Unleash Women’s Power: Neighborhood Groups in Kerala

By Father Edwin M. John – a submission to the UN Commission on the Status of Women

A massive experiment in the State of Kerala, India, points the way to a new political order in terms of global governance from below, to ensure empowerment of women,  in a wide-reaching and sustainable manner.

The experiment, Kudumbashree, has nearly 300,000 neighbourhood groups of women in poverty-risk, reaching nearly half the families of the State. The groups are federated at three levels of local governance. These groups of women-in-poverty-risk, put together, have a financial outlay bigger than that of any corporate house in the State. And due to such groups, in  a State where women were not encouraged to socialize much outside their homes, more women got elected to the local governance body than men, in the last two successive elections.

www.kudumbashree.org; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Tdzf9kOPUQ

The experiment that began with neighbourhood groups of Poor women, opened the way gradually to a new system of citizens’ participation as promulgated through Kerala Institute of Local Administration (KILA), integrating not just the women and the poor, but every citizen. All citizens can inclusively participate through small-sized neighbourhood assemblies (neighbourhood sabhas) at the base, which link to ward sabhas at the second level, and to Panchayat council at the top. 

The fact that this could be done in Kerala, which though a State is bigger in population than 41 countries, gives us reason to think of the possibility of its wider or even global adaptation.

The factor that makes Kerala’s programme distinct is  neighborhoodization, supported by factors like smallification, multi-tier federation and convergence.

Unlike self-help groups elsewhere, in Kerala the groups are neighbourhood-based. Territorially organized, they could get everyone inclusively involved. This geographical territory-based approach meant also that the poor women could easily interface with local governance structures which too are territorially organized. Thus at every level of local governance women had an organized voice, a mechanism, to interact. ( Especially In developing countries, being neighbourhood-based gives added accessibility and advantage to women, as here women stay around in neighbourhoods more than men.)  

The insistence is also on the participating forums being small. The bigger a forum, the more the small voices get drowned and they go powerless and helpless.

We need a new political – and economic and social – order that builds on such factors. http://www.childrenparliament.in/Documents/bravenewworld.pdf

One such dream is represented by neighborocracy which is explained as neighbourhood-based sociocracy.

Neighborocracy envisions a world organized as neighbourhood parliaments of about thirty families each. These serve as neighbourhood governments with ministers to respond to the concerns of the neighbourhood and to respond on behalf of the neighbourhood to the concerns of the wider world.  These Neighbourhood Parliaments are federated at various governance levels like that of area/ward, local governance, sub-district, district, state, nation, international region, and the world, with ministers at each level. The elections are to be just from one level to the next. The whole process is to be guided by principles of Smallness, Numerical Uniformity, Subsidiarity, Recallability, Convergence, Consent-based Decision-making and Sociocratic Elections.

Principle of Smallness is to insist that the forums that start from the neighbourhood level and go upto national, international and global levels be so small that everyone could sit around and talk without a microphone.

Principle of Numerical Uniformity follows from the first. If the forums elected are to be small at every level, they can contain only a certain number of representatives from units immediately below. This will lead to a situation where there are no bigger and smaller countries and hence no border wars and hence no war at all.

Principle of  Subsidiarity insists that whatever could be decided upon at any subsidiary or low or decentralized level should be decided upon at that level, leading to a situation where most of the decisions are taken at the base level. 

Principle of Recallability, whereby people at any level can call back representatives elected to the level immediately above, becomes easy because, at every level, forums are small in size. This ensures that people hold power not just during the once-in-five year elections but on a day-to-day basis.

The successive governments of Kerala did a great job delegating to the neighbourhood-group-federations whatever could be routed through them. This gave them more and more reasons to come together and do things together. And the more the forums came together, the stronger and the more cohesive they became. And this approach is represented by the Principle of Convergence: let every activity, role and power converge as much as possible at neighbourhood forums and their federations.

When the decisions are majority-based as in democracy, people get divided. And there is a compulsion for the majority to project the minority or “opposition” in a bad light. In addition, due to the hugeness of election constituencies,  democracy often ends up as the rule of the rich, by the rich and for the rich. Against this, from Netherlands emerged Sociocracy with its insistence on small circles, double-linking, decision by consent (not consensus), and sociocratic elections. Every decision-making based on consent and every sociocratic election tends to leave groups more united and cohesive and glued.

