A few things we’ve learned about people-centered approaches to development, and why they’re essential for future progress.
Gilda Charles is a Policy Advisor on Rural Resilience and Markets at Oxfam America.
The recent adoption of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) has renewed global commitment to eliminating poverty and injustice. As we roll up our sleeves to begin the more difficult task of realizing the SDGs, our success will ultimately hinge on the degree to which we meaningfully integrate local actors in the implementation process. Oxfam America has attempted to “walk the talk” through the creation of dynamic public-private-people-partnerships under the Rural Resilience Initiative—a joint effort with the World Food Programme and the Swiss reinsurance company, Swiss Re. R4 enables vulnerable rural households to increase their food and income security through a combination of four risk-management strategies: community risk reduction and natural resource management; micro insurance; livelihoods diversification and microcredit; and savings.
The program builds on the initial success of the Horn of Africa Risk Transfer for Adaptation Initiative pioneered in Ethiopia by Oxfam America, Swiss Re and a powerful local NGO, the Relief Society of Tigray (REST). REST’s involvement in the Initiative helped to bring in support from other community-level organizations and allowed partners to take on a demand-driven, community-centered approach to designing the risk-reduction activities and the insurance products. Nearly five years after the initial launch, program partners met recently during a policy discussion to reflect on, among other issues, the critical role “people” play in the partnership model.
Here are my three takeaways from the discussion:
People spearhead innovation
When asked about the role of people in partnerships, Darius Teter from Oxfam America replied, “This program only started because a farmer in Tigray who participated in the government-led social safety net program who was doing food for work asked, “Why can’t I work for insurance?” The idea didn’t come from us—it came from a farmer in Tigray.” Richard Choularton from the World Food Programme echoed Teter’s remarks saying, “We spent years before we embarked on R4 trying to see whether weather insurance can be used as a tool and we were at the point where we were about to throw it out of our agenda because it didn’t reach the people it needed to reach—and a farmer solved that problem for us. We’ve been building around that farmer’s idea ever since.”
People ensure sustainability
Teklewoini Assefa of the Relief Society of Tigray —one of the key local players behind the HARITA Initiative in Ethiopia, stated “People are the key stakeholders in the implementation of any project. People, and this includes local communities, local NGOs, and professional groups, have key knowledge, skills, and expertise which are critical in the design, planning, evaluation and monitoring of the project. Without such input—there can be no sustainability.”
People help connect-the-dots
Dan Osgood from the Earth Institute at Columbia University said, “There’s this typical talk that you go to where a scientist says, I have a supercomputer and a perfect scientific map of the world—but I can’t tell you what it means—except that, the red part—yeah, those are bad—and the blue parts—yeah, they’re bad too. The thing is, science isn’t magic and that big supercomputer isn’t magic either. It’s imperfect. It’s not the supercomputer. It’s the people—it’s the experts—who help connect-the-dots.”
Osgood concluded his remarks by saying, “And sure—these are clichés—but they become clichés because we’re not doing them.”
As we work to translate the SDGs into concrete action—let’s turn this clichéd rhetoric into reality.