Ending Hunger and the New Human Agenda


Recently, the spotlight of world attention was on the Beijing Women’s Conference. Earlier it was on the Social Summit in Copenhagen and the population conference in Cairo.

What has almost completely escaped public recognition is that these conferences were not isolated events, representing the voices of certain special interests. What has emerged in the course of these conferences is a phenomenon that is truly new.

  • Out of the process of these conferences, a truly global agenda has been created. Not for one nation or set of nations, but for all humanity. The agenda has been created through the participation of all governments and thousands upon thousands of nongovernmental organizations. Literally, the collective voice of humanity has been expressed in this agenda.
  • This agenda is not merely a collection of goals, but the convergence of issues formerly seen as distinct into a single, unified agenda. It recognizes that the crucial issues facing humanity are one nexus of issues, inextricably linked, and that only in successfully solving the entire agenda do we solve any of it.
  • This agenda is a human agenda, dealing directly with sustainable human development. This is a dramatic shift from focusing on ideological and strategic geopolitical issues, to focusing on social issues.

We call this the New Human Agenda.

Ending world hunger is central to the New Human Agenda. It has long been clear that the world cannot end hunger on a sustainable basis without simultaneously resolving related issues such as population growth and preservation of the environment. At the same time, for practical as well as moral reasons, it is clear that the world cannot build a sustainable future without ensuring that the one-fifth of our human family who now live in abject poverty and hunger gain at least the chance to meet their most basic human needs and have the chance to lead lives of dignity and self-reliance.

Given our mission, we see that it is critically important to conceive of the New Human Agenda as one, unified agenda in order to create strategies and successfully mobilize the financial and human resources needed to implement it.

In this paper, we would like explore the three points made above, and stimulate an inquiry into the implications of the agenda for the international community. We would like to step back, review both the substance of the New Human Agenda and the process that produced it, and to recognize that an articulation of the agenda will be a contribution to its implementation.

The Emergence Of The New Human Agenda

  • While there have been global conferences on important international issues since the early 70s, we would say that the New Human Agenda first began to emerge in 1990 at the World Summit for Children.
  • This Summit occurred at the very moment of the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the end of ideological gridlock in the world community. For the first time, virtually all the governments in the world were able to come together and reach a consensus.
  • Also, for the first time, all the major implementing agencies of the United Nations worked together to present to world leaders a common set of goals covering all aspects of health and well-being that affect children and their families.
  • The World Summit goals and strategy were created in a dynamic, global process involving thousands of grassroots and nongovernmental organizations who not only gave input to the strategy, but also provided the public pressure to have world leaders attend the Summit.
  • A next critical step was taken at the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio. Again, there was a dynamic global process at both the governmental and grassroots level. This time, two major sets of issues which had heretofore often been seen in conflict — the commitment to the environment and the commitment to development — converged and both sides saw their issues as inextricably linked in a common agenda to preserve the environment for the sake of humankind.
  • In the 1993 Vienna Human Rights Conference, the world agreed to the concept of the universality of all human rights, and that governments could not abridge the human rights of individuals under the pretense of cultural, religious or traditional reasons. Also agreed to in Vienna was the “right to development.”
  • At the 1994 Cairo population conference, a third major group of issues converged with the former two, forming a triad of population, environment and human well-being. As important, this conference recognized that the pathway to accomplishing this agenda was the empowerment of people.
  • The growing recognition that these challenges were fundamentally human challenges became even more central this year at the 1995 Copenhagen Social Summit. For the first time, the world committed itself to the eradication of poverty, and clearly declared that people-centered development was the way forward.
  • In September 1995 at the Beijing Women’s Conference, it was made clear that none of these issues could be resolved without the full equality, participation and leadership of women — that the institutionalized suppression of women was at the very heart of the matter of poverty and hunger, and that unleashing the power of women was key to ending these conditions.

Components of a single, unified agenda

The world community did not set out to unify all the major human and environmental issues confronting the planet. The recognition of the interrelatedness of these issues emerged over time. It is now clear to virtually everyone who has participated in this process that no single item of the New Human Agenda can be addressed in isolation. Only in successfully resolving the entire agenda will we resolve any part of it. And only in resolving the entire agenda will there be a sustainable future for humanity.

The New Human Agenda can be said to comprise 7 over-arching priorities.

  • EMPOWERMENT OF WOMEN: The issues of the new human agenda most directly affect women. It is women who bear primary responsibility for health, education and nutrition. It is women who are the poorest in society, and in fact 70 percent of the world’s poor are women and girls. The key leaders and actors for resolving these issues must be women. Humanity will never succeed in meeting the challenges of the New Human Agenda as long as one-half the human race are denied their most basic human rights.

Discrimination against women is deeply entrenched and institutionalized — it is in our families, our communities, our cultures, our governments, as well as in our minds. Overcoming this entrenched paternalism may be the most fundamental challenge of achieving the New Human Agenda.

  • PEOPLE’S PARTICIPATION: Fundamental to the New Human Agenda is the recognition that people — individual men and women — are not passive “beneficiaries” but are the creators and authors of their own future. People are not the problem — they are the solution.

To be effective as the authors of development, people must have authentic voice and power over the issues that affect their lives. This means not only democracy at the national level. Governments must decentralize, and extend decision-making and resources to the local level.

People must be free to organize themselves and gain clout in society. There must be the encouragement of voluntary associations and grassroots self-help groups, producer’s associations and women’s self-help and empowerment groups. This becomes the basis of a diverse and thriving civil society, mobilizing and focusing human energy on meeting a broad range of human needs.

  • UNIVERSAL HEALTH AND EDUCATION: For people to succeed in creating a better future, they must have access to affordable ways to meet their basic human needs and obtain skills relevant to their lives. Universalizing access to these services, and making the providers of such services directly accountable to the communities they serve, are critical priorities.

Local leaders must be empowered to ensure their communities have access to:

  • primary health care,
  • clean and sufficient drinking water,
  • safe sanitation,
  • good nutrition, and
  • functional literacy, either through formal or informal means.

As importantly, communities must become far more skilled at ensuring these services reach the most vulnerable members of society: infants, young girls, pregnant and lactating mothers and the elderly.

  • FOOD SECURITY: In most of the past half century, food security was seen only in macro terms — in terms of ensuring that the rate of food grain production surpasses population growth, and that there are buffer stocks appropriate to emergencies.

This will not suffice. The world now recognizes that food security must be established at every level: regional, national, household and even among the members within a single household. New priority must be given to empowering rural people, and particularly women, who in Africa are 80 percent of the farmers. Nations and regions must strive for food self-sufficiency so as to avoid putting their very survival into the whims of the global marketplace. It means greater investment in rural roads and market infrastructure, in developing appropriate sustainable agricultural techniques and ensuring that they reach the hands of farmers.

  • LIVELIHOOD SECURITY: The eradication of hunger and poverty is a function of ensuring that every woman and man has the opportunity to earn a sustainable livelihood — not handouts, but true economic empowerment. This requires development of new opportunities appropriate to rural and urban poor, access to vocational training and credit for the poorest members of society.
  • STABILIZATION OF POPULATION GROWTH: Nations will never close the gaps in food availability, health care, education and income opportunities as long as the population grows at an unsustainably high rate. As is true in every other aspect of the new human agenda, this is not only a matter of national policy but also of empowerment of the grassroots. When people, and particularly women, are educated and are given the choice, they choose to have fewer children and space them at healthier intervals.
  • PRESERVATION OF THE NATURAL ENVIRONMENT: All human life is derived and sustained from the natural environment, and urgent steps must be taken to preserve that environment as a hospitable home for all future generations.

The poor, whom some have portrayed as the “enemy” of the environment, often prove to be the best caretakers. Their livelihood is most likely to depend directly on the health of the environment, and traditional wisdom often carries with it reverence for, and techniques appropriate to, preserving the environment.

Consensus on the New Agenda

This year, at the Copenhagen and Beijing conference, it was evident that the formulation of this global agenda — and the consensus it represents — is now largely complete. At both conferences, there were more and more expressions that what was missing now was not further refinements, but specific strategies and action to implement the agenda.

This is not to say that the New Human Agenda will not continue to evolve. There are additional pressing issues that have not yet achieved the level of consensus represented by the seven points above. Social disintegration and over-consumption, for example, are issues clearly related to this agenda.

The New Human Agenda will shape the next century

We are at the threshold of a new century. The 21st century will be fundamentally different than the 20th century.

The last century was dominated by war and the threat of war: World War I, World War II, the Cold War and the liberation struggles around the world. Ideological and geopolitical issues were the agenda. These issues forced all the human and social issues to a lower priority.

What was achieved during this century was freedom from tyranny, freedom of self-determination, freedom for people, for individuals, to have real voice in how they live their lives.

The end of the Cold War, the rapid expansion of both human freedom and global communication technology, and the growing urgency of environmental issues have all set the stage for a dramatic shift fromgeopolitical priorities to social priorities.

During the Cold War, social issues were often termed the “soft” issues, yet there is nothing soft about them. They are among the hardest, most complex challenges humanity has ever faced.

Challenges of hunger and poverty, health, population and the environment are literally a matter of life and death for millions. They are also the primary threat to security and peace for all of us, now and in the future.

Governments will succeed or fail to the degree they achieve these goals for their people. At a deeper level, history will judge our success or failure as humanity by our progress with the new human agenda.

