Community Commons

Day 2 - June 16

Community Commons Daily Report – 16 June 2005 (First Day)


Morning Session I: 9:30 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. (Full Group)

The first full formal day of activities in the Community Commons began at 9:30 a.m. in the now fully decorated dialogue space. The session began with the facilitators welcoming the participants into the space with a bell rung from the sunny steps of the Fordham University library.

The facilitators called the meeting to order by asking Donato Bumacas to sing a song of blessing. Dressed in traditional Filipino clothing, Donato welcomed the participants to the space and sang of the hopes of the assembled participants. This was followed by a few words spoken by Father McShane, President of Fordham University, who also welcomed the community participants to the city, campus and the Commons and asked for the health and happiness of the attendees.

These opening remarks were followed by a round of introductions, which saw each participant in the Community Commons introduce themselves and comment briefly on their place of origin and the nature of their work. With the arrival over the night of more participants and a significant number of community allies – individuals and groups who are dedicated to supporting local issues – the number of countries represented had reached 44.

Esther Mwaura-Muira then presented an overview of the planning day, which took place on 15 June and involved early arrivals to the Commons. Esther noted that five breakout groups from the larger body of participants had been identified on the previous day and had met to discuss their expectations for the Community Commons.

Following the introduction, Ana Lucy Bengochea of Honduras mentioned that it is important for the grassroots to create their own spaces for dialogue and community-building. She noted that these processes need to start at the local level and build to the international level. Ana Lucy highlighted the fact that the world must have more development that is centered on the needs and experiences of local people.

Gladman Chibememe, a facilitator from Zimbabwe, reminded the participants that local communities have undergone a long process of developing a grassroots movement. He raised the need for policies that are rooted in communities and reminded the participants that the Community Commons process can be traced back at least to the Community Kraal dialogue space at the WSSD in Johannesburg. Gladman’s presentation was particularly topical as he will be one of the participants from the Community Commons charged with carrying the participants’ messages to the Civil Society Hearings (23-24 June) on the Millennium Review Summit process. Drawing on his involvement in past dialogue spaces, he told the crowd that the community declarations play an important role in setting benchmarks, informing policy and monitoring progress on development.

After this brief overview of the Commons, Charles McNeill of UNDP spoke about how wonderful it was to see such a diverse group assembled in the dialogue space. He said, “Each of you represents 100s if not 1000s of people, so we have a microcosm of the world here. Over 170 heads of state will come here in September to make decisions on the course of development. People from indigenous communities are often the last to be heard from and we want to turn that around so that you are the first to be heard from. What you think and say counts!”

Alejandra Pero of UNDP’s Civil Society Organizations (CSO) Division then noted that the Community Commons is a process and a movement. Alejandra noted that the Commons, and the Civil Society Hearings, are a critical opportunity for civil society to share views on the draft Millennium Review Summit report. Her remarks conveyed the importance of a powerful and shared vision emerging from Commons over the coming days.

The facilitators then introduced the representatives of the Community Commons who would be involved in the Civil Society Hearings process the following week. The speakers were identified as Gladman Chibememe (primary) and Esther Mwaura-Muiru (alternate) with Patrick Muraguri, Madame Teclaire, and 3-4 others involved as additional participants. Observers include Athenazi and Annette from Rwanda.

A question was raised regarding the commitment of the developed world to community processes in terms of resources. Charles McNeill of UNDP replied that one of the major goals is to get more aid committed to developing countries. Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Ireland, Germany, France, and Luxembourg have increased aid significantly. Sweden, for example, recently announced it will contribute 1% of GDP to aid. These moves need to be encouraged, progress has been made but much further progress is left to go.


Morning Session II: 11:30 a.m. – 1:00 a.m. (Small Discussion Groups)

During the second half of the morning, participants and community allies broke into small discussion groups that addressed the following questions –

  • Who are your external partners?
  • What roles need to be scaled up?
  • How do you want external partners to behave differently?

The following sections outline the major decisions and deliberations of these discussion groups.

Discussion Group 1 –

This discussion group noted that external partners have a role to play in community-centered development. For instance, local authorities must be involved to ensure sustainability of development programs. There is a need to recognize that communities are central to the agenda of development, but that they need to work together in true partnerships instead of in top-down relationships.

Governments furthermore need to listen to the people and must assess the real needs of community members and not simply the interests of the partners. Too often donors or NGOs have many expectations but do not involve communities in the process of development. Communities need to be valued in order for goals to be achieved. They are part – indeed, the heart - of the agenda being pursued.