Fortunately, the small-neighbourhood-based approach gains more and more acceptance. States and countries send delegates to Kerala to learn from the experience, and the Kerala government has opened a special training center for such needs.

Again a network of Inclusive Neighbourhood Children’s Parliaments, that is becoming increasingly global follows the above principles. They are being organized in schools and in residential neighbourhoods. Even when in schools, the units are not on the basis of the classes or grades the children study, but inclusively on the basis of the residential neighbourhoods they come from. Every child here becomes a minister. 17 such ministers in each unit of 30 children are for the  17 Sustainable Development Goals of the UN. There are schools with as many as forty units functioning in the same campus, meeting one hour every week meeting alternatively as territory-based neighbourhood parliament sessions and as theme-based meetings of the various ministries. The children get initiated this way for proactive global citizenship.www.childrenparliament.in;

https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=children%27s%20parliament%20global&epa=SEARCH_BOX

All such initiatives give the hope that a new world of governance-from-below will not be very far in blossoming.

So our call to countries and women everywhere: start organizing your own neighbourhood as small-sized territory-based units. We will very soon have a world of women-led empowerment, justice and equality.

Learning from Failure

July 31, 2019 – Our Learning Working Group organized it’s second special learning event of the year. Objective: To build a culture of sharing and learning from failure as well as apply some standardized tools to help along the way.

Recording of the call

10:00 am         Introduction, LWG co-chairs

Sia Nowrojee, 3D Program for Girls and Women and Matt Lineal, Nuru International

10:15 am Case Studies in Learning from Failure

  • From Community Participation to Community Leadership and Ownership of a Rural Women’s Organization in Western India: The Case Study of MASUM in Maharashtra State, Dr. Manisha Gupte, MASUM, Pune, India
  • Learning from Failure through Developmental Evaluation: FCF Cambodia, David Yamron, Search for Common Ground, Washington DC, USA
  • From Policy Change to Policy Institutionalization, Brett Weisel, Global Health Advocacy Incubator, Washington DC, USA

11:00 am Q&A

11:25 am Closing

Click here for speaker bios!

Our time at the 2019 UN High-level political forum

This year’s UN High-level Political Forum (HLPF) to track progress on the 2030 Agenda – the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was particularly important to the Movement as Goal 16 – Peace and Inclusive Good Governance – was on the agenda.

(Featured photo with the star of the “Citizen-generated Data” session, 14-year-old Roslinda from Indonesia)

A top theme discussed everywhere was the declining civil space in many parts of the world. The difference this time is that there emerged concrete strategic tactics which civil society can take to expand civic space, notably:

  • Building inclusive alliances so that civil society can speak with one voice in negotiating with government.
  • Finding and nurturing champions within government for civil society.

Video of the first of our two hosted events

Video of our second event – “Good Governance Starts in Communities”

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Power is shifting to communities and INGOs need to be part of it

Author: Jenny Hodgson, Originally published at www.bond.org.uk, 11 March 2019. Featured photo by Anna Dubuis/DFID – CC BY-NC 2.0.

Our world is changing from the ground up. Whether a community-owned pub in the UK, participatory budget-making in Spain, a community endowment fund in Zimbabwe, or a post-earthquake bare-foot volunteer program in Nepal, local communities are finding new ways of deciding things and doing things for themselves. And they are organizing themselves and the resources they have to do so.

Jenny gave a webinar on her paper – “New Horizons in Community-led Development” – on June 26, 2019. You can click here to download her paper.

Within the INGO sector, the recent conversations about localisation, resourcing and the future of civil society offer the perfect opportunity for some radical and bold thinking. As a new social renaissance emerges, there are valuable experiences and lessons to draw in from the global south. 

What is driving this resurgence of collaborative citizen action?

There is a growing recognition that our collective “ubuntu” – the ties that bind us together as humans – is broken.  Digital technologies and social media mean that we are more connected than ever, and yet distrust, isolation and fragmentation characterise our social condition. Increasingly, this global phenomenon has translated into political spaces, as we’ve seen with Brexit, Trump’s election and the rise of right-wing populist parties across Europe. 

Societal divides are no longer as simple as north-south or “developed”-“developing”: inequalities within countries are as great as they are between them. Initiatives that set out to organise, mobilise and engage people where they are, to re-connect neighbours with each other and reignite a sense of shared purpose and possibility are crucial to countering these negative forces. 

