Non-profits working for community development and empowerment require a sensitive people-led approach to change. To be successful in the long run, interventions should be deeply integrated with people’s needs and demands and mindful of the evolving socio-economic and political context.
In its three and a half decades of working with communities, Youth for Unity and Voluntary Action (YUVA) has deployed a multi-pronged approach to change, drawing from the organisation’s 11 levels of intervention. This blog details approaches used over the years with a selection of a few current examples. The approaches operate simultaneously and in tandem, as they are deeply interlinked to one another in the process of holistic social transformation.
Encourage people’s empowerment in creative ways
By strengthening personal capacities and helping individuals voice demands in their own voices, people’s ownership of change efforts can be ensured. This approach also inspires others to join and further change. YUVA has been committed to people’s empowerment from the start, conducting a range of initiatives, from workshops and training sessions to exposure visits, street plays, film screenings and more. The City Caravan (a course on co-creating inclusive cities with youth) and Participatory Video Network (a video production training programme for communities) are examples of important empowerment initiatives undertaken. YUVA’s focus on people’s empowerment is also driven by the belief that the best persons to offer solutions are those who have first-hand experience of the problems faced.
Facilitate access to basic rights and services as a primary marker for progress
Without access to basic services (like water, electricity, etc) and amenities (healthcare facilities, schools, etc), people are unable to enjoy a basic and dignified standard of living. Sessions on basic rights, and governmental policies and schemes, further help individuals better understand their rights and how to access them. YUVA’s Basic Service Facilitation Centres play a crucial role in enabling access to these primary requirements, without which a community cannot nourish itself and invest in its progress.
Invest in facilitating the growth of people’s organisations for people-owned and led change efforts
People’s organisations help collectively work to alleviate challenges faced. YUVA offers crucial support in the form of training and awareness sessions, and platforms for expression, to help people’s organisations actively work towards accessing their rights, and in turn inspire more people to join them. The Shehar Vikas Manch (a people’s organisation actively working for access to tenure security and basic services in Nagpur), Malvani Yuva Parishad (a youth collective in Mumbai working on youth-centric issues), and Kamgar Ekta Union, formerly known as the Feriwalla Vikas Mahasangh (a people’s collective working for the rights of street vendors) are some of the organisations facilitated over the years.
Support the growth of alternative and sustainable people-centred initiatives
While encouraging traditional people’s organisations, it is also critical to invest in alternative models that have the ability to sustain themselves and adapt to evolving market requirements. YUVA has been committed to this model and the credit cooperatives of Shanti Nagar and Sevadal in Nagpur are shining examples of this effort, with the share capital of both at a whopping INR 5+ crore. Their journey is inspiring — what started as resistance to women’s organising in 1997 is now an independently functioning banking authority.
Initiate and promote the growth of networks and advocacy efforts
Networks help people unite on a common agenda, amplify the reach of their demands and offer access to larger platforms for expression and action. YUVA’s Anti-Eviction Support Cell (a helpline based outreach for communities before, during and after evictions) is just one example of work with an evolving partner network to help people fight unjust evictions.
People-led advocacy efforts can drive people’s demands in an evidence-based manner and highlight policy implementation gaps to demand for better regulations and its impact on-ground. YUVA’s advocacy efforts, from the local to the state and national level help highlight such gaps for better policy planning and implementation. YUVA’s commitment to the growth of networks and advocacy efforts demonstrates solidarity to people’s causes.
Guide knowledge sharing and drive research to influence policy
Work with communities exposes organisations to myriad ground realities and challenges. The consolidation of this information in an accessible format, and its publication in the form of quality documentation with people’s support can help disseminate this critical body of knowledge and strategically use it to guide better policy planning. YUVA’s Urban Resource Centre, a living archive of the organisation’s knowledge repository, epitomises the knowledge created by and in use by the people themselves. Research reports and documentation over the years have helped shape policy in progressive directions.
Our work with communities has helped us co-create sustainable models of work and collectively implement suitable approaches aligned to people’s needs and demands. As we enter our 35th year, we are looking forward to continuing our work towards holistic social transformation with people’s support.
Vindhya Jyoti, Project Associate