Role of The Hunger Project to this point

From its inception, The Hunger Project has assigned itself the responsibility of looking at the “big picture” — to always take the broadest possible view of the forces that hold hunger in place, and take catalytic action to redirect those forces. In recent years, this has occurred in four ways:

  • AT GLOBAL FORA: For many years, and particularly since 1990, The Hunger Project has sought to shape what we perceived as an emerging global agenda. We have sought to keep the issues relevant to the sustainable end of hunger at the forefront of the debate. Since May 1992, we have endeavored to articulate that agenda, and have people see it not in terms of separate issues, but as a nexus of issues which are inextricably linked.
  • ON THE GROUND: In the late 1980s, we recognized what the world community now recognizes — that reaching consensus is necessary but not sufficient to making solid progress. Missing are the effective strategies and ways of working that will translate a shared vision into concrete achievements. This is especially true in dealing with complex, multisectoral issues, as the world’s institutions are built on rigid, sectoral lines. Our Strategic Planning-in-Action (SPIA) work is designed to empower people to overcome these obstacles.
  • A COMMON FRONT: To achieve the New Human Agenda, humanity will need to learn to work together as a “common front.” As was stated in Copenhagen, the world needs a “new kind of expert” who can facilitate diverse people coming together and working together effectively.
  • The Hunger Project has long stood for collaboration and cooperation. We invested a great deal of money and effort in forging a coalition of NGOs, beginning with the Cambodia Crisis Committee in 1979 through Live Aid in 1986. Our work with the Japanese Parliament has resulted in the creation of a caucus devoted to the end of world hunger. And our Youth Ending Hunger movement is bringing young leaders into active partnership with governments, NGOs and the UN system.
  • GLOBAL CITIZENRY: The resource allocations and institutional transformations required to achieve the New Human Agenda will not happen unless there is a broad constituency whose views transcend narrowly defined national self-interest. A new generation of “global citizens” is desperately needed. The Hunger Project is cultivating and training such a constituency, particularly among its most dedicated donors, and plans to expand this program in the future.

Issues that must be addressed to implement the New Human Agenda

While it would not be difficult to make a list of priority action steps consistent with the New Human Agenda, we will not do that here. It is our sense that the traditional prescriptions often merely extend the same thinking that has failed to produce effective action.

Instead, we would like to clarify the issues that must be addressed, out of which new and more effective actions could be revealed.

  • ISSUE 1: The major actors in the international community do not, to date, recognize the existence of the New Human Agenda.
  • ISSUE 2: Donor countries are retreating from providing bilateral and multilateral assistance, and no alternative funding mechanisms have yet emerged.
  • ISSUE 3: There are widely-recognized limitations in the structures and institutions created for the post-World War II era when it comes to meeting the challenges of the New Human Agenda.
  • ISSUE 4: There is no identified leadership in the international community to drive the implementation of the New Human Agenda.


The New Human Agenda can provide a powerful and compelling framework to guide The Hunger Project’s work.

Many of the principles that The Hunger Project has long advocated — multisectoral approaches, an emphasis on empowerment and people’s participation — are now more broadly recognized. In this way, the emergence of the New Human Agenda can make The Hunger Project’s work more understandable and permit us to contribute more effectively to the overall global effort.

This articulation of the New Human Agenda can carry us beyond the narrow and traditional interpretations of “hunger” that have been a legacy of our name. It also enables us to take a much longer view, beyond the statistical goals we have set for the year 2000, and into a future where our human family has created the institutions to ensure a sustainable future for all future generations.



What constitutes an enabling environment for the poor to succeed in their own development?

Working paper for a National Strategy Forum, April 1994, Dhaka, Bangladesh


The purpose of this paper is to provide a framework that will facilitate the participants in the upcoming strategic forum to identify new openings for action to provide an enabling environment for the poor. As will be shown below, the lack of a clear and shared understanding of what constitutes an enabling environment is a major obstacle to mobilizing concerted, strategic action to providing one.

We envision this forum to be the first step in an ongoing process. It will reveal openings for action that The Hunger Project and other organizations can take to provide an enabling environment. In addition, it has the potential to identify areas where the next breakthrough in thinking is required, thus pointing the way to the next strategic forum.


We would like to express our appreciation to all the individuals and organizations in Bangladesh whose dedicated work has demonstrated to the world the critical importance of providing an enabling environment for the poor. In particular, the preparations for this strategic forum has depended on the generous assistance of:

  • Mr. Fazle Abed, founder and director of BRAC, who first suggested this topic and who has advised on the format and design of this meeting;
  • Mr. Alex Counts, senior advisor in the international training division of the Grameen Bank, who wrote an initial overview analysis of the experience in Bangladesh in providing an enabling environment, and Prof. Muhammad Yunus for generously permitting Mr. Counts to assist us in this way;
  • Mr. Abdur Rab Chaudhury, MP, for his advice and willingness to facilitate the discussion;
  • Mr. Mahfuz Anam, editor of the Daily Star, whose recent round-table discussion on Pro-Poor Planning highlighted the importance of a breakthrough in thinking in how economic planners must think of the poor; and
  • The Asia Foundation, which has provided funding both for this meeting and for the follow-up actions that it inspires.

Section one: Setting the context

Empowering the poor — the key to a self-reliant future for Bangladesh

The concept of an “enabling environment” is new, and it reflects nothing less than a paradigm shift in thinking as to how nations like Bangladesh can achieve a new, self-reliant future — a future where all citizens have the chance to lead a healthy and productive life. This paradigm shift rests on two major recognitions.

First: People now recognize that the poor are the principal agents to improve the quality of their own lives.

No matter how successfully society allocates resources to help meet the needs of the poor, these are small compared to the resources that poor families will spend to meet their own needs. Therefore, to make any significant difference in the lives of the poor, public investments must “enable,” or leverage, the enormous investment the poor make in themselves.

Second: People are now beginning to recognize that enabling the poor to move out of poverty is the key to the nation’s economic development.

This represents a profound transformation in attitudes towards the poor and their role in the economy. The statement made by Mahfuz Anam at the recent round-table on “pro-poor” planning published in the Daily Star put it clearly:

“Recent examples, especially in the SAARC countries have shown that given the right type of environment in terms of credit, in terms of decision making, in terms of empowering the poor, it has been possible to prove that [the poor] are perhaps the most effective group to produce wealth…. it is perhaps the way that the poor has been looked at that is responsible for the continuation of poverty.”

Dr. Maqsood Ali underscored the new view that the poor are economic assets: “There must be a social mobilization of the poor which recognizes the intrinsic dynamism of the poor and goes straight to organizing the poor and releasing their dynamism, the hidden capability of capital accumulation potential which they have. The World Bank and IMF are saying that you have to raise growth in order to reduce poverty. Now we are saying you have to reduce poverty to raise the growth.”

This revolution in thinking comes at a propitious time — a time when Bangladesh is transforming its own structures and when international institutions are increasingly open to human-centered approaches to development.

Society’s institutions still, by and large, reflect the old paradigm. Transforming them to be useful to providing an enabling environment will require rigorous, systematic and scientific thinking and concerted, strategic action. It is the intention of this meeting to develop the framework of that thinking, and identify new openings for action.

Section two: Establishing key distinctions

It has been The Hunger Project’s experience that many meetings fail to generate any meaningful action because they fail to develop a set of sufficiently powerful distinctions. Too often, meetings about poverty alleviation produce only lists of problems, rationales, goals, targets, and opinions about service programs.

To actually make something happen, distinctions must be created that are powerful enough to cut through the unclarity, to get underneath the differences of opinion, to generate alignment on key principles and to reveal strategic openings for concerted action.

Therefore, establishing powerful distinctions for thinking rigorously about providing an enabling environment is a major objective of this meeting.

A. The Distinction “Enabling Environment” vs. “Service Delivery”

A service delivery system is the organized provision of critical services, such as healthcare, education and emergency relief to people who can benefit from those services.

Clearly, much important work is being, and must be done to improve the delivery of human services. However, this paper will NOT discuss service delivery issues. It will devote itself exclusively to the issue of creating an enabling environment.

Often these two distinctions are collapsed. When the distinctions are collapsed, the inquiry into these issues lacks the rigor, clarity, precision and discipline that would reveal pathways to effective action, and galvanize the will to take the action that is necessary.

Effective service delivery is critical, and particularly for governments. People create governments specifically to provide services that are best provided collectively rather than individually.

The notion of “enabling environment” however is new, and reflects the recognition that most human progress is not a function of service delivery, but rather of the creative and often organized efforts of people themselves.

The strategic thinking called forth when considering “enabling environment” and “service delivery” is completely different. One must consider different actors, different resources and different constraints.

In service delivery, the actors are the functionaries, the primary resources are the official budget and the pool of trained personnel, and key constraints are managerial factors: resource scarcity, planning, management and staff effectiveness.

In an enabling environment, the actors are the people themselves, and the primary resources are the talents, knowledge and resourcefulness of the people. Instead of considering what can be done “for” the poor, one must consider what can be done “by” the poor. In this way of thinking, the key constraints are social factors: unity, leadership, equity, public attitudes, and self-confidence.

Enabling Environment Service Delivery
Actors: People themselves Functionaries
Resources: Local incomes and material





Official budgets

Trained personnel


Constraints: Equity

Access to resources

Access to information



Social harmony

Self confidence

Resource scarcity



Staff effectiveness

When one confronts the challenges faced by Bangladesh, it is impossible to imagine meeting them with only the resources that can be channeled effectively through service delivery mechanisms. Only by unleashing the creativity, resourcefulness and determination of the entire population can the challenges be met and a sustainable future for Bangladesh assured.

The concept of enabling environment means restoring people to control over their own destiny, by putting them in control of the institutions and decision making processes that affect their own lives.

B. Definition of “Enabling Environment”

We will define “enabling environment” to consist of the attitudes, policies and practices which stimulate people to take action and enable them to succeed.

By that definition, we want to consider an enabling environment for the poor which consists of attitudes, policies and practices which stimulate the poor to take action for their own development, and enable them to have that action produce meaningful improvements in the quality of life.

For example:

  • the attitude concerning the economic value of girl children often determines whether poor girls receive education.
  • the policy of who hires and fires school teachers often shapes the degree to which local people can depend on that teacher to provide quality instruction.
  • the practices by which NGOs form local organizations can shape the degree of initiative and independence local people express in that organization.

C. What are Key Elements Within an Enabling Environment?

In analyzing what people need from their environment in order to succeed in their own actions, we can see at least four major elements:

AWARENESS: People must have a clear understanding of the issue and the possible solutions in order to take effective action.

ACCESS: Whatever training, information or resources people need to succeed in their own action must be physically available in the community, and unencumbered by social barriers that could stop people from having it.

AFFORDABILITY: In taking their own actions, the poor depend primarily on their own resources. Therefore, the poor must be able to afford what they need. To a family living in poverty, issues of price gouging, bribery and exploitation all have the same effect of preventing the family from affording what it needs.

ACCOUNTABILITY: While people themselves are the primary source of action, at some point they must trust and depend on others — teachers, health workers, well diggers and other functionaries. People must have ways to hold these functionaries to account.

