Social Development, the promotion of Well-Being, and the Perceived Role of Social Work in Peru

Miriam Gerlach, University of Vechta

1        Introduction

Although the goals and values of social work aim at promoting well-being, there is currently a strong focus on remedial social work, as they work directly with individuals resolving their material and psychosocial needs. This approach alone is inappropriate towards resolving the problems of poverty, unemployment and many other global concerns. Therefore, social work must play a more significant role in the social development practice, with practical strategies that address underlying social inequalities, focusing as well on preventive, promotional and developmental strategies, as they are complementary (Midgley, 2001). Framed in the criticism and on enhancing the urgency of addressing underlying causes of original conditions such as poverty, discrimination, inequality and others, this research aims to describe the promotion of well-being and the prevention of the original conditions and the perception of social work within social development interventions in Peru

As for the objectives of this research the following secondary objectives will be pursued:

1.       Identification of key social development interventions in Peru undertaken to promote well-being.

2.       Exploration of the perception of social work and the tasks assumed in the promotion of well-being.

3.       Assessment of the quality and scope of the interventions.

The main research question therefore would be: how is the promotion of well-being, the prevention of risk and the perception of social work within social development taking  place in Peru?

2        Study approach and methodology

2.1         Research design

This research adopted a descriptive and cross-sectional design (Rubin & Babbie, 2014). There is little literature on the topic and a lack of available are previous studies about the promotion of well-being and the perception of social work in Peru. The goal is to describe a phenomenon at a given time (Cargan, 2007), thus cross-sectional.

2.2         Study population

The study population includes social work practitioners, employers, social welfare policy makers, educators, social entrepreneurs, NGO’s employees and leaders, and all professionals working on the promotion of well-being in Peru.

The list of the study population was conceived after reviewing a “Directory of Non-Governmental Organizations for Development and Foreign Institutions for International Technical Cooperation and their interventions” developed by the Peruvian agency for international cooperation (APCI, Agencia Peruana de Cooperación Internacional, 2011), the data base of NGO´s from the “Telefonica Foundation” (Fundación Telefónica 2014), and the “Directory of Organizations for sustainable development” of Peru 2021, (Peru 2021, 2015). Additionally, an internet-based general research of agents involved in social development was carried out.

2.3         Study sample and selection procedures

As the study population is very broad the research focused on samples from the different regions of the country (coastal, Andean and rain forest), and within Lima, it obtained samples from urban and peri-urban areas. From the total population of social work practitioners, employers, social welfare policy makers, educators, social entrepreneurs, NGO’s employees and leaders, and all professionals working on the promotion of well-being in Peru, the sample concentrated on different agents working on the promotion of well-being, addressing their leaders and employees. The sample was identified through purposive sampling, trying to obtain a representative portrayal of the phenomenon to be studied. The criteria used to select the samples were: first, organizations or agents working in Peru in social development, and the precise regional area where they work. Second, the type of agents. Third, that the interventions were somewhat concerned with the broad or narrow goal of promoting well-being, within a framework of social development. The author made use of snowball sampling to reach other respondents with the recommendation of the participants (Rubin & Babbie, 2014). Because of the geographical distance, the research process was established on interned-based tools. 

2.4         Data collection and processing

Explicitly this research concentrated on the following data collecting and processing methods:

·         Conceptualization of well-being, promotion, prevention and social development.

·         Identifying different perspectives on the promotion of well-being and social work through a survey and their content analysis with indicators derived from the conceptualization. Due to the geographical distance, internet-based methods remain as the only alternative.

·         Executing a desk review and/or secondary analysis about the perception of social work, the promotion of well-being and the practice strategies and programmes already carried out in Peru.

2.5         Quality assurance

The questionnaires were sent through E-mail, as a Word Document, which could be filled out by the respondent. This type of survey is in a sense flexible, as many questions can be asked, and many variables can be included. The survey also allows for comments and the researcher is always available for questions and doubts which could appear during the process (Cargan, 2007). This approach gives people time to think and they might be more honest if completing it on their own, however the expected response rate varies enormously and can be 20-30% (Hardwick & Worsley, 2011).

The quality was ensured with an operationalization of the evaluated concepts with theoretical backgrounds. This operationalization was used for the construction of the survey and was validated though expert’s judgements. Additionally, all respondents were asked the same basic questions and in the same order, so that the quality and comparability of the data could be maintained.

The analysis of the data was carried out with coding for those interview questions that can be quantified, and then undergoing a descriptive frequency analysis in SPSS. Moreover, it was analysed through qualitative content analysis by Mayring (2014), with the category system as the central instrument.

Ethical aspects protecting the respondent's right to informed consent, privacy, and confidentiality (Cargan, 2007) were also considered. Some of the respondents preferred anonymity, therefore the names of the respondents and their organizations were left out, and only relevant information about the respondents was provided.

2.6         Study limitations

This research had a limited time schedule and limited resources available. Therefore, the sample chosen for this study was relatively small, representing a minor portion of the whole population. However, this research acquired samples from very different representative geographical regions, areas and types of organizations.

Additionally, observations, direct interviews and focus groups would have been an adequate research method for the proposed descriptive design. The questions can be modified to solicit more adequate answers, which brings a good response rate and rapport with the interviewer and there is less likelihood of misinterpretation. However, it is time consuming and contains difficulties in organizing and quantifying the data. In this way, the use of questionnaires has the disadvantage that the coverage of complex topics may appear superficial, risking brief and unexplained answers (Cargan, 2007). Nevertheless, the geographical distance between the researcher and the population hindered the use of interviews or alike, and these barriers were reduced by being always available for questions and leaving extra space for comments and opinions; so that the chosen data collection methods were reliable, valid and effective as well.

3        Conceptual Framework

In terms of the conceptual background this research selected the Midgley’s (2014a, p. 13) definition of social development: “[…] a process of planned social change designed to promote the well-being of the population as a whole within the context of a dynamic multifaceted development process”.

