Why the poorest and most marginalised must be made an OWG priority

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Participate has prepared the following response to the Open Working Group for Sustainable Development Goals’ revised Focus Areas contained in their Working Document ahead of the 11th session of the OWG on 5-9 May.

As the OWG continues to formulate the final post-2015 framework, Participate reiterates the call to members to ‘leave no-one behind’. Tackling extreme poverty and marginalisation alongside rising and intersecting inequalities, must be a priority for both governments and the international community. Targets that fail to address these issues, and that do not prioritise the social, economic, civil and political human rights of all people, or recognise the interconnected of these rights will continue to deepen the poverty of people left behind.

There must be clear accountability mechanisms for all institutions, within the public and private sectors to ensure that human rights are fully respected. In relation to this, the lack of emphasis of private sector accountability in the OWG focus areas is of great concern.

It is positive to read a reference to the ‘poorest and most marginalised’ but disappointing that it only appears in the footnotes relating to Focus area 15 (r) on disaggregated data. The principle of including these groups should not be exclusive to one target but made explicit throughout.

Participate’s own proposals for post-2015 targets sets out three foundational target areas which must underpin the others, and without which the post-2015 targets framework will be meaningless for the poorest and most marginalised people.

  • Livelihoods and pro-poor infrastructure development
  • Participation and citizen action
  • Tackle discriminatory norms

Participate has shared this response, which is grounded in participatory research with poor and marginalised people globally, with the Beyond 2015 civil society campaign who have built the central recommendations into their position for the OWG.

Participate analysis of the OWG ‘Working document’

Focus area 1 Poverty eradication, building shared prosperity and promoting equality

We strongly welcome the target to ensure equality of economic opportunity for all women and men, including secure rights to own land, property and other productive assets and access to financial services (f). Participate research highlights how marginalised groups (women in particular) are excluded from access to productive assets and formal land rights – a situation that makes livelihood security impossible.

However, in terms of how poverty is understood, an emphasis on intersecting inequalities has been lost. This is particularly worrying in relation to the establishment of an economic measurement of poverty (less than $1.25 dollars), which does not account for the multidimensional nature of poverty.

Focus area 5 Gender equality and women’s empowerment 

We are pleased to see the proposed target to ensure equal access to, and control of, assets and resources, including natural resources management. One of the major causes of poverty, in particular for women, is a lack of access to productive assets such as land and property, equipment, finance and markets etc.   However, access is not enough; people must be able to use those resources productively and effectively and individual and collective land rights must always be respected.

Focus area 8 Economic growth, employment and infrastructure

We are concerned with the assumption that economic growth leads to development for the poorest and most marginalised.  Post-2015 targets that focus only on providing infrastructure and formal employment will continue to deepen the poverty of people left behind.

We advise caution on the target concerning sustainable infrastructure accessible to all (g).  People are frequently displaced and their environments damaged in order to build infrastructure that does not benefit them. Sustainable infrastructure, that benefits the poorest while doing no harm to their livelihoods and environment is therefore critical.

We support the mention of the informal sector and informal employment (j) but would like to see greater recognition of their valuable contribution to economic growth.  Informal livelihoods and enterprise activities need to be supported, not criminalised, and recognised for building the social and material resources of development as well as providing a pathway into the economy.

Focus area 10: Sustainable cities and human settlements

The targets towards ‘universal access to adequate and affordable housing’ and to ‘eliminate slum-like conditions everywhere’ misses the devastating impact that slum ‘relocation’ programmes can have on the social capital and livelihood opportunities for their residents. Informal livelihoods and settlements that enable people to live a life of dignity must be recognised and supported.

Focus area 15. Means of implementation/Global partnership for sustainable development:

The discussion on the means of implementation needs to be substantially broadened.

Capacity building

While Participate broadly welcomes the target to a focus on generating disaggregated, timely and high-quality data (r), our research shows that disaggregated data is not enough – in order to truly understand the complexities of people’s lives and the ways in which they are impacted by different sorts of policies and interventions, qualitative data generated in participatory ways is essential.

In order to ensure that resources are invested in participatory processes we suggest a target that says: ‘Develop the capacity of local people to research their own realities, and develop strategies for responding effectively to problems in the their communities’.

