Instrument de contribution volontaire flexible (FVC)

A paradigm shift in development interventions through community engagement


On Tuesday, 22 June 2021, the last webinar in the “Community Engagement Days” series, entitled "Community Engagement for Collective Action," was held via zoom. The series, which was organized by the Dimitra Clubs Team of FAO with the support of Resource Partners contributing to the Flexible Multi-Partner Mechanism (FMM), aims to review the achievements, potential and challenges of community engagement for empowerment approaches. The fifth and final webinar in the series sought to provide concrete examples of how community engagement and collective action function as key drivers of successful rural development strategies, programmes and projects.

Speakers showcased their experience with the use of community engagement approaches for collective action to strengthen the participation, voice and resilience of rural communities in various areas, including: climate change adaptation, food systems transformation and women’s empowerment, as well as COVID-19 response and recovery.

Ms Christiane Monsieur, Coordinator of the Dimitra Clubs Programme from FAO’s Inclusive Rural Transformation and Gender Equality Division (ESP), delivered the welcoming remarks, drawing general conclusions based on the reflections and discussions of the previous four webinars, and thanked the nearly 1 000 participants that connected from around the world, as well as the expert speakers. She later discussed the way forward for scaling up community engagement in rural development and humanitarian assistance.

The event was moderated by Mr Adriano Campolina, Senior Policy Officer and Rural Institutions, Services and Empowerment Team Leader from ESP. Mr Campolina affirmed, “community engagement and collective action have always been dear to my heart,” and described FAO’s work on reducing inequalities by strengthening rural institutions and promoting community engagement approaches, such as the Dimitra Clubs.

Mr Benjamin Davis, ESP Director, delivered an opening speech on the crucial role of collective action in addressing fundamental inequalities and power imbalances. He described the crucial role of Community Engagement for Collective Action in advancing the discussion on compounding global challenges and their dramatic impacts on livelihoods, nutrition, and food security, especially within rural communities and vulnerable populations. He stated: “Only through collective action can we address the fundamental structural inequalities and imbalances that the world faces today.” He concluded his speech by voicing a call for urgent agri-food systems transformation.

The second presentation was given by Mr Oumar Bâ, Mayor of the Commune of Ndiop, Senegal, and President of the Supervisory Council of the Senegalese Agency for Reforestation and the Great Green Wall. His keynote speech, “Defining one’s own development: empowerment and community engagement,” focused on autonomy as the basis of development. He affirmed, “the best solution for rural development is to define how, in an autonomous way, communities can produce food, process it locally and adapt it to their local food systems without relying on external resources.” He then went on to say that communities could share best practices to find development solutions that are aligned with their contexts. He concluded by affirming that, in order to render food systems more equal and sustainable, we must transform our development paradigm, bringing autonomy into the centre and having a bottom-up approach so that communities can satisfy their own needs and their own food systems.

Mr Oumar Bâ’s speech was followed by a presentation from Ms Anne-Sophie Poisot, Agriculture Officer, Coordinator of the Farmer Field School Platform and Assistant Team Leader of Pest and Pesticide Management from FAO’s Plant Production and Protection Division (NSP). Ms Poisot started the conversation by sharing a story about farmers taking the lead on their own development, thanks to field schools in Southeast Asia.  Through joint observation and community-led approaches, Field Schools Southeast Asia developed an integrated pest management system. She went on to describe how farmer field schools have spread to over 130 countries, empowering communities to transform from learners into activists and policy influencers. Such initiatives allow communities to make their own decisions, lead deep-learning processes, understand, and manage complex systems. She alluded to FAO’s Dimitra Clubs and how they have helped create the transformative dynamics of dialogues and democracy and have generated fertile soil for field schools to thrive. She concluded by sharing a recent quote from Celestino Vonjila Essyvo, FAO Farmer Field Schools Coordinator in Angola: “We are aiming to reach farming families not only to protect the most vulnerable communities from COVID-19, but also to keep family farming and food supply chains active.”

The event also included a powerful storytelling intervention about collective action for community development in India, which was delivered by Ms Kapilaben Bhailalbhai Vankar, President of the Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA), and Ms Megha Desai, Senior Coordinator from SEWA. They explained how SEWA helps communities in India navigate challenges, for instance, the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. They illustrated how, during the lockdown, having access to daily necessities for families was very challenging. Through collective actions, SEWA, with the permission of a senior district government official, delivered daily necessities kits at the doorstep of beneficiaries. Moreover, through its decentralized approach, SEWA led information campaigns on best practices for preventing infection with the virus and established a phone line to connect families with medical doctors in the area. They affirmed: “Working together made us know what other sisters are going through and their challenges. Thus, we started helping each other in solving our problems.” They concluded by explaining that, over the years, community engagement groups have helped beneficiaries and stakeholders gain access to nutritious food, enhance women’s empowerment and promote sustainability.

During the question-and-answer session, the speakers illustrated the key challenges and solutions to collective action for community engagement. Guest speakers stressed the importance of a paradigm shift in development interventions. Regarding “Fast-food” development approaches, Ms Poisot affirmed, “Asking the right questions is more important than giving the right answers.”

With simultaneous interpretations in English, French and Spanish, the event attracted a turnout of nearly 100 participants.

1. No poverty, 5. Gender equality, 17. Partnership for the goals