Empowered citizens are in a position to capitalize on their talents and harness local resources to tackle the root causes of poverty. They are able to advance ideas with momentum from within their communities and hold people in power accountable.
For this to happen, transparency and accountability are mandatory and must be expected of governments and private sector actors.
Citizen-led development is key for empowering individuals and creating transparency and accountability. In the case of U.S. foreign assistance, Oxfam America advocates for it to be led and designed by the people who need it most. For too long, U.S. government development efforts have worked at cross-purposes with the very people who are trying to lead lasting change in poor countries. We realize that to empower citizens and build strong communities, it is necessary to harness the power of community-based ideas and resources and work hand-in-hand with communities to bring these ideas to fruition.
In the case of U.S. foreign assistance, Oxfam America advocates for it to be led and designed by the people who need it most.
Martha Kwataine brings to life what citizen-led development can look like.
In rural areas of Malawi, educated health care workers are not interested in serving in rural areas because of their harsh living conditions. As a result, these areas often go under-served and people are left without adequate health care. To overcome this obstacle, the government of Malawi has offered scholarships to attract qualified candidates. But in 2010, the Malawian government withdrew the scholarships saying that there was no arrangement with international donors on the best way of continuing the program.
Kwataine, who leads the Malawi Health Equity Network, a coalition of local nonprofits and citizens working on access to quality health services and a partner of USAID, found this unacceptable. She urged the government to find other means of financing the scholarships. Kwataine argued that the scholarships, while an incentive, were vital to ensuring rural Malawians had access to health care professionals. After her vocal advocacy, government officials responded by awarding 1,200 health scholarships to staff in underserved areas.
In addition to active citizens and governments, corporations and private investors are playing an ever-greater role in development as actors and funders, especially in extractive industries. Over the next 10 years, more than $1 trillion in wealth will be taken from Africa’s ground—although this is just a fraction of global extractives revenues.
We know that the use of these funds will either threaten the human rights of people in these countries through corruption, patronage and waste, or it will help strengthen transparent and increasingly capable public sectors that are held accountable by their citizens for making pro-poor investments. That is why Oxfam is making this work more and more central to our advocacy and programming efforts at the local, national and global levels.
Whether we are fighting for effective aid or pushing for greater transparency in the extractives industry, it is critical to take a systemic approach that examines how government, civil society and the private sector impact the root causes of poverty and injustice.