Strengthened global partnership for sustainable development

People living in poverty and marginalisation need a development approach which is responsive to their needs and to their articulation of their rights. This requires a participatory approach to decision making at local and national level. Systems need to be built which ensure participation in the conception, design, implementation and evaluation stages of any development initiatives. This cannot be seen as something that comes after the development framework is set. It has to be embedded within it and seen as an integral part of it.

Focus area 16. Peaceful and inclusive societies, rule of law and capable institutions

We welcome the way in which the targets under this focus area speak to a participatory democracy and social justice agenda. Development fails the poorest because decision-making processes that affect their lives exclude them. People living in poverty have a right to participate in the design, implementation and monitoring of policies and programmes and to hold public institutions, civil society and the private sector accountable.

We echo calls from the Beyond 2015 civil society campaign, to ensure that the framing of targets here is outcome oriented to ensure a vision for transformative change is enabled and achieved through the framework. In order for this to happen we would like to see the continued emphasis of the following areas:

  • Decision-making is participatory and barriers to participation are removed, particularly for those who are systematically excluded
  • Public and private institutions are responsive and accountable to citizens
  • A properly resourced and enabling environment for citizen action is ensured
  • Access and quality of justice institutions, legal services, and the right to identity for people living in poverty and marginalisation is ensured Institutions are free from discrimination and prejudice
  • Strengthened grassroots organisations of people living in poverty and marginalisation
  • Resources, programmes and policies focus on shifting discriminatory attitudes and achieving behaviour change



Community involvement, raising voice and taking action

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peggy tusiimePelagia Tusiime is Community Empowerment Programme Manager at the Coalition for Health Promotion and Social Development (HEPS) in Uganda. As well as representing HEPs-Uganda in the Participate Participatory Research Group (PRG), Pelagia led the Digital Story Telling and Theatre for Development activities during the participatory research “Tackling the urban health divide in Kawempe Urban slum, Kampala, Uganda” (2013).


During this period of dialogue  with the United Nations Development Group on the participatory monitoring and accountability  of the post-2015 development framework, I wanted to share my experience of communities raising voice through participation.

At the Coalition for Health Promotion and Social Development – Uganda (HEPS-Uganda), we are concerned with engaging people living in poverty in influencing policies and decision making in the areas that affect them most directly. Through the work we have been doing within Participate and more widely we have seen achievements in this area over the last 18 months. These achievements take the shape of positive changes in policy and decision-making processes from personal to the global level; these changes take into account formal and informal actors such as civil servants or tribal chiefs; they also include formal legal changes, as well as changes in behaviour and practice.

Building a connection between decision-makers and citizens

In working to achieve this change HEPS-Uganda has implemented a participatory action research project which aimed at addressing slum health inequity in three intersecting ways: by engaging communities in generating knowledge about their health needs and working with them to communicate this information; exploring with researchers why and how they study the health needs of the urban poor; and engaging health research policy makers in dialogues with communities about increasing health evidence about the urban poor.

Participants at Participate Ground Level Panel in UgandaThe use of participatory methodologies and communication approaches in this project supported people living in poverty in Kampala to identify their own priorities, generate visions for change, open up spaces for dialogue and to engage with stakeholders on how to better meet the needs of the urban poor. At the core of this participatory approach is the significance of people’s own knowledge of their context and how their own needs should be considered when aiming to improve service provision and infrastructure development in the poorest areas. The use of creative approaches such as digital storytelling and theatre for development can enable effective and practical change at the community level. These strategies enable safe spaces for engagement, and they also help build a personal connection between decision-makers and citizens which contributes to a better understanding of what is needed to create change in the lives of people living in poverty and marginalisation.

Deepening democracy  

At HEPS-Uganda we engage with participatory approaches to bring perspectives of those in poverty into decision-making processes. We also work toward processes that enable citizen action and empower marginalised people to have a central role in holding decision-makers to account in the implementation of policies and programmes. We see the interconnectedness of participation and accountability as central to the role of participatory development in deepening democracy in Uganda.

The aim of our ‘Accountability Can Transform Health Project’ was to strengthen mechanisms and processes for social accountability at the community level, improve community participation in health service delivery, ultimately with a view to increasing the responsiveness of health services in addressing community concerns.