One of the professions best suited to work in social development is social work, as they have the knowledge, skills and value framework needed to take on this challenge (Gray, 2002). To refer to a specific definition of social work, this research uses the one proposed by the IFSW (2014) which states that the profession: “[…] promotes social change and development, social cohesion, and the empowerment and liberation of people. […]. Underpinned by theories of social work, social sciences, humanities and indigenous knowledge, social work engages people and structures to address life challenges and enhance wellbeing. […]”. Especially the area of developmental social work has actively shaped the theory and practice of social development and vice versa. This approach works from a bottom-up, people-centred, humanistic, strengths perspective and it sees policy formulation as an inductive, negotiated or dialogical process (Gray, 2002). It uses investment strategies emphasizing client strengths and the importance of empowerment but also requiring that they are provided with concrete social investments that enhance their capabilities and facilitate their participation in the community and the productive economy (Midgley & Conley, 2010).

Other important concepts are prevention, promotion and well-being. Prevention can be understood as

“actions taken to minimize and eliminate social, psychological, or other conditions known to cause or contribute to physical and emotional illness and sometimes socio-economic problems” (Barker, 2003, p. 337).

Promotion on the other hand can be defined as

“…the process of enabling people to increase control over, and to improve [..] It moves beyond a focus on individual behaviour towards […] social and environmental interventions. To reach a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, an individual or group must be able to identify and to realize aspirations, to satisfy needs, and to change or cope with the environment” (WHO, 1986).

In this way, the transformative function of social work aims to promote people’s well-being and addresses the wider social conditions that are preventing progress and supporting positive improvements in the standards of living and democratic participation (Midgley, 2014b).

3.1         Well-being

Well-being is a concept that has gained a lot of attention during the last years, but is nevertheless part of human and social thinking since the beginning of history, as religion, philosophy, psychology and many other fields have been concerned with the definition and understanding of it. Nonetheless the question of how well-being should be defined still remains largely unresolved (Dodge, Daly, Huyton, & Sanders, 2012). This section will discuss the meaning and the diverse definitions from well-being from various approaches. It will present the psychological view, concentrating in positive psychology, as this approach has focused on the strengths and positive aspects of psychology, and in this way, significantly on well-being. Additionally, the definition from social work and social development theory and practice will also be discussed. Furthermore, from a local Peruvian and Latin American approach, well-being understanding will be shortly presented and finally, the sum-up definition for this research will be identified.

3.2         Well-being from the psychological approach

Historically, in psychology, there have been two approaches linked to well-being, one related to hedonism, accentuating elements such as happiness, positive affect and satisfaction with life, and another, the eudemonic approach, which underlines a positive psychological functioning and human development. Currently there is a general understanding that well-being is a multidimensional construct (Dodge, Daly, Huyton & Sanders 2012).

Positive psychology is one approach that has been intensely studied, researched and applied to the concept of well-being. The task of positive psychology is to describe, rather than prescribe, what people actually do to get well-being (Seligman, 2011). In this matter, the construct of well-being in positive psychology is explained by Seligman (2011), and he states that it is a construct which has different elements that can be operationalized and measured. All these elements that constitute it contribute to it. Well-being, therefore has five measurable elements:

4.       Positive emotions are what people feel like pleasure, ecstasy, warmth, comfort, and the like. An entire life led successfully around this element, is called a “pleasant life.” This is a subjective variable, defined by what a person thinks and feels.

5.       Engagement is about flow, it means being one with an activity, it is time stopping, and there is a loss of self-consciousness during this activity. Engagement is different, even opposite, from positive emotion. During flow the individual merges with the object, and the concentrated attention it requires uses up all the cognitive and emotional resources that make up thought and feeling.

6.       Positive relationships compel the belief that the pursuit of relations is fundamental to human well-being, being an important life goal for most people. Indeed, research shows that people with close relationships enjoy all kinds of physical and mental health benefits, including greater longevity.

7.       Meaning and purpose denote that human beings, ineluctably, want meaning and purpose in life. The “meaningful life” consists in belonging to and serving something that an individual believes is bigger than himself, and positive institutions (i.e. religion, political parties, being Green, or family), allow this.

8.       Accomplishment is referred to the pursuit of success, winning and achievement as goals in its own. Well-being requires accomplishment in its momentary form and the “achieving life”, a life dedicated to achievement for the sake of it, in its extended form.

Well-being is a combination of all these five elements, a combination of feeling good as well as actually having meaning, good relationships, and accomplishment. The way people chose their course in life is to maximize all five of these elements (Seligman, 2011).

Critics of this kind of definition underline that concentrating on the elements of well-being isn’t actually defining it. Well-being is a state or a condition of a system with relatively stable circumstances. Here the idea of equilibrium or homeostasis that can be affected by life events or challenges is emphasized, and it is also linked to the resources approach, highlighting that each individual develops relevant skills or resources to cope with these challenges (Dodge, Daly, Huyton & Sanders, 2012).

As can be noted, the concept of well-being from a psychological perspective concentrates on the individual. There is a conceptualization of well-being that comes from social work and social development that underlines, additionally, the environment and its social, political and economic features.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has discussed much about mental health, well-being, health in general and the circumstances that promote or disturb it. Wood Wetzel (2012) argues that when there is an absence of positive social and economic circumstances, which are necessary to fulfilling a state of well-being, the result is often mental illness and emotional distress. Projections by the WHO (2008 as cited in Wood Wetzel, 2012) for 2020 and 2030 state that the leading cause of physical and mental disease burden in developing countries, as measured in disability-adjusted life years, will be a unipolar (nonpsychotic) major depression in young women by 2020 and by 2030. This kind of disorders will surpass physical and other mental health problems, for all people in high-income countries, becoming the second and third leading cause in middle- and low-income countries, respectively. Additionally, women´s vulnerability to mental health problems is directly related to their inferior social and economic position worldwide. With this in regard, mental health is unlikely to be achieved in the absence of a supportive familial, social, educational and work-related economic context. People need freedom from violence, discrimination and unjust treatment across their life span to be able to thrive. Thus, more accurate is speaking of psychosocial well-being and emotional distress rather than mental health and mental illness. In this way, for the WHO (2014) mental health is defined as “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community”. Therefore, health is defined as “…a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”.

3.3         Well-being from the social development and social work approach

A perspective, influential in social work, and combining the individual and the environment, is the person-in-environment perspective. This has a central influence on social work’s theoretical base and its approach to practice and is based on the belief that the profession´s basic mission requires a dual focus on the person and the environment (Green, 2008). This perspective serves as an organizing guide for social work assessment and intervention at a multiple systems level. It has allowed social workers to intervene effectively “no matter what their different theoretical orientations and specializations and regardless of where or with what client group they practice” (Meyer, 1987, p. 409 as cited Green, 2008, p. 14). It provides, as very few theories have tried, the organizing principles to meet the challenge of understanding fully the person as well as the systems with which he or she interacts, attempting the goals of improving societal institutions and assisting clients within their social and cultural setting, and trying to explain the interplay of physical, psychological, cognitive, social and cultural variables that shape human behaviour (Green, 2008).

