Participatory development for the future!

By Louise Sjöberg, Linnaeus University


There are many ways to work with sustainable development. You can work with questions concerning the environment, economy or social questions, to only name a few. Auroville works a lot with social development and one of the working methods used is the participatory approach. Participatory development is much what is sounds like. It basically means that the people in focus and in need of development are engaged and participate actively in the process. This process is also called a ”bottom up” approach, since the people themselves are engaged and can influence what to focus on, what they need the most as big development as possible, and also when and how to do it. The opposite process is called “top down” approach which is based on different NGO’s and people from all over the world entering different countries and deciding what to do, what the marginalised people need and what are the most important issues for them. 


There are many positive things about the ”bottom up” approach. First of all, there is no one who knows better what the marginalised people’s needs are than themselves. The importance of, for example, religion, culture and climate can be hard to understand for an outsider who doesn’t live there or understand their life situations. Things that westerners think they need and consider to be good for them may not at all be what the marginalised desire, and therefore the effort will go to waste and there will not be any progress at all. So, there is a bigger chance that a project will be successful if there is a bottom-up approach to it, so the people that actually are going through the change think it’s a good idea and can finalise it in a sustainable way. Another positive thing is that the ”bottom up” approach works in an empowering way. Often marginalised people need help from others to help themselves. If that will be provided for them their confidence will rise tremendously and the result will be more sustainable, both personally for the people involved and for the outcome of the project and its purpose. 


In Auroville there are many projects that work in a participatory way with a ”bottom up” approach. Upasana, the organisation that Daniel and I were working for this two weeks has an example of a participatory project that is called Tsunamika. After the tsunami hit the coastal areas of Auroville in 2004 many fisherwomen’s lives were ruined. They lost their way to provide for themselves and their families, since their fishing possibilities decreased in connection to the wave.

That was the starting point for the project that aims to empower women by educating them in creating a little doll called a Tsunamika. This doll represents all the victims from the catastrophe and it aims to inspire, empower and help the wounded people to get back on their feet and give them the power and strength they need to start over. When creating these dolls they put many women together in a group to promote discussion, to empower each other and help each other during times of crisis. This is, according to me, a beautiful way of helping the women getting back on their feet and to help themselves by participating and actually do something, instead of just accepting help from foreign NGO’s that maybe don’t know what their needs are anyway. 


Another example from Auroville on participatory development is the organisation WELL, Women’s Empowerment through Local Livelihood, that also aims to help women help themselves. They educate women in making jewellery’s and crafts with used material that they later can sell. After this education they can, with their new knowledge, hopefully create their own business, sell their crafts and in that way be self sufficient. That will both increase their income and their self esteem, since they are doing it on their own. That empowers them as well and that also increases the possibilities of sustainable development for the women. I believe that participatory development is something for the future.

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