What Does Development Mean to You?

By Preksha Kumar

Between April 20–22, 2015, 36 young activists from 10 countries in Southeast Asia met in Kuala Lampur, Malaysia to learn and share their ideas about human rights and development. With support from the International Accountability Project, the Mekong Youth Assembly Project and the Mekong Alumni Network put together a workshop using IAP’s Community Action Guide to the Asian Development Bank, a training manual for activists and communities across Asia-Pacific.

Organized during the ASEAN Youth Forum, the workshop was designed to provide a space for young activists to have a free and open discussion about development in the region. Participants came from different countries in Southeast Asia, including Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Singapore, Myanmar, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. Collectively, they had extensive experience working with grassroots communities, conducting trainings and assisting with capacity building activities. Using prompts from the community action guide, they shared their ideas on different models of development and particularly, how communities can easily get excluded from the decision making process.

“For decades now, development in southeast Asia has been highly centralized and top-down, excluding many people. Even though young people are a majority of the population, the law and mindset of people in power have limited young peoples’ participation. This workshop tries to fill this gap so young people may participate in development processes in solidarity with their respective communities”, said Tom Weerachat, an organizer for the training.

During conversations and guided activities, participants worked together to identify regional trends and common development concerns shared by many of their colleagues. They shared their thoughts on issues such as lack of public participation in the development process, top down paradigms of development and human rights abuses.

An important priority for activists is the free flow of and access to information. As one activist commented “People must be informed before, during and after a development project.” Participants agreed that developers and governments must inform and consult with communities first, prior to making any decisions on development. All development should be community rights oriented and centered on community gains. They also recognized that human rights activists need be legally and physically protected

At the end of the training, participants expressed an interest to organize similar workshops in their own organizations and communities. They observed that in their experiences, many development projects tended to have impacts across boundaries and were excited to connect with other activists working in similar fields. As one activist from Cambodia commented,

“I am so glad to have met other young activists from different countries. They are so friendly, proactive and kind in discussions. We have been talking about how we can come together to demand a real democracy, to achieve sustainable development and to make sure human rights are respected.”

The Community Guide to the Asian Development Bank is a training manual used by activists and communities across Asia-Pacific to start or strengthen campaigns directed at the funders of development projects and to support the creation of community development plans. Contact us at iap@accountabilityproject.org for more details on how to organise your own training.

Follow our blog for updates on other IAP trainings using the Community Action Guide.

International Accountability Project works to defend the rights, land and livelihoods of people threatened by destructive development projects.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store