To deliver the SDGs #ShiftThePower

By Dr. John Coonrod, Executive Vice President, The Hunger Project

A community leader at Kissamey Epicenter speaks during a training in 2017 (THP, 2017).

The number one lesson of the current pandemic is that there is only one proven pathway to achieving the SDGs and that is to Shift the Power — to shift public resources and decision-making power to local communities.

There is a science to this. It’s called community-led development, or CLD. CLD has proven not only to be the most practical way to solve the interlinked challenges of poverty, inequality and environmental destruction — it is the only pathway to restore human dignity.

The Hunger Project and The Movement for Community-led Development are committed to the dignity afforded when all people enjoy their right to voice in the decisions that affect their lives.

The systemic assault on human dignity is a hot topic today — whether it is racism, sexism or the top-down, siloed modes of international development. It is within our power to transform this situation and the first step is to transform the mindset of the development sector.

We must erase the word “beneficiary” from our minds and vocabulary, from our project proposals and reports.

We must stop treating resource-poor people as needy, and recognize women and men as problem solvers held back by an unjust system.

People don’t need us to give them fish — or even teach them to fish. They need us to stop putting barbed wire around the fish ponds.

Deconstructing patriarchal mindsets and awakening people to their rights and power is a social change process that requires quality facilitation by trusted local community leaders.

Fulessari, a youth leader in her community, is teaching hand washing in Naogaon District of Bangladesh.

That is where we come in. Our principal outcome must be a sustainable, inclusive grassroots civil society everywhere. The civil society must be able to engage with what SDG 16 calls “effective, accountable and inclusive institutions” at the community level.

Many of us have seen this possibility during the pandemic. As outside experts were pulled out, committed local community leaders — especially women leaders — stepped forward, saved lives and built resilience. And they do not plan to step back.

The shift in power is underway. From Kenya to Indonesia, countries are shifting budgets and decision-making authority to local communities.

UNICEF has just adopted minimum standards for community engagement and WHO has made it one of the key accelerators for achieving the health SDG.

As the writer Arundhati Roy has written about the pandemic, nothing could be worse than a return to normalcy. The pandemic “is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.

She wrote — “We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.

John Coonrod is the Executive Vice President of The Hunger Project, where he is responsible for research and advocacy. He works closely with the President and CEO on all aspects of strategy, including programs, fundraising and communications and is based in Washington, DC.



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