“In Search of a Different World”: Building Systemic Change to Advance Community-Led Development

by Tom Weerachat, Anggita Indari

The promotion of “In Search of a Different World: Turning Dreams into Community-Led Development Plans,” the report that captures the learnings and recommendations from community-led research conducted by the Global Advocacy Team (GAT) members and their respective communities.

“I believe that it is more than knowledge exchange, which is very rich; it is also about building true solidarity networks,” said Daniel Faggiano, one of the Global Advocacy Team (GAT) Advisory Group members during an interview in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Daniel further expressed that the solidarity network is what keeps the GAT initiative going and impactful for a better future. “The suffering of the people from the Philippines, the people from Thailand, and the people from Brazil must unite. When I say suffering, I also say happiness. I think it is solidarity. It is working hand-in-hand for a better future,” he added.

Solidarity networks are built on shared struggles and values that translate into common goals. This is the foundation of the GAT initiative. Despite living in diverse countries with distinct cultures, all GAT members are united by a collective desire and shared commitment to advancing community-led development. The communities involved in the GAT represent a rich tapestry — indigenous groups, rural populations, farmers, and fishing communities — all bound by a shared commitment to community-led development. They face harsh realities like climate change, corporate capture, and neo-colonial practices leading to land grabs, pollution, health issues, and food insecurity. A significant concern is the disregard for community consent, knowledge, and rights in favor of investors, governments, and companies. The GAT witnesses these struggles firsthand, and their experiences inform their powerful advocacy efforts, amplifying the voices of those often unheard.

The GAT is an inspiring co-created and collectively-led initiative focused on supporting community-led development planning. The GAT Advisory Group led the selection of the seven members of GAT to work on this in Armenia, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Kenya, the Philippines, and Zimbabwe. This network-elected advisory group provides crucial strategic advice, support, and guidance, ensuring the entire process remains accountable to the communities the GAT initiative aims to empower.

The GAT members strive to secure future generations’ land, resources, culture, and healthy environment. The three-year journey convened by the International Accountability Project (IAP) through a series of training and co-learning sessions showed that we, the global majority, can create change and build a different future despite escalating security threats and natural disasters exacerbated by climate change. Throughout this journey, the GAT members designed their community-led participatory action research process. The findings and learning of each community-led research were presented and discussed at an in-person week-long training in Thailand, in January 2023.

As a community, we understand very well what kind of development is suitable for our needs. With the community-led development plan process, we were able to systematically further organize our ideas by mobilizing our community members and allowing them to contribute. This process enabled us to realize our critical role in shaping the collective vision of community development for the present and future generations,” from the chapter Form a Grounded Movement to Assert Genuine Community-Led Development on Panay Island, Philippines in the report In Search of a Different World: Turning Dreams into Community-Led Development Plans.

The Path to Community-Led Development

“Community-led development presents an opportunity for communities to uphold their unique identity, shape their own path of community development, and safeguard their rights,” says Oleg Dulgaryan, a GAT member from Armenia, highlighting the importance of this approach. Kundai Chikonzo, another GAT member from Zimbabwe, adds, “this is the process of community to come up with solutions.”

These powerful insights, along with contributions from other GAT members, the GAT Advisory Group, and IAP staff, are woven together in the recent advocacy video: Charting a New Course: The Path to Community-led Development. This video chronicles the inspiring journey of the GAT initiative. Through years of collaboration and learning, they documented their dreams, experiences, and analysis. Now, they’re championing community-led development by empowering communities in seven countries to create their own development plans.

In May 2024, IAP and the GAT launched a new collective report, In Search of a Different World: Turning Dreams into Community-Led Development Plans. This collaborative report by IAP and the GAT details the transformative journey of communities in seven countries. Through a powerful process of community-led research, these communities documented their experiences, fears, hopes, and dreams. This culminated in the creation of their own development plans, tailored to address their specific challenges and aspirations. The report further amplifies their voices by featuring ten key recommendations drawn from the GAT members’ research, designed to strengthen community resilience and pave the way for a more just and equitable future.