The importance of diverse approaches to participatory development

The citizen report card approach that we used was effective in showing health facility performance and community perspectives. This tool played an important role in fuelling discussions at dialogue meetings as it gave information about the strengths, challenges and opportunities of the different health services. One of the important outcomes of this programme was improved relationships and trust between service providers and community members where clarity has been given on services provided, their availability and the process through which you access them. The increase in knowledge on health rights and health responsibilities related to this meant that communities felt stronger about raising their concerns, speaking out about issues that they were facing and demanding a response from health service providers.

In the same vein, the HEPS HEAR model that we used in the implementation of the `Health Rights Action Project` in Mbarara district was very innovative in fostering action, collaboration and participation of grass-root based organisations to serve as advocates for the Right to Health in their communities. Their combined voice to foster visibility of community voices committed to securing quality, affordable health service delivery for all people through a consumer rights respective health system in Mbarara district.

This blog presents the actions taken and their impact on engagement of policy makers, service providers with communities using progress markers identified by those involved to assess significant change. By doing all this, HEPS focus was to contribute and promote social accountability and good governance among citizens through increased participation. This is anticipated to inform work in similar settings as well as policy making processes at all levels.





Participate’s proposal for Post-2015 targets that respond to the realities of people living in poverty and with marginalisation

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Danny Burns

‘When the demolitions started in 2005, our life changed drastically… we were moved 50km away from Manila. There was no house…we were not able to spend the money on making the floor but on food because my husband could not work there… (now) The soil of our house erodes during rainy season’. My children had to stop school for a whole year…’ (Sara Mendoza, Philippines)

Participate research has shown with remarkable consistency that not only has development failed to benefit the poorest and most marginalised people, it has frequently been the cause of, or has deepened their poverty. In other words, the poorest and those on the margins are often collateral damage for the ‘development’ of those who are easier to reach. The stories of numerous people in the Participate research was of shifting sands – never feeling secure, stable, recognised, safe – never knowing what tomorrow might bring.

Participatory video training in Bolivia

Targets that fail to address these issues – instead focusing only on providing more and better services – will continue to fail those that have been left behind by development. The targets needed for people living in greatest poverty and those who are most marginalised are ones that provide solid ground and strong foundations from which dignity is enabled and people can build a future for themselves and their families. These include a secure place to live (an informal settlement which people know will be there tomorrow is a good start), an identity, the rights to citizenship, a basic livelihood (probably in the informal economy) and safety and security. They also include freedom from extreme discrimination and exclusion, an environment that does not destroy their capacity for building collective solutions and solidarity, and meaningful processes for them to articulate their needs, participate in and shape the construction of their own futures.

The refrain that reverberates through our research is that ‘there are clinics, and schools, but we don’t get access to them’. There is no point in talking about education if children still have to work in the fields or beg on the streets because their parents livelihood is not enough or because education is not available to them because of who they are (women, people with disabilities, lower castes, etc). There is no point in distributing resources to local villages if these are diverted by corrupt officials or dominant local families. There is no point in local clinics if people can’t afford medicines or are humiliated by doctors that treat them like animals as opposed to a person in need of treatment with a right to appropriate health care. India GLP

The realities of those living in extreme poverty and marginalisation are different to those on low income, and if their needs are to be met and their rights recognised then a different development paradigm is necessary: One which challenges fictional trickle down theories and starts with the poorest and most marginalised; one which recognises that much of what countries see as unquestionable – such as infrastructure development and economic growth – has to be questioned; and one which directly addresses the discriminatory norms and abuses of power that impact gravely on people’s capacity to overcome poverty and marginalisation, and participate in development.

The Participate proposal for post-2015 targets does not try to provide targets for every issue that was raised in the 18 participatory research studies. Rather it seeks to distil three foundational target areas which must underpin the others, and without which the post-2015 targets framework will be meaningless for the poorest and most marginalised people. The targets relate to:

  • Livelihoods and pro-poor infrastructure development
  • Participation and citizen action
  • Tackling discriminatory institutional and social norms

As country representatives at the United Nations continue to formulate the final post-2015 framework, Participate reiterates the call to ‘leave no-one behind’. Tackling extreme poverty and marginalisation, alongside rising and intersecting inequalities, must be a priority. This will require a rights-based, people-centred approach which prioritises social justice and recognises the need for long-term policies and programmes.

Read more of Sara Mendoza’s story ‘Urban Growth in the Philippines’ on page 19 of the Work With Us report.

