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

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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 –

Ground Level Panels offer reality check to UN High Level Panel’s (HLP) proposals for development

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Catherine Setchell

In June and July, four participatory research organisations from the Participate initiative facilitated Ground Level Panels to mirror the United Nations High Level Panel (HLP) for a post-Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) agenda, which was co-chaired by David Cameron, UK Prime Minister, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia, and Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, President of Indonesia. The panelists, like the HLP members, were not bringing with them the voices of a constituency nor representing a particular group; they came together to share their knowledge from living in poverty and marginalisation. Panelists drew on their own life experiences to provide a ‘ground level’ reality check to the HLP recommendations; as well as developing their own shared vision for development.

The Ground Level Panels took place in Egypt, Brazil, Uganda and India. Each panel comprised a diverse group of 10-14 people including urban slum dwellers; disabled people; sexual minorities; people living in conflict and natural disaster-affected areas, rural poverty, or geographically isolated communities; nomadic and indigenous people; older people; internally displaced people; and young people. All of them with diverse and intersecting identities, which made each of the panels unique and fruitful.

Today, the Ground Level Panels have released their communiqués with their own recommendations for a new vision for development.

The Panelists spent five days developing a vision for a new global development agenda, within the framing of the UN High Level Panel’s recommendations; one that truly speaks to the reality of people who live in poverty and marginalisation. At the end of the deliberations, they came up with their own recommendations for what is needed in global development policy to end poverty.  All of the Ground Level Panels presented these recommendations at outreach days to decision-makers responsible for shaping local, national and international development policy.

The Ground Level Panel (GLP) Outcomes

Ground Level Panelists in Egypt discussing their vision for development

The GLP in Egypt was hosted by Participate research partners, the Center for Development Services (CDS). In their communiqué, panelists propose a vision of “self-sufficiency” at the country and community level, where Egyptians own the resources needed for development and can secure enough local production of food and other basic items such as water, and fuel. They also highlight the importance of “paying more attention to having a high caliber of leaders who can effectively implement our Vision on the ground, which requires good governance.”

Brazil GLP

Ground Level Panelists in Brazil discuss their vision for development

The GLP in Brazil was hosted by Participate research partners, International Movement ATD Fourth World and co-facilitated by Raízes em Movimento. In their communiqué panelists propose a “global life plan” which recognizes the interconnectedness of citizens, the environment and government bodies, where dignity is key. They stress that the current development model is outdated, driven by political and economic interests and puts humanity on a “death plan.” They recommend seven proposals to achieve the “global life plan” that include amongst others: “popular education; fair, egalitarian and sustainable forms of production, job creation, and income distribution; building of new alliances; and forms of government and organization that come from the processes and the real necessities of the people.”

Ground Level Panelists discuss what it means to ‘put sustainable development at the core’ as proposed by the High Level Panel

The GLP in Uganda was hosted by Participate research partners, Restless Development. In their communiqué, panelists call for a vision that “respects the rule of law, human rights and transparency to ensure that services are delivered to everyone equally without any segregation or misappropriation of the national resources.” The panelists reinforced the UN High Level Panel’s “five transformative shifts,” with further recommendations. For instance, panelists agree to putting ‘sustainable development at the core’ but emphasise that “peace and security are critical for achieving sustainable development, and that people should have the opportunity to determine their own development with the necessary capacity and economic resources.”


Women at the India Ground Level Panel discuss their experiences of poverty and how their situation can change


The GLP in India was hosted by Participate research partners, Praxis – Institute for Participatory Practices. In their communiqué, panelists recommend fifteen goals in response to the twelve goals proposed by the UN High Level Panel. Amongst others, these include goals to “establish a corruption-free society and state; promote equity; establish robust accountability mechanisms; create institutional spaces to promote people’s participation in local governance and policy-making process; protect the environment; enforce mechanisms to prevent tax evasion by corporates; and end discrimination and stigma.

A synthesis report of the four Ground Level Panel processes will be published in mid-August.


