Flexible Voluntary Contribution (FVC)

Tapping into Community Engagement for Empowerment


On Thursday, 18 February 2021 the first of a series of five webinars called “Community Engagement Days” was successfully launched. Organized by the Rural Institutions, Services and Empowerment (RISE) team of the Inclusive Rural Transformation and Gender Equity Division of FAO, in collaboration with the government of Belgium and thanks to the support of Resource Partners of the Flexible Multi-Partner Mechanism (FMM). The first event showcased the rationale behind community engagement for empowerment approaches, and their potential impact on achieving inclusive rural transformation.

The virtual series of webinars has the main goal of reviewing the achievements, potential and challenges of community engagement for empowerment in development and humanitarian interventions and strategies. Moderated by Marcela Villarreal, Director of the Partnerships and UN Collaboration Division, the event welcomed Professor Robert Chambers from the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), University of Sussex, as the keynote speaker. In his presentation, Professor Chambers discussed the essential role of participatory approaches and people-centered development. He emphasized the importance of looking within communities, as communities are not homogenous, and addressing power dynamics and pre-existing biases. In his concluding remarks he strongly encouraged participants to “Search and share, and beyond that, innovate… Innovate and share what you innovated.”

In his opening remarks, Maximo Torero Cullen, Chief Economist of FAO, welcomed participants and emphasized the importance of overcoming inequality to address some of the most complex challenges that lay ahead in a post-pandemic world and achieve the ambitious 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. He stated that "Inequality is a structural challenge that we need to overcome: there is no way we're going to achieve sustainably SDG1 and SDG2 if we don't touch on reducing inequalities.”

His Excellency Frank Carruet, Ambassador, Permanent Representative of Belgium to the United Nations Rome-based Agencies (RBAs), stressed the importance of multi-partner pooled funding mechanisms, such as the FMM, to achieve catalytic impacts and leave no one behind. H.E. Frank Carruet highlighted the importance of programmes, such as the Dimitra Clubs, which promote community engagement and collective action, with special attention to the most vulnerable (especially women, who are often the hardest hit by inequality). Following his speech, Evariste Bushabu Bopeming, Secretary General, Ministry of Agriculture of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, applauded FAO’s deep commitment to fighting food insecurity and poverty and advancing the transformation of sustainable food systems.

In an inspiring speech by Professor Katherine Gibson of Western Sydney University, Sydney, Australia, discussed how community-based approaches to gender equality contribute to rural transformation. Internationally known for her research on rethinking economies as sites of ethical action. She further affirmed that “gender equity is a very lofty and worthy universal goal, but it has to be grounded in the real experience and desires of people if it is to produce real change.”

The event also included a presentation by Ali Abdoulaye, Dimitra Clubs’ Expert in West Africa, who illustrated how, for over 10 years, the Dimitra Clubs have been empowering rural people to champion endogenous development within their own communities in sub-Saharan Africa. In his practical intervention, Ali Abdoulaye stressed that “approaches must be flexible and not static, and especially those who benefit from these approaches, should take part in building the approach so that they can own it. This is a key element in Dimitra Clubs”.

In closing, David Archer, Head of Participation and Public Services, ActionAid, spoke about the importance of power dynamics and how to shift them through processes of reflection and endogenous action: “The truth is that transformation and change are all about shifting power; it's all about critically analyzing and shifting power.” With simultaneous interpretations in English, French and Spanish, the webinar gathered an impressive turnout of nearly 200 participants, and organizers hope to inspire a larger audience in the following digital events in order to spark an ongoing debate on the best ways to foster sustainable and inclusive rural transformation.

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

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