Harnessing the power of people

The world needs community weavers and bridge-builders, people and institutions who can instil hope and build power at the margins of our societies, in villages, towns, cities around the world.  This new social renaissance is characterised by distributed, citizen-led networks and “relationalism” rather individualism. 

Over the last twenty years, a quiet revolution has been taking place in communities around the world, often despite rather than because of the big machinery of international development aid. Community philanthropy has emerged as a way of organising, as a development strategy and as a set of institutions in countries as diverse as Brazil, Kenya, Russia and Vietnam. 

These initiatives have been shaped by local context and culture, and have been led by individuals concerned about disenchantment and disengagement at the community level, frustrated by the failures of traditional development aid. They are inspired by the belief that without local resources, local leadership and local buy-in, development projects will continue to land like fireworks – to flash spectacularly and then die. 

Although many of these local funds and foundations – such as the Kenya Community Development FoundationTewa – the Nepal Women’s Fund and the Zambia Governance Foundation  – were established as one-offs, there is now clear evidence of a distinct community philanthropy “field”. 

Take the question of money. Although external resources may make up part of their funding structure, these community philanthropy organisations seek to build local cultures of philanthropy – especially among ordinary people – as a good in itself. In other words, people become active citizens who are part of the solution, fostering collective action and flattening power dynamics between who gives and who receives. 

Acknowledging, respecting, valuing and pooling local resources is a direct rebuke of the “beneficiary” mindset that the international development community has helped create.

Shift the power

In the last few years, this scattered and often invisible field (invisible at least in the eyes of the mainstream development sector) has started to organise itself globally, to express its collective voice as an effective alternative to a development system that has been preoccupied by scale and dominated by big institutions. 

It has also become a driving force behind the #ShiftThePower movement. Participatory grantmaking, giving circles, community or affiliate funds have emerged as strategies that seek to share and shift power away from the hands of big institutional gatekeepers – regardless of whether they are in the north or south.

Pieces of the solution are already out there for those would care to look, both in terms of practice and theory. If we want to realise the vision of a flatter, networked world driven from the ground up (rather than the funding down), we will all need to join forces, in solidarity, and in the case of big institutions, that may require some fundamental re-writing of roles.

Jenny Hodgson

About the author

Jenny Hodgson

Global Fund for Community Foundations

Jenny has been the executive director of the Global Fund for Community Foundations since 2006.

Innovations in Malawi

At the May 2019 Global Call of the Movement for Community-led Development, we had two excellent presentations:

Claudia Liebler, co-founder of Root Change, presented their “Social Labs” approach pioneered in two districts of Malawi.

Rowlands Kaotcha, Southern Africa regional coordinator for The Hunger Project based in Malawi, presented the Epicenter Strategy, now active in 127 clusters of villages in nine countries of West, East and Southern Africa.

You can also click here to watch the entire 90-minute call and discussion.

Dignity, Equality and Social Protection: A Call for Integrated Strategies at CSW

Every year, thousands of women’s rights activists from around the world converge on UN Headquarters in New York to push world leaders ever closer – inch by inch – to realizing the vision of women’s full and equal participation. This year’s 63rd session on the Commission on the Status of Women paid special attention to Social Protection.

Social Protection is one of those extremely important issues to women leaders that The Hunger Project has supported in villages around the world. It is defined as “set of policies and programs designed to reduce poverty and vulnerability by promoting efficient labor markets, diminishing people’s exposure to risks, and enhancing their capacity to protect themselves against hazards and interruption/loss of income. Social protection consists of five major elements: (i) labor markets, (ii) social insurance, (iii) social assistance, (iv) micro and area-based schemes to protect communities and (v) child protection.”

Grassroots women leaders are passionate defenders of the most marginalized members of their already marginalized communities: Widows who have been denied pensions because of corrupt beneficiary lists. Women who are harassed with impunity on farms, on the streets, in garment factories and in their homes. Girls kept out of school and forced into child labor. Take the most horrifying of the #MeToo stories you’ve heard and multiply by the hundreds of millions of girls and women exploited with little or no chance of gaining justice never mind protection.

The Hunger Project and the Movement for Community-led Development helped organize two events that emphasized the critical role of women’s leadership in community-led strategies to halt exploitation and ensure social protection in settled communities (on March 15 – link) as well as in the growing migrant populations across our world (March 12 – link).

