A Global Collective Can Advance Community-led Development
“People were not necessarily against the relocation…they were against any action that took place without their consent or consultation,” says Rowena ‘Jessica’ Amon, an organizer for Community Organizers Multiversity , a coalition of riverside communities in Manila, Philippines.
Communities along the Pasig River in Metro Manila experience frequent flooding. To address this, the government and funders like the World Bank have proposed plans to mitigate the impact of these devastating floods. Jessica works with communities in the Manila Metro Area to strengthen their participation in the design and implementation of these flood management plans.
When the plans were first proposed, Jessica worried that the solutions proposed would follow ‘business as usual’ and result in the eviction of local communities and accelerate the construction of mega-infrastructure projects. However, the communities who live and work along the river — those most impacted — were quick to organize to prevent this outcome. Not long after the plans were initially announced, an Alliance of People’s Organizations Along Manggahan Floodway (APOAMF) was formed and together with the support of Jessica and Community Organizers Multiversity an alternative plan was developed — a ‘People’s Plan’. Unlike the plans put forth by the government, the People’s Plan prioritized the needs and suggestions of local communities. After presenting the alternative ‘People’s Plan’ to the government and other funders, affected communities were able to successfully secure the construction of alternate housing near their previous place of residence — a key priority that had been identified through the process of developing the People’s Plan.
This people-centered approach has created a paradigm shift in how communities engage with local government on development planning. Till now, Jessica and Community Organizers Multiversity have facilitated People’s Plans, in over a dozen communities. The plans have further boosted efforts to organize and engage collectively with decision-makers. Jessica observes
“Communities are more unified now. They have a plan.”
A success story like Jessica’s is the exception rather than the norm. To understand why, the International Accountability Project convened a Global Advocacy Team of community organizers, activists, and experts to document their experience with impacts of development institutions and propose alternatives when they saw fit. The team came up with a community-led research process to interview more than 800 people in 8 different countries to ask about their experiences and recommendations for development.
Their research, published in their report, Back to Development: A Call for What Development Could Be, found that 83% of those affected by development projects never had the opportunity to propose their own ideas and plans.
Additionally, only 7% of those interviewed approved of the project in the first place. It is hard to understand why those that are most impacted by governmental or development bank plans are not invited to participate in how such projects will look, be constructed or funded. This begs the question: why don’t governments and development institutions meaningfully engage with local communities? After all, to quote Jessica,
“(…) people are not really against development. They are against development that causes them displacement, and economic disruption, and interruption of education and family breakdown.”
As a result of the Global Advocacy Team’s research and learning experience, Jessica’s assertion was confirmed. For plans and projects to be considered development, there is a consensus that they should start with a People’s Plan. IAP supports the Global Advocacy Team's findings and believes true development is possible only when plans center affected communities and uphold human and environmental rights.
To fulfill the promise of People’s Plans, IAP will convene a second iteration of the Global Advocacy Team initiative, recruiting activists and leaders who would like to advance community-led development. In this next phase, IAP will
- Invite experts from around the world, with experience in community-led development, to discuss and exchange their lessons and approaches;
- Select the new Global Advocacy Team and assist communities in producing their own community-led development;
- Support communities in their advocacy with stakeholders to adopt a model that truly reflects the views and priorities of those impacted.
The next step for the Global Advocacy Team takes forward the original vision for what development could and should be — a process by which communities may live their lives with dignity, peace and thrive in their homes and environments.
In order to take this initiative forward, we ask funders and those that work or are interested in working with community-led development to contact us. Your experiences, ideas, and proposals are necessary for us to move towards true development. Please get involved by emailing us at iap [at] accountabilityproject.org