Time for a new partnership between policy makers and marginalised groups

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Thea Shahrokh

People who are most marginalised and living in greatest poverty around the world want to develop their own futures and shape the policies and programmes that affect them. According to participatory research in 29 countries conducted by the Participate PRG, people are calling, loud and clear, for the right to play a meaningful role in the decisions that affect their lives. It is time for policy-makers to heed that call, and to put it at the heart of development policy.

Participation can help to tackle the corruption, inefficiencies and discriminations that so often confront those living in poverty. When participation is truly inclusive it challenges the power imbalances that block the accountability of duty bearers; ultimately, this can lead to the transformative shifts that pave the way for sustainable change.  Participants involved in research on local governance with The Theatre for Development Centre, Nigeria, explained how they see two ways in which the participation of the most marginalised is important for accountability: ‘Democracy has two voices: one determines what should be done, and the other holds elected officials to account’.

By encouraging the participation of marginalised people in governance processes, policy actors can work to address inequalities and abuses of power alongside those who experience these challenges on a daily basis. This means that  the way in which people participate really matters, as Participate research partners ATD Fourth World emphasise, ‘participation should be encouraged though community solidarity and collaboration, never by imposing humiliating conditions on people or penalising non-compliance’.

For people living in poverty and marginalisation the outcomes of genuine citizen participation include both the greater realisation of their own rights and wider positive changes, such as building networks that reduce their isolation. Research participants have told us that relevant policies and interventions could help them to organise themselves to get involved in participatory processes. Such collective action is an important part of how power can be leveraged by the poorest and most marginalised to change their own circumstances.

Those who took part in this research through Praxis in Chennai see themselves as ‘citymakers’. They are the people who build roads, metros, flyovers, shopping malls and parks. These ‘citymakers’ have, however, been living on the margins of urban poverty, enduring stereotyping, criminalisation, exclusion and lack of public services and government support. Nevertheless, they have been working together for change, creating platforms from which they can articulate and defend their rights. According to Stephen Raj, a community leader in the Kannagi Nagar relocation site outside Chennai:

‘We formed a residents’ welfare association and got people to post 50,000 post cards… addressed to the director of the slum clearance board petitioning him about our needs… within 10 days the director organised a People’s Grievance Redressal Forum. As a result…we started getting water, better access to public transport, ..midday meals at school… However, we need to keep asking and demanding our rights and only then does the government respond.”

The inclusion of groups who usually have no say in decisions is crucial for building effective and inclusive policies. Research participants in the Ghana ‘Reality Check’ research saw ‘opportunities to participate in life and make a contribution to genuine local decision making’ as critical for their development. Young people working with Restless Development in Uganda ‘felt that their involvement would increase local ownership and programme quality by ensuring that activities are appropriate to the local context … and [would] build networks between youth and other community members.’

Examples in the Participate research show how just how more effective policies and services can be when they are developed through collaborative approaches that value local and indigenous knowledge. For example, collaboration between indigenous community midwives and professional health workers through the Social Services at the Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana, Mexico, has enabled local knowledge to improve maternal health outcomes. What is needed, on an ongoing basis, is the acknowledgement by those in power that this collaboration is important.

Participatory action research by HEPS-Uganda worked through photography and digital storytelling approaches to help people living in poverty identify their aspirations for development on the issue of slum health inequity, and opened up space for dialogue with policy makers, health researchers and the media on ways to achieve lasting change.

The stories and experiences of people living in poverty and marginalisation shared through the Participate research confirm that a participatory approach to governance is an effective empowerment strategy and a crucial way to achieve equity and inclusion in society for all.

People who are marginalised through poverty and discrimination have the right to participate in researching, planning, deciding, delivering and monitoring development initiatives. This is a right that they are, increasingly, demanding in local, national and regional policy spaces.

When we look at participatory governance in the context of the post-2015 development agenda, we see that if such demands are ignored, the gap between what people living in extreme poverty and marginalisation need and what a universal framework can deliver is even wider than it may seem. Without the genuine inclusion of these groups and their perspectives in decision-making processes at every level, no universal framework can succeed.

This blog was originally published on Development Progress, a blog facilitated by the Overseas Development Institute.


Participate response to the Open Working Group ‘Focus Area Document’

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On 14 March 2014, Participate responded to the Open Working Group (OWG) Focus Area Document, urging members to listen to the voices of those living in greatest poverty and to ensure that the words ‘leave no-one behind’ become enshrined in the post-2015 agenda.