Discussion Group 2 –

The term partnership is self-gratifying. The strength actually rests in the community. Partners should know their place. There must be mutual respect and mutual goals. Most of donors come with their own agendas, not the community’s agenda. Sometimes communities just want recognition, an engaging participation from partners that shows an appreciation of community efforts. Partners must acknowledge community knowledge. There are scholars in indigenous ways and partners are not the only ones who can extract information. Indigenous knowledge is dying every day, but it is not just that these ways must be saved for a museum. These ideas and practices are the future of development. The donors have the money but they shouldn’t forget that the ideas are the community’s.

Discussion Group 3 –

This group identified a number of roles that need to be scaled up for community partnerships to be successful. These include – increasing financial resources, technical exchanges, aid for self-determination (not charity!), documentation, dialogue, market access, and greater protection and security from government.

The group concluded that partners could improve partnerships by – respecting local cultures, acting as ambassadors, increasing transparency, acknowledging the needs of community, not imposing their values, providing better and clearer access to funding, and removing bureaucracy.

Discussion Group 4 –

Participants discussed their opinions with regard to the role that external partners play in their communities. They commented that the work performed by partners often helps them to start up their projects, but it needs also to follow through the entire process. Therefore, partners need to continuously support communities in order to achieve the goals of their projects. The group also discussed their needs in terms of personnel training. Some important points raised were the need to implement local ideas and to actually listen to communities. Communities often lack experience in writing business proposals, and the fact that many communities do not have the resources to hire an expert in order to write a proper business plan is a major competitive constraint. The necessities of local communities are urgent and partners need to promote community networks. Finally, it was recommended that partners support more community driven projects and help communities in remote areas get connected to supportive NGOs, new partners, and governments.

Discussion Group 5 –

Group members discussed experiences they had with partnerships and financing. For example, Father Hadly from Lebanon discussed the seven partnerships associated with his organization. Participants noted that partners want community groups to be organized and developed and often favour groups that already have a track record. It was commented that partnerships help communities form networks with many different organizations in other places. Partners also assist local agencies in increasing visibility, building capacity, and securing financing. The participants noted that they wouldn't be able to do their work without partners/donors.

The participants concluded that they want to continue working with partners, but there is room for significant improvement in these relationships. Needed improvements include - maintaining long-term partnerships, providing sustainable financing, developing community capacity, and increasing transparency.

Discussion Group 6 –

This discussion group asked whether developed countries should adopt traditional patterns of assistance, by giving developing countries the resources to boost their activities and initiatives, or whether they should instead give more importance to self-reliance and allow communities to come up with their own independent initiatives.

In answering this, the group identified a number of challenges. First, it is sometimes difficult to justify that communities must be at the centre of development and be the real agents of change. The group felt that new and innovative ways of disseminating information need to be found to ensure that people who need information most can access to it and rely on technology and materials that will help them then to act on this information. Finally, it was remarked that problems must be solved through contributions of all stake holders that good community-partner relationships are necessary.

Discussion Group 7 –

This group agreed that partners need to change their approaches to communities in order to solve development challenges. The biggest problem is a lack of community involvement. Another problem is the irresponsibility of governments and partners. Partners often work short-term. They should rather focus on long-term assistance because community-improvement is itself a long-term process. For these changes to happen, recognition that communities are central to the development agenda is necessary. Partners must work together in true partnerships instead of in top-down fashion. They must not be prime actors but serve as supporters. Governments and partners often want to make policies based on their own agendas, but they need to listen to the needs of the people instead.

Discussion Group 8 –

During the sharing of expectations, the Latin American group discussed issues surrounding four major themes, which they felt were major problems hindering development at the community level. The first theme was the relationship between governments and community groups. The group pointed out that they do not need charity donations, but rather that governments need to help facilitate self-determination and self-sustainability among community based groups. Another point presented was that poverty assistance policies at the international level must be revised to include community based development initiatives that help to establish direct and permanent partnerships among communities and other organizations. The third point discussed was discrimination and racism. Racial discrimination is a continuing and pervasive problem for poor people, because if you are dark you don’t get hired for a job. Gender discrimination is also prevalent and particularly impacts the poor, since women lack access to jobs and education in most developing areas.


Afternoon Session I: 2:45 – 4:00 (Full Group)

The afternoon session began by recounting the major points raised in the morning’s small discussion group. In response to the first question – who are your external partners? – each group briefly reported the number and types of partners with which the participants work. The list included indigenous, local, national, and international organizations as well as governmental groups, NGOs, churches and the private sector. The partners covered a range of disciplines and interests, including financing, education, training, advocacy, and technical support.