D. What does this Inquiry Need to Produce?

The outcome of a strategic inquiry into an enabling environment does not need to produce a comprehensive or rank-ordered analysis. It does not need to produce a master plan or a comprehensive blueprint.

The experience in Bangladesh has proven to the world that people living in the conditions of poverty are so resilient, so creative and so determined that when they are offered ANY opportunity to improve their lives, they seize it.

Therefore, the goal of this exploration is to reveal openings for action that would result in any meaningful improvements in the environment that can provide additional empowerment of all the poor to improve their lives, and contribute to the nation.

As these openings are acted upon, further openings should appear on the pathway to providing an enabling environment.

E. In What Areas of Life is the Enabling Environment Crucial?

For those living in poverty, meeting basic human needs consumes most of one’s time, energy and resources. This inquiry will look into six key areas in the lives of the poor where an enabling environment would make a critical difference:

  • Ensuring the health of one’s family
  • Educating one’s children
  • Earning income
  • Drinking clean water and practicing good sanitation
  • Preserving the natural environment
  • Planning the size of one’s family

F. What Questions should Guide the Inquiry?

This paper will next take a look at the four elements of the enabling environment in each of the key sectors of the lives of the poor. At each point, we will address:

What’s so — what is the current situation — right now in the environment of the poor, given the progress to date and the challenges that the poor face, and

What’s missing which, if provided, would empower the poor to succeed in their own action.

We have found that rigorous clarity in addressing these two questions reveals openings for action.

G. What’s Next?

As we stated, we intend for this forum to be one step in a dynamic process. Following a detailed look in the next section of this paper into what’s so and what’s missing, we will develop a framework to seize the openings for action that get revealed, and to feed back the experience gained into the next inquiry.

Section 3: A detailed look into six key areas of life

A. Ensuring the Health of One’s Family

Bangladesh has pioneered breakthroughs in affordable and appropriate medications and in low-cost child-survival strategies. It has allocated huge sums of money to health care, yet child and maternal mortality and morbidity rates remain high. What is missing which, if provided, would enable the poor to ensure better health for their families?

AWARENESS: Many families currently do not know how to prevent and treat the most frequent and serious maladies that harm their health, such as diarrhea and acute respiratory infection. What is missing is a reliable, authoritative source of health information that reaches every family.

ACCESS: Families need access to affordable and appropriate medications, and to competent health workers. Enormous public investments have been made to train and provide health workers. It is likely that the major constraints to access now lie in a lack of accountability of those health workers to the local people.

AFFORDABILITY: Great strides have been made in making basic drugs affordable and available in the marketplace. One dangerous aspect of the present environment is that the freeing of markets makes it profitable to promote inappropriate drugs, eg: the promotion of expensive and dangerous anti-diarrheals in place of safe, low-cost oral rehydration solution. This trend must be countered both with more awareness and more local accountability.

ACCOUNTABILITY: At present, there are few, if any, existing mechanisms by which the poor can hold health services to account. What’s missing are strategies to strengthen the ability of the poor to gain accountability from local health services, perhaps through local committees, improved training of union councils and motivation of health workers.

B. Educating One’s Children

Education is a top priority in Bangladesh, and another area where breakthroughs have occurred in providing affordable, quality education. What is missing which, if provided, would enable poor families to provide their children with an education that is relevant to improving their lives?

AWARENESS: Given the tremendous promotion of education, families are now convinced that quality education will improve the lives of their children, at least for their boys and increasingly for their girls. Yet for most families, the quality of available education is poor and people are not aware of ways to improve it.

What is missing is the awareness and understanding as to how people can improve the quality of their local schools. If families were made aware of steps that could be taken to improve the quality of local schools, they would be more empowered to demand that they be taken.

ACCESS: Quality primary education is not currently available in most villages. The “technology” of providing quality non-formal primary education exists, as demonstrated by the BRAC schools, and is within the means and talents of every village. What is missing is the system of training and supervision that could enable every village to access this technology and establish such schools.

AFFORDABILITY: Bangladeshis demonstrate their determination to provide their children with education, even to the extent of spending enormous amounts of money on private tutors. While the poor cannot afford private tutors, they can afford the kind of quality nonformal primary education that has recently been developed. What is missing, therefore, is not the technology to make education affordable, but the structural changes that will give people the power and accountability to implement that which is affordable.

ACCOUNTABILITY: Currently, accountability for the quality of education lies with the delivery system providing it. What is missing is any systematic way for local people to directly exercise the responsibility for the quality of local education. This requires a structural shift towards stronger local government that works in partnership with parent committees. To truly be accountable for quality education, local bodies need ways to “grade” the performance of schools, and the authority to fire teachers who do not perform up to standard.

C. Earning Income

What is missing, which if provided, would empower poor families to securely earn incomes sufficient to meet their basic needs and contribute to national growth?

AWARENESS: As mentioned in the introduction, it is not the awareness among the poor that needs to be transformed, but the mindset of the elite. What is missing is a massive education campaign among the elite to transform their thinking about the poor and create the environment for pro-poor economic policies.

In the meantime, much has been done and can be done to directly empower poor families to raise their incomes. Progressive NGOs have pioneered ways to make the poor aware of new pathways to increased income through self-employment.

ACCESS: To raise their income, people need access to credit, productive resources, a marketable skill and a reliable market for their production. The experience of the Grameen Bank and other organizations have shown that even with one factor – credit – people are greatly empowered to better seize even the smallest market opportunities.

At present, credit, training and market support opportunities for the poor are primarily provided by NGOs, which are not accessible to every family. What is missing is either a way to expand the scale of these NGOs dramatically (and Bangladesh already is home to the largest NGOs in the world) or new strategies to make the techniques NGOs have pioneered accessible to any self-help association of the poor.

AFFORDABILITY: The greatest setback to income security for the poor comes because of financial setbacks such as illness, disaster, theft and wedding costs. What is missing are strategies to ensure that all the poor are able to provide their own first line of defense against setbacks through membership in self-help, risk-sharing groups.

As the second line of defense, the nation and the world community have shown resolve in working to prevent and prepare for larger setbacks such as natural disasters. Yet local people are not sufficiently empowered to do their own planning. It is local-level planning and action that can make the biggest difference the fastest when emergency strikes.

ACCOUNTABILITY: The transformation in thinking about the productivity of the poor will produce a new set of accountabilities. In the old paradigm, the poor are seen as a “burden” to the mainstream economy, and NGOs and other agencies are set up as an alternative to “service” the poor within economic environment that is not hospitable to the poor. In the new paradigm, those who make economic policy must be held to account by the self-organized economic activities of the poor. Larger alliances must be encouraged that give poor families a meaningful voice in economic policy decisions. Those committed to this shift in paradigms must find a way to hold themselves to account for causing it.

D. Drinking Clean Water and Practicing Good Sanitation

Water-borne disease continues to be the biggest killer of children. Major expenditures have provided a greater supply of clean water, but proper sanitation is far from being achieved. What is missing which, if provided, would enable poor families to ensure that they live in a hygienic environment?

AWARENESS: Most families know that they need clean drinking water, but many are not currently aware that clean water must be used for all personal uses (hand-washing, dish-washing, cooking). Many families do not understand the need for sanitation; there is a particularly dangerous notion that it is not important for children. What is missing is a far more rigorous and disciplined approach to empowering people with this information.

ACCESS: Significant progress, both in the public and private sector, has been to make tube wells and the equipment for sanitary latrines available. Where people lack access now, it appears to be most often the case that they lack the awareness or organized clout to access what is already there.

AFFORDABILITY: Affordability does not appear to be the major factor in enabling the poor to meet water and sanitation needs. Existing subsidy schemes and lowering costs in the private sector, have made clean drinking water and sanitation affordable.

ACCOUNTABILITY: One way to look at the challenge of village sanitation is to observe that no one is accountable for it. Awareness alone is not sufficient. In communities where sanitation is solved, it is always the case that strong penalties exist for violating sanitation standards. What is missing, beyond awareness, are strategies to create local accountability for sanitation, including the power to apply meaningful penalties.

E. Preserving the Natural Environment

No one has a greater stake in environmental preservation than do the poor. No one’s livelihood is more closely tied to the health and sustainability of the natural environment than is that of poor families. Among nations, Bangladesh is perhaps most aware of its environmental limits. What is missing, which if provided, would enable poor families to restore and preserve their natural environment?

AWARENESS: Just as with income, there must be a transformation in public attitude from seeing the poor as a “danger” to the environment to seeing the poor as the most committed and able to restore and preserve the environment. It has now been proven time and again that it is the practices of the rich that are the most environmentally damaging, while the more traditional lifestyles of the poor often reflect thousands of years of wisdom in the preservation of the environment.

What is missing is the same campaign as with income — a campaign to transform the thinking of those who shape policies, from seeing the poor as a burden to seeing them as the principal actors to ensure a productive, sustainable future for Bangladesh.

In addition, at the family level, there are new technologies and approaches which would empower poor families to make even better use of their resources, such as improved stoves, bio-gas and intensive organic farming techniques. As is the case in other sectors, what is missing are the channels of information that will reach every family.

ACCESS: In recent history, the poor of the world have been pushed increasingly to marginal and fragile areas of the environment, and have lost traditional rights as the protectors and preservers of forests, fields and water resources. Anti-poor attitudes, conventional practices and policies of modern economic development have reduced access to natural resources by the poor. What is missing are a new set of policies and practices that recognize the poor as environmental protectors (rather than the “threat”) and that restore traditional rights and improve access to resources.

AFFORDABILITY: The conventional approach to economic planning does not factor in the projected cost of continued environmental destruction, and certainly does not account for the lost productivity of the poor as the resource base erodes. The falseness of the delusion that we can “afford” environmental destruction is perhaps most revealed in Bangladesh.

What is missing is a “pro-poor, pro-environment” approach to planning that will redirect budget resources in ways which empower, and even employ, the poor to restore and preserve the environment.

ACCOUNTABILITY: Several NGOs in Bangladesh have pioneered approaches to place accountability – and the economic benefits – for environmental preservation back into the hands of the people with the greatest stake in the matter – the poor.

F. Planning the Size of One’s Family

Bangladesh has recently received international acclaim for reducing total fertility rates even among the poorest people. What is missing, which if provided, would enable poor families to limit their family size to that which is consistent with good health and a sustainable future?