In social development, the concept used is social well-being. It is defined by Midgley (2014a, p. 49) as

“…a state or condition that characterises individuals, families, communities and even whole societies that have effectively managed social problems, met social needs and created opportunities for people to maximize their potential”.

Incorporating declinational and material elements covers many of the main elements of social development’s goals. In this way, meeting people needs is a concern about material objectives such as reducing poverty; whereas the ideational notion of opportunity addresses equality, freedom, peace and social justice. By defining opportunity this way, it is not only concerned with education, but with facilitating the realization of people´s aspirations and goals. The requirement would be that the obstacles that impede social progress be removed and that gender discrimination, the oppression of ethnic minorities and the perpetuation of inequalities are addressed (Midgley, 2014a).

Regarding the relationships between well-being and the environment, Uribe (2004) states that the concept of well-being refers to the effects of the development upon the individual, families and society, and that the contrary of well-being is privation, misery and hunger. For this author, politically, the welfare state constitutes the most complete form of conceiving a society around the search of well-being. In this way, the main concern of the state is to achieve the well-being of their citizens, suggesting a more active role for the state that provides security and protection, such as the guaranty of a minimum income, tackling job loss, sickness and death and the provision of social services as a citizen right. Research shows that in countries with solid welfare states its members enjoy more well-being than in those without a strong social security system, as for example in Latin America, where the welfare state can´t be put into practice.

The concept of well-being is also included in the notion of quality of life. A life of quality would be one that enjoys the well-being conditions that the modern world offers, being associated with a better state for the complete society on the one hand and on the other hand it is related with the welfare interventions for the vulnerable population. Nevertheless, the psychological dimension from well-being has to be considered, which include a sense of happiness. This perception is culturally determined and it has an individual and subjective component (Uribe, 2004). This form of understanding well-being was also stated by Martha Nussbaum & Amartya Sen (1993); they specify that the concept of well-being varies from the elementary, such as escaping morbidity and mortality, being adequately nourished, etc., to the complex, such as being happy, achieving self-respect, taking part in the life of the community, appearing in public without shame, and so forth. 

Finally, well-being is also related to a notion of civil, social and political rights, as every member of a society has equal rights. The type of development that has to be favoured to be able to achieve well-being is one where social investment is obtained so that all the members have access to social services, achieve their maximum potential and become citizens that contribute effectively to the economy and the functioning of the state (Uribe, 2004).

3.4         Well-being contextualized in Latin America and Peru

In Latin America, well-being has been often addressed because of its absence or insufficiency. Two concepts have brought it repeatedly to the public debate. On the one hand, poverty, understood implicitly as an inferior state of well-being. And on the other hand inequality, understood explicitly as the inadequate distribution of resources and capabilities that are socially desirable. Well-being has been made equal to availability of income over or under a certain threshold, associated to the satisfaction of basic needs required for survival; assumed as the management of different risks and considered as freedom to achieve what is valuable to be or do with functional capabilities like education and health. Well-being is therefore defined as a capability, not a state; a capability to handle uncertainty that is unequally distributed, like sickness, old age, disability, discrimination, unemployment, divorce and death. There are two dimensions which shape this distribution: class and gender. The type of state and economy that is driven will then be most significant in the distribution of well-being (Martínez Franzoni, 2008).

Another Latin-American approach to well-being is based on the proposals of Amartya Sen and UNDP, where there are three criteria for well-being. First, the functioning of persons, meaning the results achieved by persons, not their goods. Second, the emphasis on the capabilities of persons referring to the freedom of choice. And third, the criteria of subject-agency, which means participating in the process of change, and not only being beneficiary of policies and programs aimed for improving well-being. Having agency means being a subject of right, being autonomous and responsible (Peña Farias, 2012). Well-being configures as a normative content, focused on the result and process, taking as a base the collective and individual dimensions which don´t determine a satisfaction that has to be achieved, but instead unfolds the means so that people and social groups can have the capability to determine a goal and achieve it. But conditions in themselves are not enough to indicate a complex process as well-being, there has to be a space given to the feelings of plenitude and realization. Fundamental axes of well-being analysis for Peña Farias (2012) are:

·         Access to a quality education that promotes the capacities to be able to participate in the decision processes. Instruction, cultural, political and civic orientation.

·         Possibilities to unfold a healthy life in its broader sense, including a long life, low morbidity, security and quality local and familial habitats.

·         Real opportunities that directly influence the processes involved in the development of life in society. Access to employment and other income sources, which are stable, formal and sufficient to be able to achieve a consume of goods and services for a decent life, as well as an active social participation and institutional dialogue.

·         The right to develop an identity, a sense of belonging and social integration.

·         Development of feelings of plenitude and realization.

Moreover, during the last years, the concept of “Buen Vivir” or “Living Well” has gained field in the political, economic, developmental and social discussions in Latin America. “Buen Vivir” is a Spanish concept that refers to the way of life of indigenous people in South America, which have some common elements that have been identified and developed into a concept now codified in the constitutions of Ecuador and the Pluri-national State of Bolivia. Additionally, many of these underlying principles can be found in indigenous cultures all over the world, like for example in the Philippines. Those common key concepts are the following:

·         Humans are an integral part of nature, and the two are not taken as separate identities.

·         The goal is harmony instead of growth. The purpose of life is not to progress permanently but to have what is necessary to enjoy life. In this way, in the Andean communities the evolution of time is not linear but circular and therefore progress is not constant and relative, so that one community or generation is not superior to its predecessors.

·         The main idea is to live in the community with others and nature. It is not the denial of the individual but the recognition that what we are as individuals is a product of the inheritance of communities.

·         For centuries, indigenous peoples in the Andes have practiced complementarity instead of competition, which means that a community has to join efforts with other communities in order to live and thrive. It is not the union of only “good” forces, but of “opposite” forces too, with the challenge to seek balance between them and to complement them, building upon the contradictions of reality without trying to make everything uniform.

