Recupera Chile

Recupera Chile is a multi-disciplinary Harvard University initiative that brings together a broad coalition of institutions including Harvard students, alumni and faculty, as well as Chilean academics, non-profits, private and public sector organizations to focus on post-disaster recovery. Led by HKS, GSD, HMS, and the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies, the program addressed a range of issues including technical assistance, livelihood restoration, capacity building, community mental health, economic recovery, early childhood education, cultural heritage restoration, and built space in three communities near the epicenter of the 2010 earthquake and tsunami in southern Chile.


About this Initiative:

Recupera Chile is an ongoing initiative since 2011 that addresses technical assistance, livelihood restoration, capacity building, economic recovery, community mental health, early childhood education, cultural heritage restoration, and built space, in the three communities of Cobquecura, Dichato and Perales and surrounding areas, near the epicenter of the 2010 earthquake and tsunami in southern Chile. This initiative addressed disaster recovery and mitigation within communities that were deeply affected in the subsequent years. The people, businesses and local governments of each of these communities worked in tandem with Recupera Chile on a number of projects based on assessments of needed relief emerging from each community with the help of students and faculty from Harvard and its partners.


Current Work:

The project aims to put Harvard University’s network and knowledge into action by integrating a multidisciplinary Harvard faculty team and involving students with local communities. Recupera Chile connects these and other resources with the needs of the communities and in so doing, deliberately involve different players in the long-term and sustainable development of the region. It recognizes the community as the main driver of the recovery/development process. The program therefore follows a bottom-up approach resulting in a thoughtful analysis to improve the quality of life of the entire community. Recupera Chile’s long term goal is to create local and international networks to support the projects and to build on lessons learned, to strengthen local assets to ensure that the results will endure once these actors step aside. Harvard hopes to further develop its efforts to address disaster prevention and mitigation around the world through the study of the Chile case.


In January 2019, Judith Palfrey (HMS), visited Dichato, Chile to develop an Innovative Marine Science Education for Children program, as part of the Recupera Chile Initiative and through the Santander Foundation for innovative educational programming. Working with scientists from Universidad del Desarrollo, they will develop modules and methodologies that support local teachers in teaching the fundamentals of climate science, marine biology, oceanography and prudent stewardship of fish and shellfish populations.


In April 2019, Diane Davis (GSD), RFK Professor Pablo Allard, and Judith Palfrey (HMS), led a two day conference on conceptual frameworks for recovery in Mexico and Chile. “Beyond Reconstruction: Environmental, social, and infrastructural challenges for long-term recovery after major earthquakes in Mexico and Chile.” Diane Davis´ GSD students presented their research and post disaster opportunity projects after the earthquake and field trip in January to Tehuantepec.  Recupera Chile team experts, led by Doug Ahlers (HKS) and Judith Palfrey (HMS), presented lessons learned after 8 years of experiential learning with community involvement. During the event, Marcela Rentería and Pablo Allard signed the adoption of Recupera Chile by Universidad del Desarrollo. 

Moving forward, Harvard faculty involved in the project will publish a case study, "Post-disaster community empowerment in Chile: A case study of long-term recovery programs in three Chilean coastal communities following the 2010 earthquake and tsunami."

Check out the Recupera Chile website here.


Recupera Chile Program Leaders and Collaborators


Participating Harvard faculty: Doug Ahlers, Adjunct Lecturer in Public Policy, Harvard Kennedy School; Judith Palfrey, T. Berry Brazelton Professor of Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School; Pierre Bélanger, Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture, Harvard Graduate School of Design, Diane Davis (GSD)

Collaborators: Miho Mazereeuw, MIT Architecture; Sam and Cindy McCullagh; Elizabeth Peacock, HMS; Iván Cartes, Universidad del Bío-Bío; Mario Valdivia and Martín Zilic, Universidad de Concepción; Gino Mosso, SERCOTEC; Miguel Cordero; Matthew Stolhandske

Collaborating Institutions: Center for International Development, Harvard University; MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Universidad Católica, Universidad Adolfo Ibáñez, Universidad de Concepción, Universidad del Desarrollo, Universidad del Bío-Bío, CORFO, SERCOTEC, FOSIS, Ministerio de Vivienda y Urbanismo, Consejo de Monumentos Nacionales, Fundación CREA, Fundación para la Superación de la Pobreza, Arauco, Fundación Integra, Delegado de Aldeas y Campamentos, Municipalidad de Tomé, Dichato y Coelemu, Fundación EPES.


