A Global Collective for Local Voices: Why localization in development can benefit from a global society

(L-R) Global Advocacy Team members Melania Chiponda, Moon Nay Li, Sek Sokhunroth, Jessica Amon, Sukhgerel Dugersuren, Mohamed Abdel-Azim, Ryan Schlief (IAP), Bernardino Morales.Tera

Contemporary development paradigms are broken. They do not facilitate the fulfillment of human rights, environmental wellbeing is sacrificed in the name of economic growth, and the concerns of affected communities are rarely prioritized. Projects that are funded without the consent, or even consultation, of affected stakeholders, cannot be considered ‘development’.

Any initiative conducted to bring about change must always center on the person as “the active participant and beneficiary of the Right to Development”. Engendering community-led development is the best means of achieving this goal. Community-led development requires the prioritization of communities’ own development concerns in any decision-making process that affects peoples’ environments and livelihoods.

The first iteration of the International Accountability Project’s (IAP) Global Advocacy Team (GAT) carried out a survey involving 800 people across eight countries. Their aim was to determine how existing development paradigms could be fixed. They found that 83% of those affected by development projects never had the opportunity to propose their own ideas or plans. In order to meaningfully fulfill the human right to development, local experiences and voices must form the core of these projects.

Accordingly, the fulfilment of the Right to Development ought to focus on the priorities of affected communities. These priorities ought to be voiced by the communities themselves throughout any development process. This would be most effectively achieved through localized control over local issues and lives. Such localization would require devolution of power in the planning and implementation of any developmental change; from global development finance institutions to communities.

There is, however, an underlying concern.

That is, taken to its extreme, the localization of control over community issues and experiences could produce inherently relativist development paradigms. The result could be the dismissal of community concerns as exceptional cases, relevant only to a particular group of people at a particular time. This would restrict effective knowledge sharing regarding how best to facilitate desired change as well as how to defend against unwanted projects. Communities could be isolated in their struggles to meet their unique agendas.

This tension will feasibly be exacerbated by the seemingly unquenchable support for nativist politics around the world and intensified prioritization of state interests ahead of the concerns of affected communities. Further isolation of these concerns is a likely consequence of this trend, in the absence of devolved power in development decision-making.

The work being conducted by the second iteration of the GAT serves, in part, to mitigate this concern. IAP recognizes that a collective of communities, connected through shared experiences, can support one another in resolving issues that plague contemporary development processes. The pursuit of a global society needn’t be sacrificed in the name of localization.

As part of IAP, the GAT’s initiative brings community organizers together from around the world through community-led development plans. Uniting in the power of lived experiences, the GAT will publish a self-written report detailing the creation of these plans based on the mutual experiences of, and respect for differences between, communities across the globe. In turn, this work will produce recommendations to engender community-led decision-making in development processes.

Building on their previous work, the GAT’s agenda is to ensure that shared experiences lead to expertise that is produced by, and applicable for, communities around the world to address developmental concerns. The work of the GAT unites a global collective based around the prevention of harm and the fulfillment of human and environmental rights. This work demonstrates what meaningful fulfillment of the human right to development could be at the local level, and how this can benefit from a global collective.

If you are an activist or leader seeking to advance community-led development, please get in touch at iap@accountabilityproject.org. It is through your help that a global society working to facilitate community-led development could be realized.

Tom is a Philosophy and International Relations student at St. Andrews University in Scotland. As a Policy and Research Analyst at the International Accountability Project, he provided research and data support for policy and advocacy objectives. Tom graduates in 2020 and plans to enroll in a masters course on Community-led Development.

IAP is a human and environmental rights organization that works with communities, civil society and social movements to change how today’s development is done.