In each country chapter of this report, the GAT members and communities that co-led the research process provide detailed stories on research methods and tools, findings, lessons learned, and key development priorities identified through this collaborative process.

Illustrations featured in the country chapters of the report. This collage showcases the customs, livelihoods, and development priorities of GAT member communities.

Seven Reasons You Should Read “In Search of a Different World: Turning Dreams into Community-Led Development Plans”

While writing “In Search of a Different World: Turning Dreams into Community-Led Development Plans,” we imagine that a world where solutions are born from local dreams and aspirations is not just a utopia. The report provides collective visions, approaches, evidences, and recommendations to build a better world where communities, not external forces, drive development. Delve into seven compelling reasons why this report is essential.

  • Community-Led Development Insights

The report presents a hopeful collective vision for a different world where development is driven by the dreams and aspirations of local communities. It inspires readers to rethink traditional development models and consider more inclusive, participatory approaches that truly benefit those at the grassroots level. It showcases real-life examples from various countries, highlighting how grassroots efforts can lead to sustainable and equitable development.

  • Power of Collaborative Approach

Featuring case studies from Armenia, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Kenya, the Philippines, and Zimbabwe, the report illustrates diverse approaches to community-led development. Each country chapter offers unique insights into local challenges and solutions, making it a valuable resource for understanding different contexts and strategies. The Global Advocacy Team is all about co-creation. This shows how communities, activists, and organizations can work together to achieve common goals. It demonstrates the benefits of collective action and shared learning in overcoming challenges and achieving co-learning and collective outcomes.

  • Indigenous Knowledge Integration

The report underscores the critical role of indigenous knowledge and practices in development projects. By integrating traditional wisdom in planning and decision-making processes, communities can create more resilient and adaptive development plans that respect cultural heritage.

  • Focus on Gender and Inclusivity

Addressing the gendered impacts of development, the report highlights how women-led initiatives contribute to sustainable solutions. It provides evidence of how including women in the development process leads to more inclusive and effective outcomes, particularly in areas affected by environmental degradation, climate impacts, and economic challenges.

  • Environmental Sustainability and Climate Justice

The report emphasizes the importance of ecological balance and environmental and climate justice in development planning. Through various community-led approaches, it shows how sustainable practices can combat climate change and protect natural resources, ensuring long-term benefits for local communities.

  • Human Rights in Development

Central to the report is the assertion that development must respect and uphold human rights. The report details how community-led research and development processes empower local communities to successfully challenge harmful development practices, advocating for policies that prioritize the well-being and rights of the people. By building their capacity to advocate for their rights and needs, communities become active participants in shaping their futures rather than passive recipients of development aid.

  • Practical Recommendations

The report offers practical recommendations for policymakers, development practitioners, and community organizers to consider contextualizing them to their situations. These recommendations are grounded in the experiences and successes of the Global Advocacy Team, providing actionable steps to promote community-led development globally.

Local Insights Shaping Global Recommendations

“In Search of a Different World: Turning Dreams into Community-Led Development Plans” goes beyond inspiring stories. It also provides a roadmap for action. The report offers global recommendations for implementing community-led development. These recommendations are drawn from the insights and experiences shared by GAT members and their communities. Dive deeper into the report to explore the details behind each recommendation.

  1. Reinforce the community’s leadership and ownership in development projects so that development is planned, implemented, and led by people who are impacted most.
  2. Promote community-led solutions for genuine social change.
  3. Ensure free, prior, and informed consent continuously throughout the development process.
  4. Shift knowledge systems to decolonize development and cultivate critical thinking across local, regional, and global contexts.
  5. Use community-led development plans as a foundation for government budget preparations at the local and national levels.
  6. Align community-led development with environment and climate justice for future generations.
  7. Respect and integrate indigenous and traditional governance systems.
  8. Prioritize intersectionality in development plans.
  9. Protect civic space and prevent danger to the community members.
  10. Stop prioritizing corporate interests in the development decision-making process.
The recommendations on what genuine community-led development look like are presented in “In Search of a Different World: Turning Dreams into Community-Led Development Plans.”

