Alvin Rosenbaum, who officially assumed the role of president of the Nosara Civic Association (NCA) on April 1, has built a career around defending civil rights and finding practical solutions to problems around the world as a consultant for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the World Bank. His specialties include sustainable tourism development, public-private partnerships, training and community organization, getting different parts of a community together around an issue, and now he wants to put that skill set to work in Nosara.
Now 68 years old, Alvin and his wife, Linda Tarlow, made the permanent move to Nosara in August of 2012. They discovered Nosara in 2007 while looking for a vacation spot with good vegetarian food since Linda is a vegetarian. They bought land here a year and a half later and visited 14 times before moving here and applying for residency. From his previous marriage, Alvin has two sons, one in California and one in Israel. Alvin is Jewish but does not consider himself religious. He describes himself as a practical guy. “I’m looking at what is doable and I’m learning, and some things I’ll learn I can’t do and some things I’ll discover I can,” he affirmed. He listed waste management, water and the dust as three main priority issues.
Although Alvin faces a language gap since he only speaks English and relies on translators, he expressed confidence in the ability to unite different community groups. “I’ve been post-conflict, post-natural disaster, post-something where I have been sent in to help repair damage that has been done,” he recounted, “so I’ve gone to hard places to try to do hard things and try to move the needle, so this is a dream boat. I mean I’m not saying it’s easy but it’s possible.” Among places where Alvin has worked as a consultant are Nigeria, Iraq, Bosnia and Sri Lanka.VON wanted to find out what plans Alvin has for his new role in the Nosara community, including his recent efforts to partner with the Nosara Development Association in the quest to form a coastal canton. Below are excerpts from our conversation.
VOICE: What made you want to step up to the plate with the NCA as president?
I saw that there were opportunities here, that from recent work that I did in West Africa that the opportunities to actually succeed in things are much greater here and that I was very impressed from the very beginning with the volunteer community of the American Project. For a town this size it has an enormous amount of voluntary time and money and activity and that’s very impressive and I wanted to be part of that. It wasn’t the beach.
VOICE: So you picked up on this desire to be a canton as an issue that you could get the community around?
That initiative began with the Nosara Development Association last summer and we read an article about it in the Voice of Nosara and I began to ask questions in and around the NCA and discovered that either people were highly skeptical or didn’t know anything about it, and I decided to see what was going on and see if in fact it was realistic and see if I might be helpful, and part of my either volunteering or being recruited to the NCA was that I think there was a general feeling that the NCA was ready to go in that direction with more involvement in the community surrounding the American Project, and it’s been wonderfully welcomed. I’ve gotten very very good feedback so far on what I talk about.
VOICE: As a strategist, what do you see as the imperative needs or the opportunities for this community?
I think we suffer as a community because there’s not a consistently applied set of ordinances that people will follow. We hear that there are a lot of robberies in houses because we don’t have appropriate law enforcement, either policing or judicial. If we had local self government— it may not be a new canton—it may be that in terms of the structure of what we wind up doing may be different than what we think now but it’s important that we form relationships with our sister communities, both tico and gringo, and sit down together to say this is what’s important, these are the priorities. It may be in the Nosara village that education and medical services are higher on the list than they are in the American Project, but everybody talks about the road as a high priority. Everybody talks about water as a high priority. Let’s find out what we agree on, let’s find out what are high priorities, what are lower priorities, and together let’s find the best solutions that marry all of that good civic volunteer effort with governmental action, whether that’s in San Jose, in a new canton or in Nicoya. And I’m not moved by skeptics because skeptics are not necessarily informed about what we can do. Usually skeptics have stopped or haven’t started to investigate what is possible.
VOICE: So how do you feel in your new role as president with so much history of distrust between the NCA and the Development Association, between the gringos and the ticos?
Well there are two parts to that. There’s the gringo part and there’s the tico part. I come to Nosara without baggage. I don’t have a business; I’m not an investor here. I mean, we’re building a house but it’s for our own retirement. We’re not renting it out. It’s a two-bedroom house and we plan to live there and so all of the history, the 40-year history of the American Project isn’t really about anything that I’m really all that interested in. It’s water under the bridge and who owns what and who cheated on whom and all of that stuff that fills the history of this place, I’m not part of that. I have been welcomed with open arms. They’re delighted that I’ve come to them and said how can we partner, how can we help, how can we come together around some issues and see if we can make some changes. And if nothing else we’ve created new friendships, new trust, a new way to go forward, and it will take what it takes. I believe in the power of voluntary action and not motivated by money.
VOICE: What are your main goals going into being NCA president?
Well I think that NCA’s mission needs to be broadened, that the whole definition of sustainable development on which NCA was founded 40 years ago has broadened to include social and economic values as well as environment. It’s also hiring locals, doing training, you know, contributing to the community in a positive way, and so I see the mission of NCA broadening to include social and economic issues that have not been emphasized in the past.
VOICE: The NCA has possession of and is managing green zones, but the Development Association feels those lands should be in the possession of the municipality. What’s your opinion of the green zones?
The prerequisite is building trust from a clean slate. Yes, I know the history, but I’m not part of that history, and whether I’m pro or con a particular issue regarding a particular project on which NCA has taken a stand… to me history, and obviously there’s some things that exist and I have indicated to my future board that my interest is in creating a trusting, productive, cooperative relationship with our sister communities and moving forward from that base, which means if we have conflict, let’s have a process to discuss and try to deal with problems in a collaborative way rather than an adversarial way.