We stride forward in the hope of success

Posted by

Tom Thomas

Burdened by predicament and angst on the one hand and energised by hope on the other, the Ground Level Panel comprising of 14 people from across India, living in poverty and experiencing various forms of marginalisation, deliberated on development goals (Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and Post-2015) as it currently is, and how it should be.

“The poor give up under the weight of their predicament”, Usha, Indigenous Community, Gujarat, Panellist.

“We stride forward in the hope of success”, Nandalal, Citimaker from Delhi, Panellist.


“If democracy binds us as a family, then why do we get excluded and treated differently”- wondered the panellists. The panel dissected this and many more issues threadbare, not from an academic perspective, but from their own and their communities’ life experiences. They did not stop with raising issues, but went on to look at the role of different players, stumbling blocks, a way forward and institutional mechanisms for bringing about change. Ground Level Panels are definitely emerging as a powerful tool for democratising policy making and for intra- and inter-community dialogue.

It was a truly humbling experience to listen to this unadulterated, grounded take on the Post-2015 agenda. The breadth and depth of lived experiences that were shared during the deliberations make you wonder why, why are we deaf to the voices of people living in poverty, while making policies and taking decisions about their lives? Ravi, one of the panellists, struggling to form words due to his Cerebral Palsy, echoed the sentiments of the panel: “Is it that the government doesn’t understand our issues? No, they have deliberately chosen not to respond”. Shamsul, one of the panel members from the North East of India, likened it to the practice of cats being fed just survival ration, so that they would hunt rats – keep people in poverty and give them just enough crumbs to make them stand in lines to vote, once in five years. And so the unanimous voice of the panellists said that their lives should be “not doles, but identity and rights”.


So, I ask you this: How long can we be deaf to these voices? How long will we keep them on cat ration? The answer seems to be: Not for too long if the energy and optimism that the panel reverberated are any indication. Let us stride forward in the hope of success.

The Ugandan Experience

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Natalie NewellEmmanuel Lubaale

From East, North, West and Central Uganda, 12 people gathered for a common cause. Though they had been briefed about the Ground Level Panel, to begin with no one knew what to do exactly and what to contribute. Seated in a circle, the 12 experts were assured that their views and real life experiences were of critical importance to the process of developing the post-2015 development framework.

 Getting started and building confidence

Participants sharing their experiences

Participants sharing their experiences

With a diverse group of young and old people, it was always going to be challenging to build cohesion, but each person was given a chance to talk about themselves openly and their motivations including making a visual presentation of their communities and the challenges they face every day. At the end of the day they were able to identify common problems across the group, demystifying myths that some regions were better off than the others. Land and peace issues remain a cross cutting problem for the Batwa, Karimojong, Kampala urban slum dwellers and rural parts of central Uganda.

Facilitating a move away from “my community” to “our country”

It was clear that possibly many thought that the GLP was about presenting issues affecting their communities and lobbying for support, but with a ground breaking exercise of sharing their daily experiences, motivations and community realities, many saw similarities across the board. This built a much more focused discussion, grounded not just on regional issues but national problems. It’s not surprising that many shared lots of ideas about Uganda’s future, building on their real experiences.

The Collective Vision

Built around the five transformative shifts included in the High Level Panel Report on Post-2015, the panelists came up with an amazing vision:

Our Vision for Uganda is that it respects the rule of law, human rights, and transparency to ensure that services are delivered to everyone equally without any segregation or misappropriation of national resources.”  Specific recommendations were suggested for each transformative shift such as bottom up planning by government to ensure that no one is left behind, that realising sustainable development requires a holistic thinking beyond the environmental issues, peace and good governance are key to realising economic transformation and that openness and trust can build stable societies.  By working hand in hand, we can achieve a global partnership for development.

Specific reflections from the panellists while they deliberated on their recommendations…

“When you look at this tree there is peace in the leaves which implies development comes from down to the top and if it is to be successful the bottom has to be well rooted”.

