the people they are trying to help.

Empowering Individuals and Communities

At its core, agency empowers individuals to take control of their lives and make choices that align with their aspirations. Where socio-economic disparities persist, agency can be a powerful tool for marginalized groups to reclaim a sense of self-determination. 

Take the illustrative example of Doña Dominga, a star member of our Seeds for a Future community. Doña Dominga is a 70-year-old widow from a rural village deep in the jungle of Suchitepéquez. Like many young men from the region, her three adult children emigrated to the United States. With the equivalent of a 5th grade education, minimal family support, low income, and few economic opportunities, she struggled to provide for her own needs and those of her resident grandchildren. Doña Dominga lacked the confidence and technical know-how to strike out on her own.

Doña Dominga became involved with Seeds for a Future in 2014. Through peer-to-peer education and a bit of technical support, she quickly began producing a plethora of nutrient-dense foods in her backyard. Instead of spending precious resources at the local markets, she became an expert at growing chard, radishes, and even mushrooms.

She developed a particular affinity for cultivating cacao and building a thriving local business. Nowadays, her cacao is sought after by neighbors and travelers alike, allowing her to support her extended family, contribute to the local economy, and continue developing her livelihood. 

When her tangible and intangible resources were stretched thin by poverty, she did not have the luxury of thinking outside the box. It only takes encouragement and support for folks like Doña Dominga to realize that they have a choice. They can choose to do things differently. Doña Dominga’s journey showcases how individual agencies can catalyze broader community development.

Individual agency is crucial, but it is not an isolated phenomenon. Doña Dominga transformed her own life, but also became an active agent of change within her community. The collective agency of a community can be a driving force for regional, and even nationwide, development. In Latin America, indigenous communities often serve as prime examples of collective agency in action. These communities have historically fought for their rights, land, and cultural preservation, pushing for policies that benefit their collective interests.

Since its inception, Seeds for a Future has collaborated with rural communities in Guatemala to support food security and nutrition, as well as environmental and cultural preservation. By recognizing and respecting the agency of these communities, the organization has enabled them to take ownership of their development processes, resulting in projects that are both culturally relevant and economically sustainable.


We understand that one size does not fit all.

Our development programs are tailored to the unique needs and aspirations of both individuals and communities.

Doña Dominga had an affinity for cacao, so we helped her construct a bamboo tent where she could dry her beans.

Another participant voiced a passion for farming tilapia, so we helped him dig and fill a pool. We provided him with fish and taught him how to build a breeding colony, so his supply will never run dry. 

This highly customizable approach allows people to leverage their strengths and interests. We understand that each participant comes to the program with a unique backstory. Their existing skills and passions are assets, and will fuel their future exploration!

Collaboration and Inclusivity

Seeds for a Future actively involves community members in decision-making processes.

This collaborative approach respects local agency and ensures that development initiatives are culturally sensitive and driven by the community's priorities.

When Seeds for a Future first arrived in Chocolá, our founders hoped to work with coffee farmers and help them diversify to be less dependent on a notoriously volatile commercial crop. But it quickly became apparent that coffee was a fixed part of the local identity. Its deeply-rooted cultural significance posed an obstacle to diversification efforts, so the founders took a different approach.

They held a gathering for local community members, and posed questions like, what do you most need? What are your top priorities? What would help you and your family thrive? Our longstanding focus on food and nutrition emerged out of these conversations, and we have continued asking these essential questions over the years to ensure that our program is responsive to the community’s shifting needs and desires.

Long-Term Sustainability

Recognizing that real change takes time, all of Seeds for a Future's projects are designed for long-term impact. We aim to create self-sustaining models that can thrive independently. We hope that one day, rural communities will not need organizations like us.

As it stands, we’ve been operating in Chocolá for over a decade. During that time, our approach has shifted and been refined. We’ve grown and learned, failed, and succeeded. But above all, we’ve built lasting relationships with our local leaders, community stakeholders, and all of our participants.

We pour resources into the development of our local team, all of whom were born and raised in rural Guatemala and have struggled with many of the same issues facing our participants. We strongly believe, and science supports, that this peer-to-peer model is far more effective in embedding values of cooperation and social care. In simply providing opportunities and reinforcing the social fabric of the communities we serve, we know that we are seeding change for generations to come.

The Power of Agency

Historically, the humanitarian sector has not embraced the concept of agency. Years of paternalistic development intervention left communities across Latin America with few resources to chart their path. Thankfully, that is changing.

Our community in Chocolá is a testament to the transformative power of agency when harnessed effectively. 

We seek to empower communities with choice and elevate local leadership to promote self-determination. In choosing to participate in our Casa Granja program, individuals can shape their destiny and contribute to the progress of their community.

At Seeds for a Future, agency is one of our core values because we wholeheartedly believe it is necessary for lasting change.