·         “Living Well” focuses on all parts of life as eating and drinking well, dancing well, sleeping well, practicing one’s beliefs, working with one’s community, caring for nature, caring for the elderly, expressing one’s creativity, listening, respecting others and dying well. For indigenous people, the spiritual life cannot be separated from the material life (Focus on the Global South, 2013).

Specifically, in Peru, Reynaldo Alarcón is one of the scientists who has most influenced  Peruvian psychology, contributing with important standardizations of tests, research about transcultural psychology, poverty and its relationship with psychological traits and socio-economic features, ethno-psychology, racism, and many others. For the last years he has been researching, within positive psychology, happiness or subjective well-being in Peru and its relationship with socio-cultural and demographic variables. He defines happiness as an affective state of absolute satisfaction that an individual subjectively experiments in possession of a desired good (Alarcón, 2007). This definition implies the following indicators: a) happiness means feelings of satisfaction that a person experiments internally and b) the fact that it is a “state” suggests the temporary character, it can be lasting, but at the same time it is perishable, c) it implies the possession of a good, happiness exists only in possession of that good and d) the good or goods which generate happiness are varied (material, ethical, esthetic, psychological, religious, social, etc.). This doesn´t mean that happiness is reduced to the good, but that this good, acts as a generator of the subjective experience of well-being (Caycho, 2012; Alarcon, 2007).

3.5         Definition of well-being for this research

After discussing the various and multiple approaches towards a definition of well-being, this research will try to address a unified understanding of well-being, incorporating the main features previously argued. It will be defined as psycho-social well-being; an interplay of physical, psychological, social, cultural, economic and political variables. Psycho-social well-being is a dynamic process, during which a state of psycho-social well-being can temporarily be achieved, but which will eventually develop and change. In this dynamic process, the internal and individual and mostly subjective structures will interact with the environmental, societal, political and economic structures. Promoting psycho-social well-being would mean unfolding the means, capabilities and opportunities so that individuals can maximize their possibilities of achieving it. The following table (Table 1) represents both levels, which can’t be actually separated, but in order to better understand the interplay, the individual and the environment level of psycho-social well-being are presented separately. 


Table 1. Fundamental individual and environmental features of psycho-social well-being



Experiment positive emotions in general, and feelings of plenitude and realization specifically.

Opportunities to develop positive relationships, belonging to a community and receiving and giving support.

Being able to realize activities with engagement, meaning and purpose, contributing effectively to the community.

Equal opportunities for accessing quality education and work or labor chances and sustaining a healthy physical and psychological state.

Achieving accomplishments, thriving, realizing or maximizing the own potential. 

Configurations that ensure equality, freedom of choice, peace and social justice. 

Being able to handle uncertainty and conflict, like sickness, disability, discrimination, etc.

Structures that guarantee meeting the material needs, allowing a “decent standard of living for all”.

Develop an own identity and experimenting feelings of belonging.

Configurations ensuring that individuals have and make use of their political voice and governance, being able to participate in change and their own development processes.  

Being able to practice and develop a spiritual life. 

Structures that allow and promote harmony and complementarity, respecting nature and the integral part of the human being in nature.


In this way, this research refers to the term of psycho-social well-being as stated here in the following chapters and it will be used as a means of comparing it with the current theoretical approaches, methodologies and practices undertaken within social development in Peru for the promotion of well-being.

4        Contextualisation of Social Work in Latin America

Social work in Latin America begins around 1925 with the official establishment of the profession in Chile with an important influence from Europe and the United States. The then assistance-driven, moralizing approach was criticised and fought against through the re-conceptualization period, were socialist movements blamed capitalism and the domination of Western countries for the social problems affecting the continent. However, the period ended mostly with dictatorships. The contemporary period begun with a setback into classical forms of social work, which currently discusses the effects of neo-liberal policies assumed by many Latin American countries, and were many social workers are recognizing the ethical and political dimensions of the profession (Queiro-Tajalli, 2012; David Chilito et. al., 2011). Today social policies empowering local sustainable development are emphasized and traditional psychosocial interventions have a secondary importance (Brant do Carvallo, 2003), promoting indigenous social work with bottom-up grassroots approaches, seeking the recognition of their rights to natural and social resources and also working mostly with vulnerable peri-urban or rural populations as part of multidisciplinary teams; trying to balance the global practice context to local features, needs and potentials (Queiro-Tajalli, 2012).

In Peru, social work is currently inserted in a debilitated democratic system, framed by a working corruption structure. Therefore, social manifestations rise constantly, fighting for their rights. Social work practice addresses mainly the difficulties of the vulnerable, poor and discriminated populations of Peru, working on the consequences of terrorism, centralization and poverty. In this way, it concentrates on the practice and methods, and not on producing theories and concepts. Today the curricular focus is set on management of social programs, projects and policies, and is based on phenomenology and hermeneutics (Aguilar, 2008).

5           Social development interventions in Peru

5.1         Dimensions of social development in Peru

Peru has a total population of 31,151,643 million, and 9,834,631 of them live in the capital Lima. 56.3% of its population live at the coastal region, whereas 29.7% live in the Andean region and only 14% in the rain forest. Poverty affects 22.7% of the total population. The Andean (33, 8%) and the rain forest (30.4%) region and in general the rural area (46%) suffer the most of poverty (INEI, 2015). In the last 20 years, the country has experienced a growth in GNI (UNDP, 2014) that has allowed to achieve levels of per capita income that place Peru as a middle-income country in the international context. However, there is a long way to accomplish a development that is socio-economically and environmentally sustainable (CEPLAN, 2014). One of the main challenges is still that more than half of the people living in rural areas are poor and more than 20% have an income below the extreme poverty line. Also, total poverty remains over 50% in five departments with a predominant population of Andean, rural and affected by the intern armed conflict (UNDP, 2014). In health, although life expectancy at birth has increased by 14.5 years since 1980, the infant mortality rate is still 12.9%, and 15% of one-year-old infants are lacking immunization. In education, again, although the mean years of schooling increased by 3.5 years since 1980, the public expenditure in education remains as low as 3.3% of the GDP, and the education indicators such as primary dropout rate (26.1%) are still high. Inequality is also a significant challenge, as inequalities in education (23.3%), in income (31.9%) and in gender inequality in general (i.e. violence against women is 38.9%) are significant. Finally, in terms of well-being, a global report of the index of well-being comparing 145 countries, positioned Peru in the place 91 (Gallup-Healthways, 2014).

