The INTERNATIONAL INSTITUTE OF RURAL RECONSTRUCTION,
or IIRR as it is known to its intimates, is unique among government and non-government
agencies attempting to promote development in the Third World. The concepts shaping its
efforts had their genesis nearly 70 years ago in France during World War I, where Dr.
Y.C.James Yen and associates were teaching illiterate Chinese laborerssent by the
Chinese government to help in the warto read and write. From this beginning grew the
Mass Education Movement (MEM) that was remaking rural life on the north China plain until
its leadership was driven out by the Japanese military in 1937. After World War II the
United States Congress lent new impetus to the movement, funding the Sino-American Joint
Commission on Rural Reconstruction that, using adaptations of MEM concepts, led eventually
to the transformation of rural Taiwan.
IIRR, incorporated in the U.S. in 1960 as an international rather than strictly Chinese
movement, conducted a worldwide search for a physical site. In 1961 it selected a 52
hectare site in Silang, Cavite, Philippines, for its training and research headquarters.
Recruitment of the individuals who were to build the INSTITUTE began then, and included
Dr.Juan M. Flavier, who became president in 1978 and manages a staff now numbering 160.
From the outset IIRR did not attempt to direct development. Rather it sought to serve the
Rural Reconstruction Movement (RRM) already in existence in the Philippines, Colombia md
Guatemala, and later developed in Thailand, Ghana and India. Workers from these lands have
been trained at Silang to return home better equipped to help their neighbors.
IIRR has suffered many setbacks but has achieved much. Soon after the INSTITUTE began its
work its approach of small scale, one-on-one rural development went out of fashion;
massive schemes to reshape the landscape and rural life commanded both national and
international financial support. This change in priorities left the INSTITUTE in the
shadows, with many of its hard-earned lessons ignored.
Nevertheless IIRR clung to its precepts: going to the peasants, living among them,
planning and working with them, starting with what they knew and had, learning from them
and learning by doing. In time this approach proved its worth as decision makers, often
reluctantly, recognized that the means as well as the benefactor of development must be
International training began in Silang in 1965 and in 1971 participantssocial
workers, planners, donors and missionariescame from 11 countries and 18 government
and non-government agencies to the first training course to be given to non-RRM personnel.
Lectures and discussions were matched by field practice in the villagesfrom building
water-sealed toilets to helping farmers with upland rice variety test plots, vegetable and
herb gardens and cooperatives.
By 1978 training had become a major aspect of the INSTITUTE. World Vision, Christian
Children's Fund, UNICEF, UN Development Fund, FAO, the Peace Corps and USAID sponsored
trainees, as did Save the Children Fund, World Concern, Redd Barna and Foster Parents
Plan. Alumni of the full-curriculum courses now total 800.
For the benefit of rural foreign workers who find travel to the Philippines costly, IIRR
has instituted training courses abroad. In Kenya three training courses have been given
jointly with Voluntary Agencies Development Assistance for 81 participants. In Indonesia
similar joint training courses have been presented.
The exchange among rural workers from around the world is generating within IIRR new
understanding of the stubborn problems that hobble progress, and some options for
overcoming them. The INSTITUTE has yet to become a repository of farming expertise,
however, and matching social concern with hardheaded and productive profit on the land
remains a near-universal conundrum for development agencies. But by training workers and
farmers to organize around their common concerns and thus build a more attractive future
in the world's villages, IIRR, with its accumulated insight, has become an international
In electing the INTERNATIONAL INSTITUTE OF RURAL RECONSTRUCTION to receive the 1986 Ramon
Magsaysay Award for International Understanding, the Board of Trustees recognizes its
training of agrarian development workers from four continents, enabling them to share
experience and ideas for more effective progress.