Perhaps the most moving moment of these events was when Maurice Bloem quoted from the poem “Home” by Warsan Shire. You can hear the poet herself read it below. It is highly relevant to the painful period our world is going through today.

Concurrent to our events, in the main governmental negotiations of the Commission, world leaders agreed to a 51-point set of conclusions that reaffirm “reaffirms that the promotion and protection of, and respect for, the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all women and girls, including the right to development, which are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated, are crucial for the full and equal participation of women and girls.” The Hunger Project has long recognized that integrated approaches are critical to address the multiple burdens on women, and the Commission conclusions call for integrated approaches no less than five times.

Capacity Development

2019-02-27 Special Learning Event

Full recording

This was the first Learning Session organized by the newly-formed CLD Learning Working Group, which evolved from the Locus Learning Working Group. Co-chairs: Matt Lineal (Nuru International) and Sia Nowrojee (3D Program for Girls and Women)

Brian Viani, Leadership & Training Strategic Advisor, Nuru International, From ‘Capacity Building’ to ‘Capacity Development’: Definitions and Approaches (slide deck below for download)

Smriti Lakhey, Chief Operating Officer, Root Change, ‘Self-Facilitated’ Capacity Development

Nurhan Kocaoglu, Senior Program Officer, Counterpart International, Recipient or Partner?

Breaking News – Kenya Launch!

PRESS RELEASE

The Community-led Development (CLD) Movement Launches Kenya Chapter

NAIROBI, 30 January 2018 –The Community-led Development (CLD) Movement today unveiled the CLD Kenya Chapter at the Heifer International grounds in Nairobi. The Movement is an alliance of civil societies seeking the widespread adoption of grassroots initiatives to empower communities to become the authors of their own development. CLD works to achieve systemic change through long-term, steady interventions rather than short-term projects. In Africa, Kenya follows on chapters established in Ghana, Uganda, Malawi, Benin and Burkina Faso.

Watch the 31 minute edited video!

The Movement was formally launched alongside the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015 in New York. Members include The Hunger Project, Global Communities, Oxfam, FHI360, World Vision and Concern Worldwide, among others. The CLD also has a presence in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Mexico and 10 African nations.

Click here for more information, photos, videos on the Kenya Chapter

The CLD Kenya seeks to create strategic partnerships and explore how to make community-led development a high priority on development agendas for the Government of Kenya, development partners, the private sector and other key stakeholders.

The Kenyan Government developmental initiatives, such as the Big4 Agenda and Vision 2030, can and must be realized by empowering communities to lead their own development. Article 10 (2) a, b and c of the Constitution of Kenya provides for citizen participation, which is not yet fully realized. The CLD Kenyan Chapter will promote citizen engagement in all counties and develop the capacity of county-level civil society through coordinated action.

CLD is important for Kenya in several ways: Community engagement is grounded in the Kenyan Constitution, it will help the government achieve its goals from devolution to the Big 4 Agenda, and it is critical to Kenya’s development as it transitions to a middle-income country, to ensure no one is left behind.

Governor Kibwana signs the CLD commitment declaration.

While addressing the attendees, CLD Founder, John Coonrod stated: “The full success of county government can be a beacon of hope for all of Africa. The Kenya chapter has a unique opportunity to contribute to the region through the many regional offices based in Nairobi.”

Keynote speaker Makunei County Governor and Professor Kivutha Kibwana said: “Our county government system has truly put power directly into the hands of our citizens. They now have the power to voice their highest aspirations and work in partnership with government and civil society to achieve them.”

Kimberly Tilock welcomes Governor Kibwana.

Global Communities Country Director-Kimberly Tilock added: “Development is not something you do for people but with people.  It is certainly easier to just do something top down but to have lasting effective impact you need to effectively involve those that stand to benefit and have a stake in what is done and how it is done.“

Like-minded organizations and individuals are invited to join and contribute to the Movement by:

  • Raising the profile of community-led development in SDG-implementation discourse. To this end, Global Communities will develop a shared language for the practices, interventions and policies that enhance community-led development, and we will include this language in our internal and external communications. 
  • Organizing and participating in seminars, events and meetings that raise the profile of our collective commitment to CLD and its principles, and our approaches to facilitate it.
  • Building the evidence base for community-led development, and what identifying how best to enhance it.
  • Documenting and sharing best practices through coordinated social media campaigns, webinars and papers on the CLD Movement website.