5 MIN READ
The central promise of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals is to ‘leave no one behind’. But with just eight years left to achieve the target and local participation still minimal, is the UN pledge achievable?
The 15th five year plan of the government of Nepal clearly mentions inclusive development with the presence and meaningful participation of all citizens of the state in their vision. Several laws, regulations, policies, acts, guidelines, directives, strategies, commitments and frameworks have been designed to ensure an inclusive approach in the development sector in Nepal. The country has also signed a considerable number of international conventions and treaties to ensure that no one is left behind.
‘Leave no one behind’ is the central promise of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It represents “the unequivocal commitment of all UN Member States to eradicate poverty in all its forms, end discrimination and exclusion, and reduce the inequalities and vulnerabilities that leave people behind and undermine the potential of individuals and of humanity as a whole.”
In line with that, several developmental terms such as environment and social safeguard, Gender Equality and Social Inclusion (GESI), bottom-up approach, participatory rural appraisal, pro-poor approach and others have mushroomed over the years to support and bring marginalized and disadvantaged individuals, groups, and communities into the mainstream conversation. Each approach is targeted towards inclusive development or adhering to the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. But we have less than eight years to achieve these goals and we are not yet in a position to meet the social dimensions of the 2030 agenda and the targets.
Despite the policies, guidelines and massive involvement of non governmental organizations and INGOs, there are many marginalized communities that are vulnerable and powerless, still struggling for basic health services, day to day meals, job opportunities and so on. This is because despite several codes of conducts of organizations to ensure community participation, consultations, and a meaningful stakeholder engagement process, most of the time there is still lack of people's participation.
Such a lack of participation of vulnerable groups in clubs and local councils in development project activities deteriorates their ability to tap into available resources which ultimately leads to these members not being able to tap into leadership positions. This lack of participation is mostly a result of lack of information and education in vulnerable communities. The lack of information makes individuals unaware of the support, provisions, facilities and offers provided by organizations.
Elite capture is another common problem in project implementation areas in Nepal. So-called high caste, upper class and affluent members tend to capture the programs and projects implemented by various development organizations. And much of the decision making process remains in the hands of the powerful. For instance, when project activities are rolled out in a Chepang community, a majority of the beneficiary selection process are decided by the Tamang community, who are more verbal, open and hold a more powerful position in the local government level in comparison to the Chepang community. Hence, the programs designed for the disadvantaged and minority groups remain captured in areas that have access to implementing partners, who instantly receive information about the upcoming projects and so on.
But even within vulnerable communities, there are problems. The few who are in positions of power within communities have been bottlenecks in connecting the development project to the communities. For example, the Nepal Chepang Association was functioning smoothly with massive support from SNV, some UN agencies and other INGOs but the Chepangs within this association used the budget inappropriately. Now there are no development projects and external funds to support Chepang communities in Nepal.
Meaningful participation is also restricted due to family restrictions. In a majority of families, the head of the family tends to control movement of women in society. Hence, she does not have much of a chance to engage in social and development groups and access possible support. These social restrictions push individual members and their families further behind in the community.
Despite the various issues, there are a number of ways development organizations can ensure better local participation while carrying out development projects. The best approach is to ensure direct engagement with marginalized groups by eliminating intermediaries. Through this, one can identify the poorest of the poor through participatory wellbeing ranking processes to understand the sociocultural context of the community. Identification is the first step of the process to carry out effective implementation of project activities. Activities such as capacity building, awareness raising, empowerment programs are only possible after a thorough understanding of the local context within the community. This will also help design a targeted approach which will avoid elite capture and provide opportunity to those who want to come into direct contact with supporting organizations.
Development organizations should also carry out deeper social dimension analysis and preliminary research not limited to academic knowledge but ones that bring the ground reality into context. Research supported by socially disaggregated data incorporating baseline information to find out the real information gives basic level information of the individual, groups or community. These forms of socially disaggregated planning providing diversity quotas, working with representative groups or bodies would contribute to support the community members in the project interventions. This will enable the development sector to reach the poorest and most vulnerable communities.
Involving representatives from marginalized communities’ organizations, local government and influential leaders would increase the possibility of empowerment along with being accountable for what they are doing. Additionally, this will assist in developing culturally relevant and need-based support systems. Collaborating with religious community leaders could also be an effective means for successful project implementation and positive outcome, as people tend to believe these leaders more rather than development practitioners.
There is no ‘one shoe fits all’ rule, but practicing such adaptive management practices can be relevant for solving these problems based on different contexts in society.
Biswash Chepang Biswash Chepang holds a Master's in Social Work from the University of Lincoln, UK as an Erasmus Mundus Scholar (2016-2018). He is currently an MPhil Candidate at Kathmandu University.
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