AWARENESS: Progress is being made with awareness: an estimated 70 percent of Bangladeshi women would like to avail themselves of family planning, and about 40 percent of them do. What is missing that would fill the gaps?

  • The awareness component of the “gap” between 70 and 40 percent may be primarily due to attitudes of husbands.
  • The awareness component of the “gap” between 70 and 100 percent can perhaps best be addressed through expanding general female education.

Further analysis is needed of what messages, if in the environment, will close the remaining gaps the quickest.

ACCESS: Another component of the gap between the 70 percent demand and 40 percent usage is simple availability. Initiatives are underway to create “depots” of contraceptives at the village and deliver them door-to-door. Strategies to accelerate and universalize these approaches are currently missing.

AFFORDABILITY: Given the current high-degree of subsidy, affordability does not seem to be a current or prospective issue.

ACCOUNTABILITY: The family planning institutions in Bangladesh are large and well-funded. No institution, however, is large enough to “deliver” family planning services to every household. What is missing is that these institutions do not yet hold themselves responsible for creating an enabling environment in every village.

Section four: What’s next

Fomenting a process of inquiry and action

The intention of this forum is to make a difference for the future of Bangladesh. The high quality and broad range of experience of the leaders participating in this strategic forum should permit it to alter the perspective of all of us. It should allow the distinction of enabling environment to be drawn with such clarity and power that new possibilities continue to be revealed within each participant’s own work.

Following the meeting, The Hunger Project will take the insights gained and work in partnership with government and other NGOs to launch initiatives at the district level to provide what’s missing. We certainly hope other organizations will do the same.

The actions taken out of this meeting will not only contribute to creating an enabling environment; they will also reveal the next areas where a breakthrough is required. For example, the actions that can be taken by existing institutions will likely be insufficient to provide the enabling environment that the poor of Bangladesh need and deserve. Most institutions in society were not designed to provide an enabling environment. In fact, they were designed consistent with an earlier paradigm that does NOT see the poor as “able” and their functioning reinforces the old paradigm.

Structural transformation, therefore, will undoubtedly be required. The individuals who are committed to providing an enabling environment will either have to create new institutions, or transform the ones they are in.

Transformation cannot be accomplished by “outsiders” – it can only be accomplished by those who are directly involved in the action. Therefore, the experience gained in the months following this meeting should lead to participatory forums among those who are committed to bringing about the next level of transformation in specific sectors of society. For example:

MEDIA: The media establishment is currently best suited to bring awareness to the elite of society, and certainly the above discussion calls for significant changes in the thinking of the elite. One next step could be a forum to produce coordinated strategies among progressive NGOs and the media to achieve this transformation in thinking.

MEDIA FOR THE POOR: The above discussion highlights the need for expanded information flows to the majority of Bangladeshi citizens. Perhaps there is even a “market” for this information — the poor have shown great willingness to spend money on education and information that is relevant to their lives.

A next step could be a strategic forum to create an entirely new media “for the poor” to provide them with empowering information, and to help transform destructive attitudes towards family planning, dowry, child marriage, sanitation, appropriate technology and violence against women (to name a few).

GOVERNMENT: The “enabling environment” of the future demands far more local (versus top-down) accountability within the administrative services. Bangladeshis are exploring ways to strengthen local government and initiate bottom-up approaches to planning. Perhaps multi-sectoral forums are required to cause these changes.

POLITICS: The eminent economist Prof. Amartya Sen and others have pointed out how democracy serves the cause of human development. At some point, those who are involved with empowering the poor and those involved in the political process could come together to devise strategies to put “empowerment of the poor” onto the political agenda.

BILATERAL AND MULTILATERAL ORGANIZATIONS: International and foreign government agencies play an important role in Bangladesh’s service delivery systems. They need to ensure that their activities contribute to an enabling environment.

Individuals in these organizations may wish to sit down with local organizations to ensure that programs strengthen local institutions, rather than simply replace them with new, costly service delivery systems. New ways must be created to shift the resources of international organizations from funding expensive expatriate experts and contractors, and increasingly build capacities run and managed by Bangladeshis.

NGOS: Bangladeshi NGOs have pioneered service delivery and local empowerment mechanisms which are being emulated around the world. At the same time, NGOs must continue to identify and alter practices which work against an enabling environment for the poor to take charge of their own local associations.

PRIVATE SECTOR: Bangladesh is rapidly developing its industrial sector, yet this growth has not been infused with a pro-poor strategy. To do so, industrialists and those who work with the poor may need to create strategy forums among people with the experience and clout to transform the input-side of industries. For example, initiatives can be taken in the garment industry that would greatly expand opportunities for the poor while increasing the value-added component of the Bangladesh economy.


The people and institutions of Bangladesh have shown extraordinary resilience and ingenuity, particularly in recent years. Bangladesh has pioneered important breakthroughs in human development, and is now spearheading the creation of an enabling environment for the poor to succeed in their own development.

As this enabling environment emerges, it will unleash the productivity and potential of tens of millions of people, whose energies will create a new future for Bangladesh.

The Hunger Project, in Bangladesh and around the world, is honored to be the committed partner of the Bangladeshi people in calling forth the breakthroughs that will create a sustainable future for Bangladesh, and for all humanity.

The Hunger Project is not a relief or development organization, but rather a strategic organization committed to the sustainable end of world hunger. It is guided by the mandate to identify what is missing in the human component of ending hunger, and to launch initiatives to provide it.

The common element in many consultations with Bangladesh’s development experts, is that what is missing is an enabling environment for the poor to succeed in their own development. Bangladesh has pioneered many of the elements which now go into the concept of “enabling environment”, but what is missing is a clear, rigorous and widely-shared understanding of this concept that can shape the direction and programs of the institutions of society.



  • Dr. Abdul Moyeen Khan, Minister of Planning
  • Dr. Sheikh Maqsood Ali, Convenor, Taskforce on Poverty Alleviation
  • Mr. S.M. Al-Husainy, Chairman, Swanirvar Bangladesh
  • Mr. Sultan-uz Zaman Khan, Chairman, Securities and Exchange Commission
  • Dr. Fariduddin, Secretary of Social Welfare


  • Dr. Shamsher Ali, Vice Chancellor, Bangladesh Open University
  • Prof. Shamsul Haq, National Professor
  • Mrs. Hasna Moudud, environment
  • Dr. S.A.L. Reza, Director General, BIDS

Members of Parliament

  • Mr. Abdur Rab Chaudhury (BNP), will moderate forum
  • Mr. Abul Hasan Chowdhury, Son of the first President (AL)
  • Mr. Fazle Rabbi Chowdhury (JP)
  • Mr. L.K Siddiqui, Vice chairman of party (BNP)


  • Mr. Mahfuz Anam, Editor, Daily Star
  • Mr. Gias Kamal Chowdhury, Chief Correspondent, BSS


  • Mr. Fazle Abed, Founder and Executive Director, BRAC
  • Dr. Qazi Faruque Ahmed, Executive Director, PROSHIKA
  • Dr. (Mrs.) Fatema Alauddin, Family Research and Development
  • Ms. Angela Gomez, Nijera Shekhi
  • Mr. Nazrul Islam, Palli Karma Sahayak Foundation
  • Prof. Muhammad Yunus, Managing Director, Grameen Bank


  • Mr. Kafiluddin Mahmood, United Leasing
  • Mr. Salman F. Rahman, Beximco Group of Industries
  • Donor/International Agencies
  • Mr. Nick Langton, Representative, Asia Foundation
  • Mr. Manzoor Ul Karim, Unicef
  • Mr. Karl Schwartz, USAID

Members of the Global Board of Directors of The Hunger Project

  • Ms. Joan Holmes, President
  • Mr. Robert Chester, Chairman
  • Dr. Peter G. Bourne, President, Global Water
  • Mr. Ramkrishna Bajaj, Head, Bajaj Group of Industries
  • Dr. Ebrahim Samba, Director, WHO Onchocerciasis Control Program
  • Dr. M.S. Swaminathan, Chairman, M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation


Planning-in-Action: an innovative approach to human development

The Hunger Project, March 1991

In November and December of 1990, The Hunger Project was privileged to work in collaboration with the Planning Commission of India to pioneer an innovative approach to the process of planning. Specifically, this approach is designed to accelerate progress in the field of human development and bring about the end of chronic, persistent hunger.

Such an initiative is very timely, as it comes at a time when the global community is recommitting itself to meeting such human goals as poverty alleviation and the end of hunger. Recent international forums, including the World Summit for Children, the World Food Council Cyprus Initiative, the Bellagio Conference on Overcoming Hunger in the 1990s and the Arusha Conference on Participatory Development, as well as recent studies by the World Bank and the UN Development Programme all reflect this important trend.

The methodology described in this paper is in its very beginning stages and, by its very design, will continue to evolve. Nevertheless, we believe it is useful to present a comprehensive report at this time, given the promise and timeliness of the approach being pioneered in India.

Why a new approach?

In the developing world, an estimated 1 billion people continue to lack the wherewithal to secure their most basic needs. Each year, some 13 to 18 million people die as a result of hunger and hunger-related causes. This tragedy persists year after year, despite enormous efforts by both developing nations and international agencies.

In the past, declarations have been made to overcome hunger and poverty, and ambitious human development goals have been set. Yet there is an enormous gap between human development goals and humanity’s ability to decisively change the situation. The frequent lack of success has the debilitating effect of undermining humanity’s best efforts by generating resignation, lowered expectations and inaction.

In addition, the various sectors of society have not yet found a way of working together that maximizes the contribution each sector makes to the common effort. Central government programmes have tremendous strength and scope, but lack the entrepreneurial flexibility that can be contributed by grass-roots NGO programmes. The private sector has great reservoirs of technology and expertise, but these remain largely untapped for human development.

Several years ago, some observers, including The Hunger Project, believed that what was needed to overcome these obstacles was a global, comprehensive strategic plan. After further investigation, it became clear to The Hunger Project that providing such a plan would not be useful, and that conventional approaches to strategic planning were fundamentally insufficient to a challenge of this magnitude and complexity.

