The power of participation

We kicked off our FYF team planning day on Monday this week by asking ourselves what we had done to make a real difference over the past year.

It was a very satisfying process, and clarified for me all that I have been learning over the past seven months about why Find Your Feet is different.

For me one of the most important things about Find Your Feet is its commitment to a genuinely participatory approach to development. A couple of key activities over the past year are a clear illustration of this committment:

Last year a seven month planning process involving 536 villages in the Rumphi district (Malawi) was completed. Participants in the process honestly discussed their perceptions of development, what they wanted to achieve and how they could best realise their vision. The success of the process was confirmed by our Director, Dan Taylor, who just got back from visiting a number of the village development committees that had been involved in the process. He says he was really impressed by their level of engagement in the programme.

In addition to this a 3 day workshop on “power relations” was held for all partners and Malawi office staff. An external facilitator led participants through a consideration of their relationship with communities and the importance of working to empower rather than disempower communities.

And over the past year the value of our commitment to a genuinely participatory approach has been illustrated by the fact that people’s voices are finally being heard. I will use my two favourite examples to illustrate this, though there are many more!

In a public meeting, organised by FYF partner Sabla, 3,000 dalit women met with one of India’s most famous figures, Sonia Gandhi. In the meeting many women were confident enough to share their concerns that the local government was failing to provide adequate services for the community. As a result Mrs Gandhi promised to take action to solve the problems raised. Visit our website to read more about Sonia Gandhi’s visit.

Meanwhile the Secretary General of UNCTAD, Supachai Panitchpakdi, visited Varanasi, where we are working with weavers in 60 villages. He promised that UNCTAD would formally support the application for geographical indication for Varanasi saris. Visit our website to read more about Supachai Panitchpakdi’s visit.

Over the holidays I will be reading a number of books about power and participation in development processes in preparation for a staff seminar I will be giving….so watch this space!

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