Reflecting on discussions among the GAT and over 150 allies worldwide, the GAT asserts that community leadership and knowledge must be central to planning and decision-making for development projects and policies, both locally and globally. They voiced loud and clear that the communities are not just ‘beneficiaries’, they are rights holders, they are knowledge keepers, and they are visionaries striving for an equitable, just, and sustainable world.

Development should begin with communities’ dreams and priorities, respecting the environment and human rights. People should lead the design, implementation, and monitoring of projects. This model leverages local expertise, ensuring solutions originate from and are guided by those directly affected, prioritizing their visions and recommendations.

“A development process that empowers local communities to exchange their firsthand knowledge about their communities, environment, and territories, as well as the political, economic, and climate-induced impacts will lead to solutions that truly work because they acknowledge community experiences and recognize their expertise.”

Systemically Change How Development is Designed, Funded, and Implemented

The Global Advocacy Team, The Global Advisory Group, and the International Accountability Project staff were gathered in an in-person meeting in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

The recent launch of “In Search of a Different World: Turning Dreams into Community-Led Development Plans” marked a turning point. This gathering brought together GAT members, the GAT Advisory Group, IAP staff, and global allies to celebrate a transformative process. Malyalmit Lepcha, a GAT member from India, reflected on the report’s significance. “Through this report, I tried my best to understand my Lepcha community and the type of development we’re looking for. I think it’s high time for our community — not only the Lepcha community but other communities as well — to come out and voice their concerns to make international financiers and governments listen to the voices of indigenous and local communities when it comes to decision-making on development. I am thankful to have this report; it is the best gift that I can give back to my community. It’s a beautiful gift for all communities that brings us together through this powerful process,” said Malyalmit.

This is just the beginning. GAT members are now working with their communities on development plans in seven countries. These plans will elaborate the visions and priorities identified through the community-led research process. Together, they will design and implement their advocacy at local and national levels to have their plans recognized, funded, and implemented.

Building on the GAT collective learnings, dreams, and recommendations, at the beginning of 2024, IAP initiated a Global Advocacy Campaign to drive systemic change by promoting genuine community-led development at key international and regional development banks. This global advocacy is rooted in communities’ priorities and we seek to take forward the recommendations of the Global Advocacy Teams to:

  • Transform policy and practice of development decision-making towards development that is led by communities’ knowledge and priorities and respects human rights and the environment.
  • Reinforce that for community-led development to be realized, communities should be considered as experts and rightsholders, and not just beneficiaries.
  • Promote community-led development as a viable alternative to a top-down model of development.

The GAT will need all the support and solidarity they can get to turn their collective dreams and efforts into reality in pursuing a different world for the current and future generations. As Patricia Wattimena from ESCR-Net — International Network for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, shared her solidarity message on the GAT initiative with us, “this kind of space is a space for us to really reflect on power dynamics, our power, where we position ourselves as international networks, national groups, and communities. At the local level, it is very powerful. It is not only a co-learning process, but also the space to reclaim our power as knowledge holders.”

Watch the launch of “In Search of a Different World: Turning Dreams into Community-Led Development Plans.” We also invite you to interact with recommendations and community stories in the report and discuss them with your friends, colleagues, community members, governments, or companies. Share with us how this translates to your context, and which recommendations particularly resonate with you.

Tom Weerachat works as IAP’s Global Lead on Community-Led Advocacy, based in Thailand. Tom is a community trainer, a teacher, a traveler, and a Mekong activist.

Anggita Indari is IAP’s Communications Coordinator, based in Indonesia.



International Accountability Project (IAP)

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.