A departure from conventional planning

In theory, planning is carried out in the following mode:

  • A series of goals and a plan of action (or “blueprint”) are created by experts and officials;
  • People are expected to implement the plan; and
  • Outcomes are reviewed periodically, typically once a year, to ensure adherence to the plan.

In practice, this framework is adequate for situations that require incremental improvements, but it breaks down in the face of enormous “real-world” challenges. People become alienated because they feel that they have had no say in planning. Often they feel the plan is impractical because it does not take proper account of local or changing conditions. Monitoring is so long-term that it provides “too little too late” in terms of useful course correction.

Recently, experts have pointed out the inadequacy of conventional planning in a rapidly changing society and have recommended finding a new approach. For example, Francisco Sagasti, chief of strategic planning at the World Bank, wrote:

[The] emerging international context, which is likely to dominate the scene until the end of the century, requires innovative thinking and new approaches to development. It also imposes the need for a serious evaluation and reappraisal of development planning theory and practice. The conventional approach to planning, with its rigid time frames, its breakdown of planning tasks into sectors and regions, and its centralized and technocratic perspective on plan formulation and implementation, is most unlikely to be effective in an increasingly turbulent environment.

Nowhere is the need for a more effective approach to planning more urgent than in the work to overcome hunger and poverty. What is necessary is a new methodology — one that empowers people in the face of enormous obstacles and enables them to work together to achieve continuous progress towards the goal of ending hunger.

Consultations held with more than 100 planning experts and human development practitioners suggested that a new approach to planning, at a minimum, must meet the following conditions:

  • It must be carried out by the people who are going to take the action. The very existence of a plan that is “handed down” by experts is counter-productive to mobilizing effective leadership and management.
  • It must be dynamic — a conventional plan laid out in a step-by-step fashion cannot possibly allow for the flexibility required to overcome the complex challenges of human development.
  • It must involve a broad range of sectors of society and diverse fields of knowledge.
  • It must directly generate action that in turn provides timely feedback for future planning.

Pioneering a new methodology in India

An approach to planning and action guided by these observations was pioneered in India during 1990, thanks in large measure to the leadership of two members of The Hunger Project’s global board of directors, Dr. M. S. Swaminathan, the father of India’s green revolution, and Mr. Ramkrishna Bajaj, a leading industrialist and Gandhian social activist.

India is an appropriate choice for pioneering this methodology: the government has recently reaffirmed its commitment to human-centred development and poverty alleviation; it is endeavouring to decentralize its own planning process; and it has allocated an increased share of its resources to rural development.

These trends reflect the fact that there is a broad national consensus on the desired qualities of development. The Indian people are deeply committed to improving the well-being and releasing the creativity and productivity of the poorest members of society. They want development to be human-centred and focused on the aspects required for the development of the “whole human being.” They recognize that the resources and capabilities mobilized to date, while extensive and laudable, are insufficient to achieve what people need and deserve. They appreciate that there is a large and frustrating gap between their aspirations and the present rate of progress.

In formulating a new approach to human development in India, work was undertaken by some of India’s leading thinkers and policy makers from academic institutions, non-governmental organizations, UN agencies and government ministries at the central and state level. These distinguished individuals took a number of actions in formulating a new approach to human development in India, including:

  • A National Strategy Meeting held in New Delhi on 9-10 November 1990, co-sponsored by the Planning Commission of India and The Hunger Project. The meeting was chaired by Mrs. Ela Bhatt, then a member of the Planning Commission and India’s representative at the World Summit for Children.
  • Creation of a paper by the distinguished nutritionist Dr. C. Gopalan, in response to a background document prepared by The Hunger Project for the meeting entitled “Towards a Common Agenda: Lowering India’s IMR to 50 by the Year 2000.” These two documents served as the substantive frame of reference for discussion.
  • State-wide design meetings, mandated by the National Strategy Meeting, and held in Madras on 19-20 November and in Bombay on 29-30 November.
  • Formation of state councils composed of a small group of knowledgeable, accomplished and highly respected individuals responsible for ensuring that the state accomplishes the goals of the strategy.
  • The design of initial projects to catalyse the strategy in each of the two states.

(Papers prepared for the above meetings and reports of their actions are available on request.)

The new approach — Strategic “Planning-in-Action”

The participants in India have pioneered a methodology of planning-in-action — a dynamic process that integrates continuous planning with continuous action on an urgent time-scale, and that inspires creativity, effectiveness and a new sense of ownership by all the participants. This process requires constant examination of new challenges and new opportunities that appear from work in progress.

A central recognition of this planning-in-action methodology is that plans do not make things happen, people make things happen. In the final analysis, the essence of achieving significant advances in the quality of life for human beings comes down to finding a practical methodology of empowering people to author their own destiny — to participate in decision-making and planning, and to work together effectively.

Seven essential components of the planning-in-action methodology have been identified. While none of the elements are entirely new, they have been combined in a systematic way that is already producing new possibilities for innovative and effective action.

In the course of implementing this methodology in India, we discovered that success depends on many factors, including the sequence of the elements and rigorous attention to the details of implementation. The following seven sections therefore describe these elements in considerable detail.

1. Reaching a common understanding

Planning-in-action begins by organizing a group of thinkers, leaders and activists from many sectors of society to come together and reach a common understanding of the prevailing conditions and the major elements that must be addressed in the strategy.

Before any meetings are held, the groundwork must be laid, for which the following steps have proved useful:

  • A background discussion paper is prepared, which provides a comprehensive overview of current conditions, trends, existing programmes and current recommendations for action. A key element of success in this endeavour is identifying a local scholar with access to the necessary breadth of information as well as a willingness to be inclusive and appreciative of divergent points of view in his or her presentation.
  • Preparatory discussions are held with experts and officials to reveal the consensus that is likely to emerge later in the process.
  • An “invitation list” is created to ensure that anyone who should be included in the design process is invited to participate at the very outset so as to maximize ownership.

Once this groundwork is laid, an initial design meeting is held. Such a meeting should meet the following criteria:

  • The group should be large enough to be representative of the needed spectrum of expertise, but small enough so that everyone can participate in the deliberations. In India, this varied between 25 and 40 participants.
  • All participants should have the opportunity to review the discussion paper well ahead of the meeting, so that the first part of the design meeting can be devoted to reaching a common understanding.
  • The meeting should be well-structured and facilitated, so that the results of the meeting, the elements of the common understanding, are immediately evident to all participants.

2. Creating a “strategic intent”

Once the participants have come to a common understanding, the next step in planning-in-action is to create a strategic intent — a powerful, unifying vision that guides the entire strategy.

The strategic intent created by the participants at the National Strategy Meeting in India was entitled “Achieving the Threshold: The Chance for All Our People to Lead Healthy and Productive Lives.”

This intent includes the commitment to achieve a “critical threshold” in human development by the year 2000. Inherent in this commitment is the assertion that progress in human development should not be perceived as a “grey” continuum an endless struggle with no decisive milestones and no sense that real progress is possible. Rather, it implies that there exists a measurable point at which the quality of human life becomes fundamentally improved for both individuals and society.

This threshold expresses the essence of the national vision of India — an India where all human beings live in dignity and enjoy the opportunity to meet their basic needs through their own constructive efforts. The achievement of this threshold would mean a profound release of human energy, creativity and productivity, and that the vast majority of people could turn their attention to something beyond mere survival.

3. Choosing social indicators

Once the strategic intent has been created, there must be clear, aligned-upon ways of measuring when it has been achieved. In addition, to effectively focus attention on achieving the strategic intent requires having measurable, timely indicators of meaningful progress.

In India, the participants in the National Strategy Meeting identified the goal of lowering the infant mortality rate (IMR) to 50 or below as a useful indicator for their strategic intent. In addition, they identified such indicators as measurements of height and weight (specifically height at age seven), nutrition assessments, literacy rates (particularly for females), marriage age, and the per cent of the population with access to family welfare services and clean drinking water.

4. Identifying strategic objectives

The next element of planning-in-action is the identification by the participants of strategic objectives that, when reached, will represent significant progress towards achieving the strategic intent.

Since the strategic intent, by the very nature of the challenge, cannot be achieved by following a predictable blueprint, these objectives must not be confused with milestones along a linear path to the goal. Rather, these are near-term objectives that not only represent progress, but also are chosen specifically to provide a new vantage point that reveals new pathways to the accomplishment.

In India, virtually all the activities required to provide people the opportunity for a healthy and productive life are responsibilities of the states. In the initial state meetings, participants identified strategic objectives critical to achieving the threshold. These were:

  • establishing universal access to primary health care, nutrition, clean water and sanitation;
  • developing innovative ways to expand sustainable livelihood opportunities;
  • increasing public awareness of existing human services;
  • changing public attitudes that inhibit human development, such as attitudes towards marriage age and education for girls;
  • empowering women; and
  • transforming existing delivery systems.

On this last point, existing delivery systems must be transformed so as to:

  • achieve convergence, and hence greater efficiency, among existing human service programmes;
  • expand the utilization of non-governmental organizations;
  • ensure that delivery systems not only deliver services, but also provide meaningful employment for the poor, especially for women;
  • increase community participation; and
  • take advantage of existing networks, such as those of doctors, teachers and media professionals, to undertake critically needed interventions that lie outside their normal activities.

5. Establishing and empowering the leadership to reach the strategic intent

Once strategic objectives are set, it is necessary to establish a capacity to reach those objectives, and to continue to set and achieve new objectives until the strategic intent is reached. There are two groups of people that constitute such a capacity: a body of leadership, and a group that provides background empowerment to that leadership.

While it is well-recognized that a body of committed leadership is crucial, it is almost entirely unacknowledged that an equally necessary component is a background of skilful empowerment for that leadership.

A body of committed leadership

There must be a body of leadership that is deeply committed to achieving the strategic intent and that must literally embody the planning-in-action process. For this particular methodology to succeed, these individuals must:

  • Possess the capability of providing leadership at all the levels of society where action is needed;
  • Be unyielding in their commitment to the end, while at the same time, extremely flexible and creative with respect to the means of achieving it;
  • Be willing to tolerate the uncertainty involved with an approach that is essentially an inquiry, an approach where one cannot know all the answers before taking action;
  • Be able to work in alignment with each other. They must have a deep respect for divergent viewpoints and for the contribution that can be made by colleagues with whom they strongly disagree.