In 2013, Participate and its partners carried out research in which people were simply asked to tell their stories and talk about what was important to them. Given the open-ended nature of the research, with such a diverse range of people, their perspectives on development were remarkably consistent. The research  produced detailed insights into a vast array of development issues facing the poorest and most marginalized. The following critique of the ‘Focus Area Document’ is based on that research.

Focus area 1 – Poverty Eradication:  We strongly support the focus on poverty eradication, and the recognition that poverty is multi-dimensional. However we think that this commitment is contradicted by other focus areas within the OWG framework such as  ‘economic growth’, which our evidence shows does not benefit the poorest. The consistent conclusion across all 18 studies was that those living in greatest poverty have not benefited significantly from the MDG’s, that trickle down doesn’t reach the very poorest, and that a much more holistic approach to development which focuses on the multiple overlapping hardships which can spiral people further and further into poverty needs to be constructed.

Focus areas 3 and 4 – Health and Education: We know that people living in poverty value health and education highly. But because people are poor and marginalized, they cannot benefit from these services that might help them and their families find ways out of poverty. Access is limited by a lack of basic livelihoods and by discriminatory institutions, discriminatory local social norms and power relations which divert resources away from those in need.

Focus areas 5 and 12 Gender equality and women’s empowerment and equality: We believe that targets generically focused on institutional discrimination and changes in discriminatory social norms, attitudes and behaviours need to be built explicitly into the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) framework. Gender and inequality was shown to be persistent and endemic across all the studies. Traditional forms of exclusion against, for example people with disabilities, indigenous people and sexual minorities continue while new forms of discrimination, for example, against the elderly are emerging.

Focus areas 8, 9 and 10: While we recognize the importance of infrastructure development such as house building programmes and clean water and sanitation facilities, our research shows that economic growth, industrialisation and infrastructure development are producing greater inequalities. In other words, the price of better infrastructure for people with low incomes and the growing middles class is that the very poor become even more marginalized.  One clear example is the way in which slum clearance pushes people to the edge of cities where they no longer have secure livelihoods.

Focus area 11 – Employment and Decent work for all: While we agree that broadening the base of formal jobs is important, most of the poorest live by subsistence and through the informal economy. Development needs to support the informal economy and also support transitions from the informal into the formal economy. We think that this goal should focus on ‘livelihoods’ and decent work for all.

Focus Area 15 – Climate Change: We were struck by the Ghana Community Radio Network research which showed communities ravaged by climate change, mass migration into the cities leading to villages populated only by women and children (increasingly only grandparents and children). For many poor communities climate change is now seen as a priority.

Focus area 18 – Means of implementation: The discussion on the means of implementation needs to be substantially broadened. People living in poverty and marginalization need a development approach which is responsive to their needs and to their articulation of their rights. This requires a participatory approach to decision making at local and national level. Systems need to be built which ensure participation in the conception, design, implementation and evaluation stages of any development initiatives. This cannot be seen as something that comes after the development framework is set. It has to be embedded within it and seen as an integral part of it.

Focus area 19 – Peaceful and non-violent societies, capable institutions: One of the things that is most striking about the Participate work is the priority that was given to issues of governance. People were concerned with how institutions operate and the extent to which resources are diverted away from the poor as a result of poor governance, corruption or local power. People called for access to justice and for meaningful participation about the decisions in their lives.

Participate’s proposed foundational targets:

Drawing on core messages that arise repeatedly from our research, Participate believes that there are further focus areas that need to be addressed for sustainable positive change in the lives of the poorest and most marginalised. Key targets that enable change need to be included, and can fit within a range of goal areas. Without them, we cannot reach our aspiration to ‘leave no-one behind.’

(1) Efforts to enhance citizenship and participation allowing young people, women and other excluded people’s to articulate their own needs at all stages of decision making processes from articulation of the issues, to design, to implementation, to monitoring and evaluation

(2) Interventions to directly tackle discriminatory social norms and power relationships which exclude. These are seen to be the main causes of poverty and marginalisation. Services and opportunities exist, but the poorest and most marginalised don’t get access to them for these reasons.

(3) Support people in making secure the livelihoods that are realistically available to them. This means supporting the informal economies that keep the poorest and most marginalised alive.