5.2         National policies and programmes for social development in Peru

In Peru, national public policies and programmes for social development are represented since 2011 by the Ministry of Development and Social Inclusion (MIDIS, 2016). The ministry has implemented a new model of social management, proposing strategies in short (temporal relief), mid (promote) and long term (formative) time scales; with continuous evaluation. Currently, more or less ten social programs exist, mostly addressed to children and mothers, fighting malnutrition and providing child care. Successful pilots were conditional monetary transfers and the attenuation of the vulnerability of elderly’s income. However, the programs still have a low coverage and a high filtration, so that the strategy will be now evidence-based decisions, reducing breaches, user-centred targeting, success measured by the number of users who exit the programs and services articulated more adequately (Stampini & Merino, 2012; Villasante, 2012; Quijano, 2012).

6        Results and discussion

The survey collected first the demographic information of the respondents, such as sex, job position, years on the field, type and size of organization, and the main geographical, social groups and levels they work with, as well as the professions working in the organizations. Second, main goal, concepts and goals of the organization, the meaning of social development and well-being, methods, outcomes, and the challenges and potentials, were compiled. Third, the participants were asked about the role of social work, the way they would describe their role in the promotion of well-being, and how they define the social work profession in general.

6.1         Profile of agents promoting well-being in Peru

The sample is constituted by 30 respondents from 27 different organizations (three respondents work in the same organization, but in different projects and positions). These were the ones who responded after having sent the survey to 242 contacts, selected out of the previously described directories. In this way, the return rate was 12.4%. It must be noted that the interview format was sent as an E-mail, asking for the support and contribution for this research, and providing the possibility to answer the survey on a Word Document.

As can be seen in Table 2, the intention was to have at least one participant of every geographical region, as well as of the type of area (urban, rural or peri-urban) and the different forms of organizations (public, national, international, social entrepreneurships and community-based organizations).

Table 2. Study sample of the agents of social development in Peru

The basic profile of the respondents and their organizations can be summarized as follows: they are mostly located in Lima and in the Andean region; the majority are founders, presidents or directors with commonly agricultural engineering, psychology, sociology and medicine as professions. The organizations are frequently NGOs or public institutions, and the interventions are regularly aimed at rural populations living in the coastal and Andean regions, at a micro- and meso level, towards families and women, with usually economist, communicators, engineers, social workers and psychologist working in them.

Fig. 1 Location of the sample organizations

Fig. 2 Sex of survey respondents

Table 3. Frequency of Job Positions of survey respondents

 Table 4. Frequency of professions of survey respondents


Fig. Fig. 3 Population area and geographical region

Fig. 4 Type of populations intervened by the sample organizations

Fig. 5 Intervention level of sample organizations

Fig. 6 Professions working in the sample organizations

6.2         Goals, theories and strategies of the interventions promoting well-being

The content analysis of the qualitative answers given by the participants has followed different steps. A summary content analysis (through paraphrasing, generalizing and reducing). This short version was structured under categories, which result from either a content structure (select relevant content topics), or typifying structure (identify the most frequent topics) (Bortz & Döring, 2003). The description of these categories will be accompanied by the most significant citations from the surveys to provide direct examples (the citations are translations made by the author from the original texts of the surveys in Spanish into English).

Main Goal

The main goals of the sample organizations can be segmented in three key categories: integral development, specialized goals and preservation of culture. For the most part, the organizations aim at the integral development of certain populations or communities, developing and strengthening capabilities and promoting alternative spaces of encounter.

“Create spaces of encounter which potentiate the development of capabilities and that allow that people achieve their dreams” (NG 05 RWS)

“Facilitate the integral and sustainable prosperity in rural families and their environment, discovering and strengthening their potential, cooperating with governments and local institutions” (NA 01 PCR)

“Improve the quality of life of children and adolescents working on the street through prevention, creating spaces and programs which contribute to their education, promoting principles of equality, respect of gender, cultural and community group” (NG 11 IHC)

Other category would group those organizations with a specialized goal, such as research, offering medical services, education, or allowing the access to services like electricity or social attention. 

“Contribute to the reduction of childhood malnutrition” (ST 04 NPRS)

“Our mission is to build a movement of professional agents of change who are deeply committed to and involved in social affairs and finish with inequality in education in Peru” (NA 02 ESP)

“Facilitate the access to basic services of electricity, through photovoltaic systems, to rural communities who are isolated and don´t have any short-or long-term hope to have access to electricity” (SE 02 AMG)

Three organizations in the Andean and rain forest region; aim at the preservation of the culture of the communities they are working with.

“Invigorate the culture and agriculture from the Andean and amazon farmers, from their own knowledge”. (NG 09 CHY)

“Helping the community thrive in the modern world while also preserving their ancestral culture” (NG 10 WQR)  

Few have explicitly the main goal of promotion of well-being, nonetheless regarding the full description of their strategies and methods, objectives and understanding of the term “well-being”, most of them pursue it implicitly (or some of the items of well-being listed in this research, see Table 1) as well as the prevention of any kind of problems and difficulties their target populations are suffering from. Terms used in the main goals like potentiate, facilitate, contribute, allow, and others, are parallel to the concept of promotion, as they intend change in the dominant conditions, and they refer to enabling people to increase control over, and to improve their well-being. Also regarding the challenges social development dimensions present for the country, these goals tend to fit with broader needs of education and development in general, with specific goals like access to health services, electricity and fighting against discrimination.

Social Development

When asked about their understanding of social development, the participants answered mostly in two categories: external and internal. Few other answers can be categorized under a cultural or community perspective. In this way, from an internal standpoint, respondents describe social development as having the competencies, abilities or personal resources to improve or have a good life and to achieve personal well-being.

“That people have social and personal resources needed to grow and improve their individual, familiar and community situation. This implies that one learns to live in a community and know how to resolve conflicts in a pacific and moral manner” (IA 04 ROP)

“Social development arises when potentials in people (capabilities, opportunities) are awaken, to be able to generate a better integral well-being” (NG 05 RWS)

The external point of view locates social development in the opportunities given by the environment people live in, the access to certain services, the quality of life or satisfaction of basic needs, inclusion, participation and the impact of policies or programs promoting and guaranteeing these structures.