In India, as noted above, the states have the responsibility for action in the relevant sectors; hence, state councils have been established. The members of these councils include a mix of distinguished individuals

  • of unassailable reputation, whose stature is a function of their outstanding record of accomplishment;
  • who are willing to stake their reputations on the outcome;
  • who hold posts at senior government levels in the ministries of health and social welfare, and similar government positions vital to fulfilling the objectives;
  • who are able to mobilize human and financial resources;
  • who have access to expertise in the various disciplines vital to the strategy; and
  • who are accessible to grass-roots people.

Background empowerment

While it is the body of leadership that plays the visible role in driving forward the planning-in-action process, another group must play an invisible role, empowering the leadership body. Someone must organize the meetings; synthesize divergent opinions into consensus; prepare and distribute minutes; provide seed money for the operations of the leadership body; and generally maintain the momentum, coherence and workability of the entire process.

Just as there are critical qualities of leadership, there are critical qualities of empowerment. Whatever group is providing the empowerment must:

  • possess the necessary research and administrative capacity to facilitate the work;
  • be capable of and committed to facilitating the flow of communications;
  • be egoless — that is, facilitate the process without being identified with it in a way that precludes the “true owners” of the process from being accountable and receiving the full credit for the results.

Although The Hunger Project has been privileged to play this role in these first two states of India, it is clear that many other organizations — both indigenous and international — have long demonstrated this empowerment role. One notable example is the work of the Ford Foundation in bringing together the body of experts that led to the green revolution in India.

6. Identifying immediate action steps

The success of planning-in-action depends not on a detailed, long-term plan, but on correctly identifying initial action steps that will quickly produce feedback to the strategy.

This methodology is currently being practised in Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra, and initial action steps have been taken. The leadership bodies in both states have identified an analytic approach for selecting initial action steps, namely:

  • Choose actions that focus on filling gaps in existing services, so resources are not expended duplicating what’s already in place.
  • Give priority to finding ways of achieving convergence in existing programmes.
  • Identify opportunities for synergy — ways of bringing together mutually re-enforcing activities in a way that sparks further improvements.

In line with this approach, the two states in India have focused their initial efforts on launching catalytic projects. These projects are of two types:

  • ground-breaking projects that explore innovative ways of achieving the objectives, and
  • “proof-of-principle” projects that demonstrate, with sufficient authority, that successful innovations can be up-scaled and/or serve as the basis for decision-making in public programmes.

In Tamil Nadu, for example, the initial projects have focused on inventing and demonstrating new ways of meeting the objectives, such as innovative approaches to altering public attitudes (especially regarding the status of women), and to providing sustainable livelihood opportunities.

In Maharashtra, the initial projects focus on developing ways to decentralize the entire planning-in-action and human development process by pioneering holistic approaches — that is, approaches that integrate all strategic objectives — in each of the four regions of the state.

7. Sustaining the action

The methodology of planning-in-action is analogous to running a marathon as a series of sprints in unknown terrain, or climbing a mountain in the clouds. One can only plan the stretch that is immediately ahead. Once one reaches a certain plateau, one can look out from an entirely new vantage point and see new pathways to the next accomplishment.

As the strategic planning-in-action unfolds, several key components, inherent in this methodology, are required to ensure that action and progress are sustained. The five components identified to date are:

  1. The willingness to take risks and innovate in order to find new, more successful pathways.
  2. The ability to design actions so that they provide timely feedback. Even projects that will last several years should provide a flow of frequent insights to inform the continuous planning process.
  3. The ability to show people a new possibility for achievement. For example, in India, one of the most inspiring new possibilities is the opportunity to combine the strength of government with the innovation of small NGOs.
  4. The ability to generate a sense of urgency and momentum of accomplishment.
  5. Well-designed and frequent communications so that every action in the process is continuously infused with the strategic intent and with a sense of making progress towards it.

Conclusion and next steps

This new approach to human development is a marriage of several insights and recent trends. It capitalizes on the recent focus on human-centred development and on breakthroughs in the science of management. It combines the best aspects of the strength of government and the entrepreneurial creativity of NGOs. Most importantly, it has revealed a methodology of planning and action that has already proved replicable in two states of India, under the guidance of two very different styles of leadership.

In the coming months, The Hunger Project will continue its partnership with the first two state councils, which have been established in Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu. It will also begin to work with groups to establish councils in a number of other Indian states. In addition, The Hunger Project will begin to work with the people of other countries, particularly in Africa, to implement the process there.

African Charter for Popular Participation in Development and Transformation




(This historic document is posted here for easy reference).





p style=”text-align:center;”>ARUSHA 1990


  1. The International Conference on Popular Participation in the Recovery and Development Process in Africa was held, in Arusha, the United Republic of Tanzania from 12 to 16 February 1990, as a rare collaborative effort between African people’s organizations, the African governments, non-governmental organizations and the United Nations agencies, in the search for a collective understanding of the role of popular participation in the development and transformation of the region. It was also an occasion to articulate and give renewed focus to the concepts of democratic development, people’s solidarity and creativity and self-reliance and to formulate policy recommendations for national governments, popular organizations and the international community in order to strengthen participatory processes and patterns of development. It was the third in a series of major international conferences organized by the Economic Commission for Africa in collaboration with the rest of the United Nations system to contribute to the implementation of the United Nations Programme of Action for African Economic Recovery and Development, 1986-1990 (UN-PAAERD). It came as a sequel to the Abuju International Conference on Africa. The Challenge of Economic Recovery and Accelerated Development held in 1987, and the 1988 Khartoum International Conference on the Human Dimension of Africa’s Economic Recovery and Development. It is important to note that the initiative for this Conference came from the submission of the NGOs to the Ad Hoc Committee of the Whole of the General Assembly on the mid-term review and assessment of the implementation of UN-PAAERD in September 1988.

  2. The Conference was organized under the auspices of the United Nations Inter-Agency Task Force on the Follow-Up on the Implementation of the UN- PAAERD at the Regional Level (UN-IATF) and with the full support and warm hospitality of the government and people of the United Republic of Tanzania. The ECA Conference of Ministers responsible for Economic Development and Planning adopted Resolution 664 (XXIV) at its Twenty-Fourth Session in which it supported this Conference and urged Member States of the Commission, the International Community, NGOs and the United Nations system to support and actively participate in it. The Conference was attended by over 500 participants from a wide range of African people’s organizations – including, in particular, non- governmental, grass-roots, peasant, women and youth organizations and associations, trade unions and others – as well as representatives of African Governments, agencies of the United Nations system, non-African, non- governmental organizations, regional, sub-regional and intergovernmental organizations, bilateral donors, multilateral organizations as well as specialists, both from within and outside Africa. The Conference was opened by H.E Ali Hassan Mwinyi, President of the United Republic of Tanzania. Opening statements were also made by the representative of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, the Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa, the representative of the Secretary-General of the Organization of African Unity, the Secretary-General of the Organization of African Trade Union Unity and representatives of the Non- Governmental Organizations, African Women’s Organizations and the Pan-African Youth Movement. The Conference would like to put on records its appreciation for the full support and warm hospitality of the Government and people of the United Republic of Tanzania.

  3. The Conference was organized out of concern for the serious deterioration in the human and economic conditions in Africa in the decade of the 1980s, the recognition of the lack of progress in achieving popular participation and the lack of full appreciation of the role popular participation plays in the process of recover
    and development.

  4. The objectives of the Conference were to:

a. Recognize the role of people’s participation in Africa’s recovery and development efforts;

b. Sensitize national governments and the international community to the dimensions, dynamics, processes and potential of a development approach rooted in popular initiatives and self-reliant efforts;

c. Identify obstacles to people’s participation in development and define appropriate approaches to the promotion of popular participation in policy formulation, planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of development programmes;

d. Recommend actions to be taken by Governments, the United Nations system as well as the public and private donor agencies in building an enabling environment for authentic popular participation in the development process and encourage people and their organizations to undertake self-reliant development initiatives;

e. Facilitate the exchange of information, experience and knowledge for mutual support among people and their organizations; and

f. Propose indicators for the monitoring of progress in facilitating people’s participation in Africa’s development

  1. We, the people, engaged in debate and dialogue on the issues involved over
    the span of five plenary sessions and fifteen workshops during the five-day long International Conference. In the light of our deliberations, we have decided to place on record our collective analysis, conclusions, policy recommendations and action proposals for the consideration of the people, the African Governments and the International Community.


  1. We are united in our conviction that the crisis currently engulfing Africa, is not only an economic crisis but also a human, legal, political and social crisis. It is a crisis of unprecedented and unacceptable proportions manifested not only in abysmal declines in economic indicators and trends, but more tragically and glaringly in the suffering, hardship and impoverishment of the vast majority of African people. At the same time, the political context of socio-economic development has been characterized, in many instances, by an over-centralization of power and impediments to the effective participation of the overwhelming majority of the people in social, political and economic development. As a result, the motivation of the majority of African people and their organizations to contribute their best to the development process, and to the betterment of their own well-being as well as their say in national development has been severely constrained and curtailed and their collective and individual creativity has been undervalued and underutilized.
  2. We affirm that nations cannot be built without the popular support and full participation of the people, nor can the economic crisis be resolved and the human and economic conditions improved without the full and effective contribution, creativity and popular enthusiasm of the vast majority of the people. After all, it is to the people that the very benefits of development should and must accrue. We are convinced that neither can Africa’s perpetual economic crisis be overcome, nor can a bright future for Africa and its people see the light of day unless the structures, pattern and political contest of the process of socio-economic development are appropriately altered.

  3. We, therefore, have no doubt that at the heart of Africa’s development
    objectives must lie the ultimate and overriding goal of human-centered development that ensures the overall well-being of the people through sustained improvement in their living standards and the full and effective participation of the people in charting their development policies, programmes and processes and contributing to their realization. We furthermore observe that given the current world political and economic situation, Africa is becoming further marginalized in world affairs, both geo-politically and economically. African countries must realize that, more than ever before, their greatest resource is their people and that it is through their active and full participation that Africa can surmount the difficulties that lie ahead.