“If we are united, peace will prevail, and if we are united still, we only need the gun to protect us from those that would like destabilize our peace and unity. We need to love each other from the heart, irrespective of origin, when people love each other equally they will follow the rule of law…”

“I would emphasize to the HLP that if a person have access to health care that there is no way that they can develop. People’s health is very key as if women are not healthy or children are not healthy there is a problem. So there is need to emphasise access to health services and we will definitely improve our livelihoods as health is wealth”

Panelists building a collective vision for Uganda

panelists building a collective vision


The Decision-makers interface

After five days of deliberation, the panellists knew and were conversant with their vision and recommendations. The interface event was co-hosted by the Parliamentary Forum on the Millennium Development Goals and the Parliamentary Forum on Youth Affairs and engaged decision-makers from government, civil society and development partners.

roundtable discussion

Roundtable discussion on Transformative Shift 1: Leave No One Behind

Having undergone such a complex process, the feedback from the decision makers was complementary and encouraging and many of the panelists were inspired by the experience and did commit to take action and share with communities. Looking ahead, the ground level panel will now prepare a report on their deliberations including input from the Parliamentary event and will contribute to a global report on the GLPs that will draw together the outcome documents from all four events.


Awêre para Kisile: Brazil Ground Level Panel

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Mariana Guerra

Awêre para Kisile – “That everything goes well for those who don’t have a name yet”

What do we have in common?

We, caboclos, ribeirinhos (riverside-dwellers), people of African descendants, youth, slum-dwellers, Indians, men and women, human beings, assembled at the Tijuca Forest, in the month of July of 2013, send our message to the planet, trying to reach primarily the people with decision-making power over the policies that will affect our lives and that of our Mother Earth from 2015 and on.

While analysing the policies and programs created from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the proposals by the High Level Panel for defining a post-2015 development agenda, we did not identify in them our world views or the worries of our brothers and sisters. We recognise, however, some indicators that we do agree with, but which in practice do not produce the desired effect.

We feel that in this way we continue to develop a death plan for the planet and all its inhabitants. But we do not remain still, from our own diverse territories we fight for Life and here we present some elements considered necessary for a global life plan. In the global life plan, everything is interconnected. We depend on each other, humans, nature, government bodies, we are all part of a whole.

How did we make this work?

BrazilWe took our time getting to know each other and the reality we came from. As we explored the concept of “extreme poverty”, it was clear that each person had their own experience and their own way of talking about it. However, little by little, the group found common ground, and we built our own way to talk about ‘development speak’ (development, economy and dignity).

Working in small groups, and using various techniques allowed everyone to express themselves freely and comfortably, in talking about very complex issues, and at the same time relating it to their own lives. We used drawing, theatre (Augusto Boal), video (The history of stuff), network. It was a very artistic group and every night we played music together, read poetry and painted which gave us a sense of the diverse stories of the panellists. Reflection was also a key element to the week, as each day someone summarised and analysed the day, and we would watch the video the morning after.

Having such a diverse group made for an incredibly rich and interesting week, yet it undoubtedly presented some challenges. The panellists were really worried to be able to show that is possible for them to work together, and use their differences to enhance the process. There is no doubt in my mind that they achieved this. Rafael, from Espirito Santo, suggested that this group could continue to work together and monitor the proposals for post-2015 and the public policies created by the government from the ground.

Building a message

Together we felt that there were three “big points”:

  • The life’s plan
  • The locks
  • The ways

Our message is Awêre para Kisile which shows the diversity of the group and Brazil and the possibility for us to all to work together. Awêre is a Tupinambá indigenous word to say “that everything goes well”, and was used continuously by the indigenous panellists. Kisile is a Banto African word that means “those who don’t have a name yet” and was used to talk about the people we can’t leave behind. So we joined the two words to say: That everything goes well for those who don’t have a name yet.

*This is a video made by the panelists about their week together as the Brazil Ground Level Panel