“A mobilizing process of people, institutions and public entities to promote well-being in the population” (NG 02 IMIT)

“Policies and programs oriented to overcome inequalities and inequity of the population, such as poverty, inequality in the access to a quality education, inequalities in gender or ethnicity, among others” (ST 02 PH)

The third category includes characteristics like cultural belonging, change processes through community work and growth of community relationships. In this cultural or community perspective it is important to underline that again, both NGOs working in the Andean region preserving the cultures of the communities they work with, perceive development through this cultural perspective, so that in one case, development as a goal is completely denied, as not being part of the world vision of the Andean and amazon cultures, and the other case includes the special relationship the community has with nature, emphasizing its value for their development.

“It means a change process through community work and personal relationships that strives to improve life conditions, mainly in an emotional level and in personal well-being, and in relation to the community and our socialization habits. Besides, they should be in accordance with the environment” (SE 01 ARW)

“We don´t talk about development, but of cultural affirmation and that means for us to invigorate the agriculture, its organic nature, its rituals, recovering and/or invigorating their own knowledge, to recover the healthy life of the three big communities (deities, nature and human)” (NG 09 CHY

“Cultivating a more elegant relationship with our natural world, with humility and gratitude, acknowledges her pre-eminence” (NG 10 WQR)

The main idea implicitly is that social development is a process, dynamic, which has many different dimensions (multifaceted), and includes transformation, interventions that are aimed to external and internal changes. In this way, the broad definition from Midgley (2014a) of social development is commonly reflected in the answers given through the survey.  


About well-being, the participants were asked first to mention the main problems affecting the well-being of the populations they were working with. Second, they were requested to describe their understanding of the term well-being, and additionally from the Table 1 of this research, which lists the individual and external features of well-being as a summary of different conceptualizations, they were asked to check which items they believed were part of well-being for them.

Regarding the problems affecting well-being, the participants refer mainly to two categories, multi-dimensional problems and the way programs are designed. As for the first category, respondents underline difficulties which were also mentioned in the previous question, like access to basic services (drinking water and electricity), malnutrition, few opportunities, poverty, violence, risk behaviours (like a scarce self-care culture in health), etc. Further, one participant representing amazon communities referred to beliefs and an inferiority complex.   

“The dispersion of the population, the inequalities, the lack of monetary resources, the access to quality services (health, education), services without cultural pertinence” (IA 02 UCF)

“They don´t have the tools to get out of the vicious circle of poverty: young and poor equals a limited development of abilities and competencies, equals precarious job, and equals a new poor home” (NG 07 IPSD)

“To believe that a self-concept of inferiority is natural, that they were born that way, “that was what our ancestors were, and so we will continue to be”, a weak clarity to see themselves as change and/or evolution subjects” (CBA 02 IADP)

Regarding the second category, it was mentioned again the way the programs, policies and projects are designed, implemented and evaluated, as this is usually not as effective as desired. And again, from one participant, the development institutions and others were blamed for the obstruction of the well-being of the community.

“Lack of effectiveness in the development programs and projects” (NG 08 CBA)

“Inefficient management of projects and resources, political decisions and decisions which harm the management and the social development” (ST 02 PH)

“The development institutions, the religious sects, the educational system that doesn´t converse with reality” (NG 09 CHY)

About the definition or understanding of well-being, as found during the conceptual framework, the comprehensions vary between two main categories: those which are very subjective, and some which are more environmental or external. Another category includes understanding well-being integrally and the last category equating well-being to the concept of “living well”. For the subjective category, well-being is an individual feeling, be it of happiness, of feeling well and being able to feel well and to have the capacity or the personal resources to achieve well-being.

“Feeling well with an elevated self-esteem” (NG 01 IADR)

“Well-being is at first, that situation of peace and calm that we have doing activities, moments of comfort and happiness” (SE 01 ARW)

On the other hand, the second category groups those emphasising the environment, who mention the coverage or satisfaction of basic needs, having economic and social resources, achieving quality of life, finding the adequate conditions to either be free to decide, to develop optimally, to exercise their own rights, to unfold the own potentials and others.

“Having basic needs covered and having economic, social and emotional resources to have a fulfilling life” (NG 05 RWS)

“Having the possibility to access conditions that allow people or group of people maintain a quality of life with social, economic, labour, environmental sustainability, and the access to basic services that the state needs to provide” (IA 03 ANN)

Further participants conceptualize well-being integrally, as they acknowledge both dimensions, and few match well-being with the described “living well” concept of the Andean regions of Latin America.

 “For us well-being is linked to the concept of living well (a bio-psycho-social-spiritual development, which in reality is a unity), where the needs (pyramid of Maslow) are tried to be satisfied. Well-being is living in harmony, that the person can know her/himself, explore, and connect with her/himself, the others and the nature and so transcending the economic development, towards other Maslow-pyramid sectors, but in a social level” (NG 05 RWS-2)

“This is a very anthropocentric term, we talk about “living well”, but a person, family, family groups or the own community can´t live well if their natural environment is sick, so that if we want to talk of living well, we have to clean up and restore everything, their landscape, the way they are being raised, the way they are organized, their rituals, etc.” (NG 09 CHY)

The definitions provided by the respondents, reflect a very similar comprehension of how well-being was defined in this research, with a balanced view of the internal (achievement and an own identity with feelings of belonging) and external factors (configurations ensuring equality, peace, freedom of choice, opportunities and access to education, work and health).

Methods and strategies

Regarding which strategies and methods the participants implement in their work, almost all respondents apply educational methods. Many indicated that they had educational platforms, spaces or strategies. One of them especially offers a two-year leadership program where every professional can apply; they receive training in pedagogy and leadership and teach in public schools in vulnerable communities. Other mentioned the strengthening and development of capabilities, and other occupational training, technical assistance or entrepreneurial development. Also, few respondents referred to the development of soft skills and leadership, and others to methods of learning by doing, using ludic training methods, and implement workshops with parents or families and one participant trains professionals who are working in social development projects and public management. Significant were those who stated participative methods and the access to information or the sensitizing of the population. Furthermore, some stated a gender approach and other a sustainable development approach. Other respondents apply integral development strategies, which intervene in different dimensions. Few apply networking, a result-based approach, inclusion, socio-therapy or psychological therapy and dialogue and conversations. Exact number of mentions can be seen in the following Table 5.