  4. We are convinced that to achieve the above objective will required a re- direction of resources to satisfy, in the first place, the critical needs of the people, to achieve economic and social justice and to emphasize self-reliance on the one hand, and, on the other hand, to empower the people to determine the direction and content of development, and to effectively contribute to the enhancement of production and productivity that are required. Bearing this in mind and having carefully analyzed the structure of the African economies, the root causes of the repeated economic crisis and the strategies ad programmes that have hitherto been applied to deal with them, we are convinced that Africa has no alternative but to urgently and immediately embark upon the task of transforming the structure of its economies to achieve long-term self-sustained growth and development that is both human centered and participatory in nature. Furthermore, Africa’s grave environmental and ecological crisis cannot be solved in the absence of a process of sustainable development which commands the full support and participation of the people. We believe in this context that the African Alternative Framework to Structural Adjustment Programmes for Socio-Economic Recovery and Transformation (AAF-SAP) – which was endorsed by the Twenty-Fifth Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) held in July 1989, and by the Conference of Heads of the State or Government of Non- Aligned countries held in Belgrade in September 1989 and by the Forty-Fourth Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations which invited the international community, including multi-lateral, financial and development institutions, to consider the framework as a basis for constructive dialogue and fruitful consultation – offers the best framework for such an approach. We also wish in this regard to put on record our disapproval of all economic programmes, such as orthodox Structural Adjustment Programmes, which undermine the human condition and disregard the potential and role of popular participation in self- sustaining development.

  5. In our sincere view, popular participation is both a means and an end. As an instrument of development, popular participation provides the driving force for collective commitment for the determination of people-based development processes and willingness by the people to undertake sacrifices and expend their social energies for its execution. As an end in itself, popular participation is the fundamental right of the people to fully and effectively participate in the determination of the decisions which affect their lives at all levels and at all times.


  1. We believe strongly that popular participation is, in essence, the empowerment of the people to effectively involve themselves in creating the structures and in designing policies and programmes that serve the interests of all as well as to effectively contribute to the development process and share equitably in its benefits. Therefore, there must be an opening up of political process to accommodate freedom of opinions, tolerate differences, accept consensus on issues as well as ensure the effective participation of the people and their organizations and associations. This requires action on the part of all, first and foremost of the people themselves. But equally important are the actions of the State and the international community, to create the necessary conditions for such an empowerment and facilitate effective popular participation in societal and economic life. This requires that the political system evolve to allow for democracy and full participation by all sections evolve to allow for democracy and full participation by all sections of our societies.
  2. In view of the critical contribution made by women to African societies and economies and the extreme subordination and discrimination suffered by women in Africa, it is the consensus of the participants that the attainment of equal rights by women in social, economic and political spheres must become a central feature of a democratic and participatory pattern of development. Further, it is the consensus of this conference that the attainment of women’s full participation must be given highest priority by society as a whole and African Governments in particular. This right should be fought for and defended by society, African Non-Governmental Organizations and Voluntary Development Organizations as well as non-African, Non-Governmental Organizations and Voluntary Development Organizations, Governments and the United Nations system in due recognition of the primary role being played by women now and on the course to recovery and transformation of African for better quality of life.


  1. We want to emphasize the basic fact that the role of the people and their popular organizations is central to the realization of popular participation. They have to be fully involved, committed and indeed, seize the initiative. In this regard, it is essential that they establish independent people’s organizations at various levels that are genuinely grass-root, voluntary, democratically administered and self- reliant and that are rooted in the tradition and culture of the society so as to ensure community empowerment and self-development. Consultative machinery at various levels should be established with governments on various aspects of democratic participation. It is crucial that the people and their popular organizations should develop links across national borders to promote cooperation and inter- relationships on sub-regional, regional, south-south and south-north bases. This is necessary for sharing lessons of experience, developing people’s solidarity and raising political consciousness on democratic participation.
  2. In view of the vital and central role played by women in family well-being
    and maintenance, their special commitment to the survival, protection and development of children, as well as survival of society and their important role in the process of African recovery and reconstruction, special emphasis should be put by all the people in terms of eliminating biases particularly with respect to the reduction of the burden on women and taking positive action to ensure their full equality and effective participation in the development process.

  3. Having said this, we must underscore that popular participation begins and must be earnestly practiced at the family level, because home is the base for development. It must also be practiced at the work place, and in all organizations, and in all walks of life.


  1. We strongly believe that popular participation is dependent on the nature of the State itself and ability of Government to respond to popular demand. Since African Governments have a critical role to play in the promotion of popular participations, they have to yield space to the people, without which popular participation will be difficult to achieve. Too often, the social base of power and decision-making are too narrow. Hence the urgent need to broaden these; to galvanize and tap the people’s energy and commitment, and to promote political accountability by the State to the people. This makes it imperative that a new partnership between African Governments and the people in the common interest of societal and accelerated socio-economic development should be established without delay. This new partnership must not only recognize the importance of gender issues but must take action to ensure women’s involvement at all levels of decision- making. In particular Governments should set themselves specific targets for the appointment of women in senior policy and management posts in all sectors of government.
  2. We believe that for people to participate meaningfully in their self-
    development, their freedom to express themselves and their freedom from fear must be guaranteed. This can only be assured through the extension and protection of people’s basic human rights and we urge all Governments to vigorously implement the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the ILO Convention No 87 concerning Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organize and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

  3. We also believe that one of the key conditions for ensuring people’s participation throughout the continent is the bringing to an end of all wars and armed conflicts. The millions of African refugees and displaced persons are those with least opportunity to participate in the determination of their future. We urge Governments and all parties to Africa’s conflicts, domestic and external, to seek peaceful means of resolving their differences and of establishing peace throughout Africa. In situations of armed conflicts, we uphold the right of civilians to food and other basic necessities and emphasize that the international community must exercise its moral authority to ensure that this right is protected.

  4. We cannot overemphasize the benefits that can be reaped if, with the elimination of internal strife or inter-country conflicts, the resources spent of defence were to be redirected to productive activities and social services to the people. As rightly noted in the African Alternative Framework to Structural Adjustment Programmens for Socio-Economic Recovery and Transformation, “it is not difficult to imagine what it would mean to social welfare in Africa, with all its positive multiplier effects, if a saving can be achieved in defence spending and non- productive expenditures”. We believe that our Governments can make such savings and we call upon them to do so urgently.

  5. We are, however, aware of certain situations, particularly, for the Front-line States which continue to face the destabilization acts of apartheid South Africa. This destabilization results in a debilitating diversion of resources that would otherwise have been used to meet critical basic needs of the people in these countries.


  1. We call on the international community to examine its own record on popular participation, and hereafter to support indigenous efforts which promote the emergence of a democratic environment and facilitate the people’s effective participation and empowerment in the political life of their countries.
  2. We also call on the United Nations system to intensify its efforts to promote the application of justice in international economic relations, the defence of human rights, the maintenance of peace and the achievement of disarmament and to assist African countries and people’s organizations with the development of human and economic resources. We also call on the United Nations system to implement its own decision to have at least 30 percent of senior positions held by women. Special efforts are needed to ensure that African women are adequately represented at senior levels in United Nations agencies, particularly those operating in Africa.


  1. On the basis of the foregoing, we lay down the following basic strategies, modalities and actions for effective participation in development.

A. At the level of Governments

  1. African Governments must adopt development strategies, approaches and programmes, the content and parameters of which are in line with the interest and aspirations of the people and which incorporate, rather than
    alienate, African values and economic, social, cultural, political and
    environmental realities.
  2. We strongly urge African Governments to promote the formulation and implementation of national development programmes within the framework of the aforesaid aspirations, interest and realities, which develop as a result of a popular participatory process, and which aim at the transformation of the African economies to achieve self-reliant and self-sustaining people- centered development based on popular participation and democratic consensus.

  3. In implementing these endogenous and people-centered development strategies, an enabling environment must be created to facilitate broad-based participation, on a decentralized-basis, in the development process. Such an enabling environment is an essential pre-requisite for the stimulation of initiatives and creativity and for enhancing output and productivity by actions such as:

i. extending more economic power to the people through the equitable distribution of income, support for their productive capacity through enhanced access to productive inputs, such as land, credit, technology, etc, and in such a manner as to reflect the central role played by women in the economy;

ii. promoting mass literacy and skills training in particular and development of human resources in general;

iii. greater participation and consensus-building in the formulation and implementation of economic and social policies at all levels, including the identification and elimination of laws and bureaucratic procedures that pose obstacles to people’s participation;

iv. increasing employment opportunities for the rural and urban poor, expanding opportunities for them to contribute to the generation of output and enhanced productivity levels and creating better marketing conditions for the benefit of the producers; and

v. strengthening communication capacities for rural development, mass literacy etc.

  1. Small-scale indigenous entrepreneurship and producers cooperatives, as forms of productive participatory development, should be promoted and actions should be taken to increase their productivity.
  2. Intensifying the efforts to achieve sub-regional and regional economic cooperation and integration and increased intra-African trade.

B. At the level of the people and their organizations. To foster participation and democratic development, the people and their organizations should:

a. Establish autonomous grass-roots organizations to promote participatory self-reliant development and increase the output and productivity of the masses.

b. Develop their capacity to participate effectively in debates on economic policy and development issues. This requires building people’s capacity to formulate and analyze development programmes and approaches.

c. Promote education, literacy skill training and human resource
development as a means of enhancing popular participation.

d. Shake off lethargy and traditional beliefs that are impediments to development, especially the customs and cultural practices that undermine the status of women in society, while recognizing and valuing those beliefs and practices that contribute to development. Rural and urban people’s organizations, such as workers, peasants, women, youth, students etc, should be encouraged to initiate and implement strategies to strengthen their productive power and meet their basic needs.

e. Concerted efforts should be made to change prevailing attitudes towards the disabled so as to integrate them and bring them into the main stream of development.

f. Create and enhance networks and collaborative relationships among peoples organizations. This will have the effect to social involvement capable of including social change.

g. People’s organizations should support strongly and participate in the efforts to promote effective sub-regional and regional economic cooperation and integration and intra-African trade.

