Participate’s global research findings say that people and institutions must ‘work together’ to address poverty and inequality

Posted by & filed under MDGs, Participation, Participatory Methodologies, Post-2015.

Joanna Wheeler

Participate’s new report Work with us: How people and organisations can catalyse sustainable change’ argues that the wellbeing of the world’s poorest and most marginalised communities will only be improved if they are seen as active partners in efforts to tackle poverty and injustice.

Participation and realising the rights of all
The report brings together findings from the participatory research of the Participate Participatory Research Group that was undertaken by grassroots organisations, activists and citizens in 29 countries including Kenya, the Philippines, South Africa, Bangladesh, Montenegro, Egypt and Nigeria. The views, stories, and experiences of the participants were collected and shared through diverse mediums including participatory film-making, digital storytelling, public forums, public theatre and art.

The research makes an important contribution to ongoing international discussions about a new set of poverty reduction and environmental sustainability targets to replace the current Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in 2015. These debates are currently riding high on the political agenda with world leaders about to gather in New York for the UN General Assembly and the Special event towards meeting the MDGs.

This research provides a clear message to leaders meeting in New York. Development policies have not met the expectations of the poorest and most marginalised, and this is largely because these communities have been excluded from crucial design and implementation processes. We have an opportunity to redress this with the post 2015 development framework, but the international community must demonstrate its commitment to working with all citizens to realise their rights, and recognise the role that people are playing themselves in transforming their own lives.

The reality of poverty
The ‘Work with us’ report highlights how the poorest and most marginalised communities’ experience of poverty is multidimensional, often characterised by low incomes, insecure livelihoods, limited or no assets, harsh living environments, violence and environmental degradation. These factors combine with multiple and interconnected inequalities, and close down the opportunities that people have to change their situation themselves.

In the report it is argued that development should focus on the very poorest and work with them to make the decisions that matter most in their lives. The research shows that development interventions, broadly speaking, are targeted at those who are easiest to reach, and based on strong assumptions about the experiences of the poorest, rather than building relationships with them to have a real understanding of how they experience poverty and inequality.

In order to address this it is proposed that a number of key principles must underpin future development policy and practice if the ambition of the post-2015 High Level Panel report to ‘leave no behind’ is to be achieved. These include:

  • Rights, dignity and equity
  • Inclusion, solidarity and collective action
  • Participation, accountability and democratic institutions
  • Services and policies which respond to the needs of the poorest

Through their efforts to tackle insecurity, youth researchers in Mathare slum, Nairobi, have learnt what they are able to do as a community, and where ‘working together’ will bring change that lasts. ‘Working together for change – Mathare Slum, Kenya’ (Spatial Collective, 2013)

Work with us exhibition launch
The report will be launched in New York at the opening night of an exhibition of the research findings from the Participate initiative. The exhibition tells stories from people living in the margins, and demonstrates the obstacles, complexities, and impossible choices of the most vulnerable and marginalised groups in developing countries. The stories show the depth of insight and ability of people affected by poverty to create sustainable and meaningful change in their own communities.

The exhibition is launching on Monday 16 September at 5-7pm at the Gallatin Galleries, New York University, 1 Washington Place at Broadway, New York 10003. The exhibition will run from 16-20 September at Gallatin Galleries, and from 21-27 September at RSPop, 501 Lexington Avenue, New York NY 10017.

There will be a panel event to discuss the research findings from the Participate initiative on Friday 20 September at 9-11am at NYU Wagner, the Rudin Family Forum for Civic Dialogue at the Puck Building, 295 Lafayette Street, Second Floor, New York, NY 10012-9604. The panel will be made up of representatives from the UN, academics, civil society and the Participate research network.

Participate is also hosting a screening of the documentary film Work With Us on Friday 20 September at 6.30pm at RSPop, 501 Lexington Avenue, New York NY 10017. This coincides with a month long series of screenings of the film in locations across the world including Kenya, the Philippines, South Africa, Palestine, Uganda and India.

For more information visit the exhibition website –

Post attachments

Title Author(s) Description Link
Work with us: How people and organisations can catalyse sustainable change Burns, D.; Howard, J.; Lopez-Franco, E.; Shahrokh, T. and Wheeler, J This report provides a synthesis of studies conducted by the Participate Participatory Research Group (PRG) in 29 countries, and attempts to identify and draw out the patterns of change that emerge across them from people’s accounts of their own experiences of moving in or out of poverty and marginalisation Download (8 MB)
Press Release - Work with Us Download (229 KB)

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