More details of the leaders involved:


Dough Ahlers, Senior Fellow at the Program on Crisis Leadership at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, co-founder of Recupera Chile.


Pablo Allard, Doctor of Design Studies, Master of Architecture in Urban Design, GSD. RFK Professor of Latin American Studies at Harvard GSD, Dean Faculty of Architecture Universidad del Desarrollo. After the earthquake and tsunami that devastated Chile in 2010, Allard was appointed by President Piñera to serve as National Urban Reconstruction Coordinator at the Chilean Ministry of Housing and Urbanism, leading the recovery master plans of more than 150 Chilean cities and towns. In this role, he helped to connect the Recupera Chile team with the local recovery teams in the Biobio region, providing key governmental support to the initiative. In 2018 he rejoined the research team as part of his RFK professorship at Harvard.


Pilar del Canto, Program Manager, Recupera Chile


Ivan Cartes, Architect and Professor, Head Department of Urban Planning and Design, Universidad de Bío-Bío, Chile


Diane Davis, Charles Dyer Norton Professor of Regional Planning and Ubanism, Chair of the Department of Urban Planning and Design, GSD


Alex Mansfield, Ecology Program Director for Jones River Watershed Association. Principal Research Scientist for Battelle Memorial Institute. is a Marine Ecologist, Master of Science in Environmental Coastal and Ocean Sciences, University of Massachusetts, Environmental Restoration Specialist, and (former) Oyster Farmer in Massachusetts. Through those related networks Alex connected with Harvard's Recupera Chile program. In January 2014 Alex served as an advisor to Harvard students working on aquaculture planning in Dichato, Chile as part of Harvard's Community Recovery: Rebuilding Disaster Damaged Communities course. The outcomes of that effort lead to expanding the outreach to a number of impacted communities through the creation of the Granjeros del Mar program. Alex helped lead a hands-on workshop in the community that focused on business planning and creating economic opportunities through small-scale, family-owned, aquaculture operations.


Judith Palfrey, MD T. Berry Brazelton Professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and a Senior Associate in Medicine at Children’s Hospital, Boston. Dr. Palfrey has worked for the past 8 year as on the Recupera Chile project as one of the Harvard faculty leads. She has been particularly responsible for the children’s health and mental health work through L’Escula en Realidad in conjunction with the Dichato, Chile school.


Lilly Peacock-Chambers, MD, Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at University of Massachusetts Medical School


Ana Maria Quiros, Master of Design Studies, Risk and Resilience, GSD. Ana Maria conducted a series of interviews and surveys in January 2019 with senior municipality leaders, university faculty members, and community members who candidly shared their experiences and insights about these programs. Her findings have been summarized in a report to define best practices that can help community groups and organizations in Chile and other countries initiate and sustain long-term community-based recovery projects post disaster.


Marcela Rentería, Master of Arts in Intercultural Relations, Lesley University, Executive Director, Regional Office, David Rockefeller Center for Latin Americas Studies, Harvard University. Marcela is the co-founder of Recupera Chile initiative, after the 27F earthquake and tsunami in Chile. From its inception, Marcela has been the mind responsible for connecting and articulating academic interventions, funds and support from Harvard faculty and students from different schools, with national and international institutions and efforts, across public, private and academic sectors, towards the development of a coherent effective community disaster recovery program intervention. The main areas of this holistic approach have been urban, economic, social and cultural development, with special emphasis on children's mental health and women empowerment.