C. At the level of the International Community.
We also call on the international community to support popular participation in
African by:

a. Supporting African countries in their drive to internalize the development and transformation process. The IMF, World Bank and other bilateral and multi-lateral donors are urged to accept and support African initiatives to conceptualize, formulate and implement endogenously designed development and transformation programmes.

b. Directing technical assistance programmes, first and foremost, to the strengthening of national capabilities for policy analysis and the design and implementation of economic reform and development programmens.

c. Fostering the democratization of development in African countries by supporting the decentralization of development processes, the active participation of the people and their organizations in the formulation of development strategies and economic reform programmes and open debate and consensus – building processes on development and reform issues.

d. Allowing for the release of resources for development on a participatory basis which will require the reversal of the net outflow of financial resources from Africa to the multi-lateral financial institutions and donor countries and their use for development purposes and for the benefit of the people.

e. Reducing drastically the stock of Africa’s debt and debt-servicing obligations and providing a long-term period of moratorium on remaining debt-servicing obligations in order to release resources for financing development and transformation on a participatory basis.

f. Ensuring that the human dimension is central to adjustment programmes which must be compatible with the objectives and aspirations of the African people and with African realities and must be conceived and designed internally by African countries as part and 15 parcel of the long-term objectives and framework of development
and transformation.

g. Supporting African NGOs, grass-roots organizations, women’s and your organizations and trade unions in activities such as training, networking and other programme activities, as well as the documentation, and wide dissemination of their experiences.

D. At the level of NGOs and VDOs. The African and non-African NGOs and VDOs have an important role in supporting recovery and development efforts and popular participation initiatives and organizations in Africa. They are urged to take the following actions:

a. African NGOs and VDOs and their partners should be fully participatory, democratic and accountable,

b. African NGOs, VDOs and GROs should develop and/or strengthen institutional structures at the regional, sub-regional and national levels, such as FAVDO, to bring them together.

c. African NGOs and VDOs should broaden the dissemination of successful African popular participation and grass-root experiences throughout the continent and the exchange of experience thereon to create a multiplier effect and sensitize policy-makers.

d. The International Conference on Popular Participation is clear in its recognition of the value of the contribution of grass-roots organizations and NGOs to Africa’s development and demonstrates that effective dialogue between governments, NGOs and grass-roots organizations is essential and valuable. This Conference recommends that national for a be established to enable honest and open dialogue between African Governments, grass-roots organizations and NGOs in order that the experience of grass-roots participatory
development informs national policy-making.

e. Non-African NGOs and VDOs should give increased support and target their operations within the framework of national economic strategies and reform programmes aimed at transforming the structures of the African economies with a view to internalizing the development process and ensuring its sustainability with a particular focus on the human dimension and people’s participation.

f. Non-African NGOs and VDOs should give due recognition to Africa NGOs and participatory, self-reliant development initiatives launched by African grass-roots organizations;

g. Non-African NGOs and VDOs should utilize African expertise to the maximum extent possible with regard to their development work in Africa and advocacy and campaigning work at the international level.

h. Non-African NGOs should strengthen their advocacy work internationally and in their home countries and with regard to bilateral donors and the multi-lateral system, closely monitoring their response to the African crisis and holding donor governments and agencies accountable for their policies and actions. In particular, non- African and African NGOs should formulate a programme of action geared towards their fullest participation in the end-term review of UN-PAAERD.

i. Cooperation and dialogue between African and Non-African NGOs and VDOs should be strengthened to increase the effectiveness of their interventions at the community level and the building of greater understanding on the part of international public opinion of the real causes of the African socio-economic crisis and the actions that are
needed to deal with its root causes.

j. Non-African NGOs acknowledge that their influence as donors is often detrimental to ensuring genuine partnership with African NGOs, VDOs and grass-root organizations and affects the enabling environment for popular participation. In that context cooperation in all its forms must be transparent and reflect African priorities.

k. African and non-African NGOs and VDOs should, in addition to their traditional humanitarian activities, increasingly provide support for the productive capacities of the African poor and for promoting environmentally sound patterns of local development.

E. At level of the Media and communication

a. The national and regional media should make every effort to fight for and defend their freedom at all costs, and make special effort to champion the cause of popular participation and publicize activities and programmes thereof and generally provide access for the dissemination of information and education programmes on popular participation.

b. Combining their indigenous communication systems with appropriate use of modern low-cost communications technology, African communities and NGOs, VDOs and trade unions and other mass organizations must strengthen their communication capacities for development. Regional and national NGOs should participate in the assessment of Africa’s Development Support Communication Needs to be carried out under the auspices of the United Nations Steering Committee and the United Nations Inter-Agency Task Force on UN- PAAERD.

F. At the level of women’s organizations. In ensuring that the participation of
women in the organizations development process, is advanced and strengthened, popular women’s should:
Continue to strengthen their capacity as builders of confidence among women;
Strive for the attainment of policies and programmes that reflect and recognize women’s roles as producers, mothers, active community mobilizers and custodians of culture;
Work to ensure the full understanding of men, in particular, and the society, in general, of women’s role in the recovery and transformation of Africa so that men and women together might articulate and pursue appropriate courses of action;
Implement measures to reduce the burden carried by women through:

i. advocating to the society at large, including central and local government levels, the importance of task sharing in the home and community, especially in the areas of water and wood fetching, child rearing etc;

ii. promoting the establishment and proper functioning of community-based day care centers in all communities, and

iii. striving to attain economic equality by advocating the rights of women to land and greater access to credit.

e. Women’s organizations should be democratic, autonomous and accountable organizations.

G. At the level of organized labour.
Trade Unions should:
a. Be democratic, voluntary, autonomous and accountable organizations.
b. Initiative, animate and promote mass literacy and training programmes.
c. Organize and mobilize rural workers in accordance with ILO Convention 141, which African Governments are strongly urged to ratify.
d. Defend trade union rights, in particular the right to strike.
e. Assist in the formation of workers’cooperatives.
f. Assist in organizing the unemployed for productive activities, such as the establishment of small and medium scale enterprises.
g. Give special attention to effective and democratic participation of women members at all levels of trade unions.
h. Promote work place democracy through the call for the protection of workers’ rights to freedom of association, collective bargaining and participatory management.
H. At the level of youth and students and their organizations. Considering the
centrality of the youth and students in Africa’s population and the recovery and development process, the following actions should be taken:
a. Preparation and adoption of an African Charter on Youth and Student Rights to include the right to organize, education, employment and free and public expression.
b. The full democratic participation in youth and students in African society requires immediate steps by Government, popular organizations, parents and the youth themselves to eliminate the major impediments to youth participation, such as frequent bans on youth and student organizations, police brutality against unarmed protesting students, detention and harassment on campuses, dismissal from studies and the frequent and arbitrary closure of educational institutions.
c. Youth, students, Governments and the international community must join forces urgently to combat growing drug trafficking and drug abuse. We also urge Governments to sign and ratify the International Convention on the Illicit Trafficking of Drugs and Psychotropic Substances.
d. The advancement of youth participation in development also requires the protection of Africa’s minors against forced military service, whether in national or insurgent/rebel groups.

e. African youth and students should organize national autonomous associations to participate in and contribute to development activities and programmes such as literacy, reforestation, agriculture and environmental protection.

f. Student and youth organizations must also strive to be democratic,
accountable, voluntary and autonomous and should coordinate their activities with workers’, women’s and peasant organizations.

g. National youth and student organizations should take urgent steps to strengthen and further democratize existing Pan-African youth and student organizations to make them play their roles more effectively in Africa’s development process.


  1. We proclaim the urgent necessity to involve the people in monitoring popular participation in Africa on the basis of agreed indicators and we propose the use of the following indicators, which are not necessarily exhaustive, for measuring the progress in the implementation of the recommendations of the Charter:

a. The literacy rate, which is an index of the capacity for mass participation in public debate, decision-making and general development processes.

b. Freedom association, especially political association, and presence of democratic institutions, such as political parties, trade unions, people’s grass-root organizations and professional associations, and the guarantee of constitutional rights.

c. Representation of the people and their organizations in national bodies.

d. The rule of law and social ad economic justice, including equitable distribution of income and the creation of full employment opportunities.

e. Protection of the ecological, human and legal environment.

f. Press and media freedom to facilitate public debate on major issues.

g. Number and scope of grass-roots organizations with effective participation in development activities, producers and consumers cooperatives and community projects.

h. Extent of implementation of the Abuja Declaration on Women (1989) in each country.

i. Political accountability of leadership at all levels measured by the use of checks and balances.

j. Decentralization of decision-making process and institutions.

  1. We are convinced of the imperative necessity to follow-up and monitor the implementation of this Charter and to report periodically thereon on progress achieved as well as problems encountered. We accordingly recommend that at the national level a follow-up mechanism on which representatives at high level of Government, trade unions, women’s organizations, NGOs, VDOs, grass-roots and youth and student organizations will be members.

  2. At the regional level, we propose a joint OAU/ECA Regional Monitoring Machinery on which also, in addition to representatives of these two organizations will be representatives of the network of organizations named above. This regional monitoring group will submit biennial progress reports on the implementation of the Charter to the ECA Conference of Ministers and the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the OAU.
    35. This Conference has taken place during a period when the world continues to witness tumultuous changes in Eastern Europe. Even more dramatically, this Conference has taken place during the very week when Nelson Mandela’s release has exhilarated all of Africa, and galvanized the international community.

  3. There is an inescapable threat of continuity between those events and our Conference; it is the power of people to effect momentous change. At no other time in the post-war period has popular participation has so astonishing and profound an impact.

  4. History and experience both teach that this world never works in compartments. The forces of freedom and democracy are contagious. Inevitably, and irresistibly, popular participation will have a vital role to play on the continent of Africa, and play that role we will.

  5. It is manifestly unacceptable that development and transformation in Africa can proceed without the full participation of its people. It is manifestly unacceptable that the people and their organizations be excluded from the decision- making process. It is manifestly unacceptable that popular participation be seen as anything less than the centerpiece in the struggle to achieve economic and social justice for all.

  6. In promoting popular participation, it is necessary to recognize that a new partnership and compact must be forged among all the ACTORS in the process of social, political and economic change. Without this collective commitment, popular participation is neither possible nor capable of producing results. We, therefore, pledge to work together in this new partnership to promote full and effective participation by the masses together with Governments in the recovery and development process in Africa.

  7. We, the people here assembled, have no illusion that the Charter will be
    embraced overnight by all of those to whom it is directed. But we are confident that this document is an indispensable step on the road to everything we would wish for the people of Africa.