Regarding roles that communities would like to see scaled up – the second question of the morning – multiple groups responded that champions within and for community organizations need to be supported. In addition, there was a realization that the private sector and brokers need to be more involved. There is also a need for advocacy/legal advice, documentation, and quality assurance/monitoring.

The bulk of the session focused on the groups’ recommendations. One of the main recommendations was that communities be given more decision-making power, particularly in determining their own needs. Another key recommendation was that partner organizations must be involved for the long term, rather than only in short term projects. The goal should be to work towards sustainability – which is a long term undertaking. In addition, communities would like to receive funds that can be used for tangential project needs, including overhead and operating costs. Finances within partnerships were often seen as too restrictive. An overarching theme was the need to realize that sustainable development issues do not exist in isolation and should not be addressed individually – we need to take a holistic approach to solving the challenges that communities face.


Particularly notable responses to the three key questions included –

Question 1 – Who are your external partners?

  • Indigenous, local, national and international organizations / NGOs / Private sector / churches

Question 2 – What needs to be scaled up?

  • Champions in our own institutions / Sharing of information / Grassroots skills and capacities

Question 3 – What is needed of partners?

  • Standardized frameworks and reduced paperwork / More support, not small amounts of restricted funds / Cooperation among partners, not competition / Fewer consultants and more money to communities / Support for operating costs / Less attention to those with track records and more to successful practices / More attention on learning exchange / Include communities in decision making / Money and training and information / Respect for indigenous rights / Long-term partnerships / Flexible financing / Transparency

Several groups also noted a number of other themes of interest to communities and their partners.

These included:

Perception problems – Communities are too often seen as problematic and complex. The complexity of justifying why communities need to be at the centre of development was also raised.

Prioritization – How do we present and convey the issues that communities grapple with on a daily basis without necessarily look at them according to false clusters and sectors, but in a holistic manner.

Sustainability Issues – Time frames – Community activities are self-sustaining but often we as researchers and development practitioners are compelled to work within a certain timeframe and there is little continuity or relation to the chronology of real challenges.

Targets and Problem Solving – Need to bring in private sector and recognize that policy making requires a wide range of stakeholders and public/private partnerships so that we can actively encourage the contribution of all stakeholders. We need to narrow the divide – community/ development practitioners, local versus national.


Afternoon Session II: 4:15 – 6:00 (Breakout Groups)

Breakout Group - Livelihood and Food Security in the context of Poverty Reduction

The goal of this session was to learn about each other’s strategies, challenges, and best practices, as well as to uncover recommendations on how communities can develop solutions that address livelihood and poverty challenges. Before developing recommendations, the group outlined issues that had in common. These included food security, land rights, financial access and stability, job creation, vocational training, capacity development, energy usage, and sustainability.

The main recommendations developed were to focus on developing innovation and empowerment within the communities while at the same time establishing goals for reaching minimum thresholds of economic development. It was recommended that a balance be found in utilizing government help – while in many cases it is necessary, communities need to engage in ways that don’t compromise their interests.

The group’s recommendations include the following -

  • Education is the way for eliminating poverty
  • Authorities need to have a better dialogue with communities
  • Communities need to lobby actively, because their voice is often small
  • Land tenure and tenancy issues must be addressed
  • More grassroots voices need to be heard
  • Funding also needs to start going directly to the grassroots
  • Everything has to have a human rights approach
  • We must think of a completely parallel process to the MDGs just for communities.
  • We need to convey the holistic nature of community level work
  • Communities must confront globalization and privatization as they have made people poorer and poorer. These forces pose a dangerous threat / impediment to the MDGs


Breakout Group – Community Responses to the HIV/AIDS Pandemic

The moderator, Esther Mwaura-Muiri, opened the session by asking people to share their experiences working with HIV/AIDS. Salome and Alice from Uganda spoke of their work with UCOBAC, a group focused on home-based care. Volunteers are trained to carry out visits to beneficiaries and train them regarding food and nutrition and to care for the sick. There is also an income generating component including business management and credit management - little money needed and UCOBAC gives grants to individuals to implement ideas and businesses. Recommendation – Don’t just look at the “big” projects. High impact results can be achieved at the community level with small, but well placed, investments.