Table 5. Number of mentions of strategies and methods implemented by the survey respondents



Besides, the participants had to check which strategies they implemented in their work (see Figure 7). As can be expected after the previously described methods, most of the participants stated the development of human capital, followed by social capital and community development. Also significant were those who apply social planning, employment and decent work and social protection.

Fig. 7 Strategies and methods used by survey participants

When asked which strategies and methods are the most effective achieving the promotion of well-being, participants often mentioned the strategies they already implement as the “most effective”. Nevertheless, they revealed some preferences. Ten of the participants mentioned again education, developing abilities, talent and human capital. Seven of the respondents suggested that active participation and the empowering of the population has the best outcomes. Three stated that the most important method is to adapt the design and intervention to the characteristics and features of the target population. Once more, three of the participants, proposed the integral approach in a long-term to be most effective. In groups of two, most effective is coordinating with the state and the civic society, to not reinforce assistance-driven interventions, generating social capital, and creating networks and partnerships.

 “When social and individual topics are worked on that help people question their actions and paradigms, together with feasible alternatives, accompanied by the state. Monitoring and evaluation of the process” (IA 04 ROP)

“One strategy I try to implement is active participation. People who usually participate in state programs are often considered as users, when in reality they are allies. In the moment, the focus of the program is attention and recovery. To tackle the root problem, it is important to start educational and empowerment processes with the population from the first years of age” (ST 01 MH HP)

“I believe more effective is generating abilities and empowering people, and not reinforcing assistance-driven interventions” (NG 05 RWS-1)

“Those which implicate the citizen participation in the spaces of decision and construction of development proposals, instead of being “objects” of development, being “subjects” of development, with rights, but also with duties” (NG 02 IMIT)

6.3         The perception of Social Work in the promotion of well-being

This section of the survey addressed the specific role of social workers in the promotion of well-being in Peru. The participants were asked if they had or currently work with social workers and how they would describe the role of social workers in the promotion of well-being through this experience. As previously mentioned, 13 participants stated that their organizations employed social workers. Besides, 16 had worked with social workers. For these participants, the role in the promotion of well-being of social workers can be divided into three main categories: a positive and valuable role, a negative or unimportant role and a neutral role. The majority though, described their role in a positive way, stating the importance and value of their tasks as providing an integral focus, empowering, strengthening capabilities, building community, focussing on human rights and equality and being representatives of the population.

“Very important because their work is based on a social and health integral focus. They look to work with the individual, the family and the environment to assure the sustainability of the change” (IA 04 ROP)

 “On a community level, the rights of mainly the most vulnerable population have been promoted (now, children, adolescents and women know more about their rights). This community and/or local experiences have risen to superior levels (regional and national) and have allowed proposing public policies and in other cases strengthening the existent public policy” (IA 02 UCF)

“To impact through every space where they work in (familiar, groups, collective, neighbourhood, professionals, etc.) so that every person becomes a promoter of the changes our society deserves, putting in the centre the human rights and the respect and gratitude to the environment” (ST 02 PH)

“Vital, as they are facilitators, spokespersons, “bridges”, representatives of the population” (NGU 04 USJ)

On the other hand, there were three participants who judged the role of social workers in the promotion of well-being as in need to improve, thus they describe it as rigid and rare.

“They are still kind of rigid; they should be more flexible and be more open to innovation” (NG 05 RWS)

“Rare, most them are dedicated to working on labour aspects in companies (payroll, social benefits of employees, etc.). Very few of them work on the field and in development projects, or doing social extension labour; their role in the promotion of well-being and in the development processes isn’t visible and their commitment scarce” (IA 03 ANN)

 “Good, except the case when they are assistance-driven, this limits the self-development of people” (NG 07 IPSD)

Lastly, the respondents described their understanding of the profession of social work. Most of them related the major goal of the profession to the promotion or pursuit of well-being of the population.

“Study that concentrates on assuring the well-being of an individual considering its familiar and social environment, as well as its physical, emotional and community needs. This is achieved through a direct work with the individual, their environment and also at a political level” (IA 04 ROP)

“Professionals dedicated to achieving well-being of individuals and families” (NGU 03 PCU)

Equally frequent were those descriptions were the social work professional was viewed in sum, as promoter of equality, passionate server of humanity and the common good, specialist of social challenges and interpersonal relationships with the environment.

“A passion for social support” (NG 06 MNK)

Capacity to identify problems and design strategies to achieve desired social realities by the members of these social groups” (CBA 02 IADP)

“A person who is trained to comprehend social challenges from an individual and institutional perspective” (NA 02 ESP)

“Social work is a discipline which diagnoses problems and organizes technical, financial and human resources coming from national and international, public and private institutions, destined to attend the social problematic; analyzes and evaluates social policies; mobilizes resources of the population in their communities and families; it starts with the levels of organization of the civic society and builds on with individuals social strategies that synchronize efforts for the full exercise of social rights. They know and interpret needs, scarcity and demands to be able to develop policies and social programs and improve their level and life conditions” (NG 11 IHC)

Few participants mentioned very specific tasks of social work, such as promoting well-being of employees in companies, a professional who works in social programs and who interacts with beneficiaries of these programs, professionals with a special vision of the context, that when they aren´t assistance-driven or paternalistic they add to the multidisciplinary work, professionals who capitalize social capabilities and a profession that requires an integral and multi-functional approach. Two respondents admitted not knowing what this profession is about, and other two participants described a rather negative version of the profession, stating that their task is “limited to immediate support, without a vision of mid or long term” and as a profession which “does not have economic potential”.

Previously presented in the conceptual framework, the definition of the social work profession proposed by the IFSW (2014) also underlines the enhancement of well-being, empowerment, human rights, respect for diversity and indigenous knowledge as mentioned by the participants of the survey in relation to social work, showing that although there were some negative opinions and some respondents who didn´t have a clear understanding of the profession, most of them acknowledged the main features of the profession and its role in the promotion of well-being. However, it remains a challenge for social workers to familiarise and inform the population, mostly those other professionals who are working with them, about the goals, methods and concepts of social work. This can be achieved essentially through the new and coming generations of social workers and social development professionals. In this way, as Gray (2002) states, in the training and education of social workers what is most important is to teach students to be resourceful, to locate information and creativity. The goal is to develop critically reflective practitioners who can think on their own and to apply their knowledge and skills to diverse contexts.

6.4     Potentials and challenges in the promotion of well-being

Finally, the last segment of the survey inquired about the potentials and challenges in the promotion of well-being in Peru.

Concerning the challenges, in groups of four to five participants, the difficulty to find financing, the focus on economic development leaving the social and human development aside, social inequalities, mostly in the access to quality basic services, and corruption were recounted. Subsequent, the lack of human and social capital, the low empathy and solidarity in the country, the current political management of public policies, and the prejudices and stereotypes were stated in groups of three respondents.

Many challenges require important changes, not only in external structures, but mainly in internal, social, cultural and mind-setting dimensions. To encourage these changes and transformations, the participants have also provided the potentials, based on their experiences in the promotion of well-being.

These potentials of the sector are for the most part also within an internal dimension, such as a strong professional and personal commitment to serve, the will and innate capability of humans to thrive and endure, the resilience and the innate capabilities flourishing despite of harsh conditions, the strength of the community, to create encounter and complementarity between members, the human bound, the power of encouragement and listening, support and reassurance, the power of love. Also, the ancient knowledge and its articulation with current knowledge, the diversity in human, social, cultural and ecological dimensions, the reflective and privileged position of development workers in order to acknowledge the need and problems of the population deeply and the ability to achieve a lot with few resources.

Additionally other significant potentials, regarding more external structures, were mentioned. The included the demographic bonus of Peru, the dens network of organizations committed with promoting well-being, an adequate normative frame, the high demand of beneficiaries for services. Also, the growing GNI, the existence of interesting public policies and programs in the public agenda, the current investment in human capital, the implementation of policies to build infrastructure (roads and social services, such as hospitals and schools). Moreover, the valorisation of sustainable and long-term projects and programs which will have a social impact, the constant training of professionals, the valuable role of volunteers, the use of best-practices in the work with families. Finally, the incorporation of different and necessary perspectives to generate social impact, which is real and inclusive, and the ecological, economic and social recovery of many communities in rural areas.

7        Conclusions

Analyzing the results of the survey of this research, the main goals of the sample organizations can be categorized under integral development, specific goals like reducing childhood malnutrition and the preservation of culture. Social development is for the participants either external (opportunities given by the environment, the access to services, inclusion and participation), internal (having the personal resources to have a good life) or linked to cultural belonging and community work. Regarding the problems and difficulties, the participants are addressing through their work, the majority underline the multiple nature of these problems, a blend of social vulnerability, consequences from terrorism and natural disasters, crime and gangs, poverty, violence, malnutrition, unemployment, bad parenting practices, risk behaviours, lack of opportunities, inefficient public processes involved, etc. Most participants inform they are preventing these problems through precisely their interventions, favouring education, empowering and training. Well-being is defined either in terms of individual-centred (happiness, having the capacity to achieve well-being), environment-centred features (satisfaction of basic needs, economic and social resources) or integrally, and few match well-being with the described “living well” concept of the Andean regions of Latin America. Also, most of the respondents agreed with every item of the definition of well-being constructed in this research. Concepts and theories used are mostly human development, human rights and equality theory, followed closely by the gender and the intercultural approach, alternative education, sustainable development and ethics. Concerning which strategies and methods the participants implement in their work, most of them indicated educational strategies such as development of capabilities, training and technical assistance, others use the gender and sustainable development approach and many apply integral development strategies intervening simultaneously in different dimensions. Of the strategies described by Midgley (2014a) most of them use human capital, social capital and community development, social planning, social protection and employment and decent work. As the most effective strategies achieving the promotion of well-being,  education, active participation and empowering were preferred. The achieved outcomes tend to be either specific and quantifiable outcomes, or more subjective and qualitative results and about half of them are evaluating their impact in detail. About social workers, they are employed in around half of the organizations and more than half of the respondents had worked with them. They described their role in the promotion of well-being mainly positively, stating the value of their role as providing an integral focus, empowering, building community, focussing on human rights and equality and being representatives of the population. Few judged their role as rigid and sporadic and many emphasized the idea of a shared responsibility and complementarity of all professions to work towards well-being. For the participants, the social work profession is related to the pursuit of well-being, as promoters of the access of people to basic services in equal conditions. Few admitted not knowing what this profession is about, and others described it as limited to immediate and short-term aid.

Concluding, the promotion of well-being in Peru involves a significant number of agents, a diversity which reflects the own diversity of the people, culture and natural features. Goals of promotion and prevention, as described and identified in this research, cannot be prioritized when other urgent necessities still need to be satisfied (poverty and inequality). Nevertheless, many professionals, in the private, non-profit, public and in the civic society in general are already finding ways, promoting and facilitating social change, a transformation towards a more fair and equal society, in honour of the well-being of individuals, families and communities through innovative and integral interventions.

“The promotion of well-being should be universally transversal to basic education and superior to every level” (ST 02 PH)

Social work has the potential to strengthen social development interventions in general; so that the risk in social development, to remain linked solely to economic growth, can be diminished. And avoid that the subjective well-being is linked with individualized choices rather than the benefits to be gained from collective approaches to the promotion of well-being and human rights. Thus, since social work is deeply rooted in the psychosocial, economic, political, and historical perspective of each country, it makes the profession ideal as an agent of change and denouncer of society's human and social inequalities, however, its close relationship to public governments and NGOs and others, requires a less radical position when seeking social change. Social capital and the solidarity of Latin American countries are critical to promote well-being within the region (Queiro-Tajalli, 2012).

List of Tables

Table 1. Fundamental individual and environmental features of psycho-social well-being10

Table 2. Study sample of the agents of social development in Peru12

Table 3. Frequency of Job Positions of survey respondents13

Table 4. Frequency of professions of survey respondents13

Table 5. Number of mentions of strategies and methods implemented by the survey respondents20


List of Figures

Fig. 1 Location of the sample organizations13

Fig. 2 Gender of survey respondents13

Fig. 3 Population area and geographical region14

Fig. 4 Type of populations intervened by the sample organizations15

Fig. 5 Intervention level of sample organizations15

Fig. 6 Professions working in the sample organizations15

Fig. 7 Strategies and methods used by survey participants21






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Author´s Address:
Miriam Gerlach
Universität Vechta
Driverstraße 22
49377 Vechta
+49 17101573561