A Dominican Priest from Lebanon presented a number of initiatives in Lebanon, where the focus is on reducing the stigmatization of HIV/AIDS by involving religious leaders. Now Muslims and Christians engage in dialogue regarding HIV/AIDS and two reference guides on HIV/AIDS have been created from a religious point of view. Recommendation - there is a constructive role for the religious community in HIV/AIDS discussion.

Further recommendations included – Enhancement of sharing and learning across communities. There must be a multifaceted way to address the pandemic and strategies must be open and accommodating. Local leaders must be engaged to work with communities to fight the pandemic in order to reduce discrimination and stigmatization. Free testing should be available everywhere. UN and multinationals should spend more money on research that can eradicate HIV/AIDS and patents should be public. Heads of state must get involved for quick impact, as witnessed in Uganda. Money should be channeled to communities, and not through governments, and there should be a deliberate effort to get resources to grassroots women. Ecumenical advocacy is important, as well as the involvement of traditional healers, medicine and nutrition. Finally, it is efficient to learn from other communities – people do not need to teach communities, rather they should be prepared to learn from, and with, communities.


Breakout Group – Housing and Infrastructure

During the afternoon breakout session the group began by reviewing their successes with housing and infrastructure. These successes took place in the training of women to produce building materials, in the building safe and community-focused housing units, in reducing costs by up to 50%, in generating employment, and in gaining the support of the municipality.

The group went on to brainstorm strategies that would improve the situation of women. A participant from Peru suggested a model for building houses used nationally in her country that effectively engages women. This reduces the cost of houses, empowers women and creates employment. It was noted by participants that women in some countries, including the Philippines, are extremely poor and are not allowed to buy houses.

Group members expressed the need for women to be organized and to lobby for legislation that protects their rights and equality. When organized, it is easier to have the government respond to our needs. Another major point discussed was the lack of clear and consistent language on communities and local people. The participants agreed that distinctions need to be made between cities, slums, and rural areas and the issues each faces. Masaii participants in the group explained that, as is quite common practice in many nations, the government of Kenya has given plots of land to people, but no money for infrastructure. This underfunding and lack of consideration of infrastructure and housing needs is a strong theme that needs to be addressed.

Breakout Group – Community Response to Conflict and Disasters

This breakout session began with a basic outline of challenges faced by communities in the area of gender development. The focal point for the discussion concentrated on challenges of breaking traditional gender roles and breaking the silence on sexual violence. Several recommendations were made by the participants that aimed to empower women and break these gender barriers. An increase in female-managed recovery and development services as well as social support networks were suggested as a methods of creating safe spaces for women. The introduction of indigenous knowledge-systems for justice in pre- and post-conflict situations was also recommended. The example was given of Rwanda, where a system called Guchacha exists along these lines. On the HIV/AIDS issue, it was suggested that strategies be implemented that encourage rape victims to tell their stories in order to break the silence.

The group also highlighted the issue of community resilience in times of natural disasters, and particularly in times of drought. Financing, community preparedness, and the installment of early warning systems were all areas of discussion. It was recommended that investments be made in each of these areas. The idea of combining the disaster and development agendas was also highlighted, as it is difficult for people to prepare for something that happens rarely and sporadically. Therefore it was urged that present development needs be combined with disaster relief strategies and that that UN and other agencies remain open to innovative programs at the community level. The example was given of Jamaica, where even drought-prone regions produce excellent crops, due to indigenous farming techniques.

Breakout Group – Natural Resources and Biodiversity

This breakout group developed an initial summary of key points raised from yesterday’s planning meeting. Participants highlighted the fact that they had found a wide variety of experiences regarding training of community groups, capabilities, and ways of managing natural resources. After welcoming the newly arrived participants, the breakout group addressed the question of how to relate poverty reduction with natural resource development and biodiversity – in other words, how do we scale up development efforts if we really want to also protect biodiversity? A major conflict was noted in the fact that, in reality, rural communities often just need money and environmental concerns are forced to come second.

To provide inputs to the wider Commons group, the breakout team decided to generate recommendations that could be sent forward for consideration. Emerging recommendations included:

  • Pay attention to indigenous and traditional knowledge – they are a foundation for conservation and poverty reduction efforts and should not be an afterthought.
  • Increase community access to markets, finances, information and technical support for sustainable enterprise development. At the same time, holistic approaches are needed.
  • Ownership of natural resources should be vested in local communities. In circumstances where governments or other groups own natural resources, benefits must be shared. At the same time, the group wondered how to address this issue forcefully but diplomatically.



Equator Blog

About Equator Initiative 

Contact Us

Follow Us: