Do Not Leave Us Behind- a grounded perspective of the Sustainable Development Goals


Discussion among Panel members

The United Nation’s Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) were adopted in the year 2000 until 2015 as the world’s time-bound and quantified targets for addressing extreme poverty in its many dimensions – income poverty, hunger, disease, lack of adequate shelter and exclusion, while promoting gender equality, education, and environmental sustainability. It was a pledge to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable to build decent and healthier lives for billions of people and guided development thinking, planning prioritisation and operations since their inception. In recognition of the absence of civil society and marginalised people’s participation in the framing of the MDGs, the principle that guided the formulation of the new set of goals for 2016 onwards, began with a commitment to the principle of “Leave no one behind”.

In the process of contributing to the voices  calling for inclusion and participation in decision making at different fora, Praxis has been involved with creating spaces globally, for direct interactions between marginalised groups and policy-makers and those who effect change, as well as similar communities across the world.

With the Sustainable Development Goals being launched in September 2015, and formally adopted by the United Nations lauded as “the people’s agenda, a plan of action for ending poverty in all its dimensions, irreversibly, everywhere, and leaving no one behind” it is the ideal time to reflect on  which people are likely to be left behind. Praxis facilitated a Ground Level Panel in this regard, which brought together participants from the previous GLPs, and representatives of vulnerable communities that were part of creating thematic participatory videos, action research and other processes facilitated as part of Voice for Change to influence the post-2015 agenda setting process. This group of fifteen individuals comprising men, women, transgendered persons, able-bodied, disabled, minorities, dalits, and homeless spent two days on 7 and 8 September 2015, taking stock of the SDGs and deliberating recommendations for feasible ways of ensuring inclusion and meaningful participation of all in achieving the SDGs.

The panel looked at each goal, and the indicators that were then proposed, and came up with their own recommendations. The report of the event can be viewed here.

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Speaking at United Nations, activist calls for empowering marginalised as first step to global development

While lauding the progress that the world has made since the Millenium Development Goals were launched in 2000, Amnesty International’s Salil Shetty cautioned against letting complacency get in the way of development. He stressed on the need to go beyond rhetoric, and actively promote well-being, especially so for the most marginalised. He suggested four tests to measure the success of the SDGs – Ownership test to esnure the marginalised are primary decision makers at every stage; accountability test to ensure governments hold up the right to information and independent mechanisms of seeking answers; Non-discrimination test to protect rights of the marginalised and means to challenge power structures; and coherence test to ensure consistency in the pledge for sustainable development and international and national policies being followed by countries. A commitment was needed from leaders around the world, and only then would the world be able to raise itself from the current crises of poverty, hunger, terrorism, injustice among others.

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Ground Level Panel: Agrarian Communities’s Action Plan on Climate Change

Praxis conducted it’s second Ground Level Panel from May 29-31, with a presentation of the findings in consultation with community members on June 1 at the Constitution Club, New Delhi.

The Ground Level Panel consisted of 13 farmers and agricultural workers from six districts across Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand who came together to evolve an action plan on climate change. The expertise of the panellists lay in their lived experience and not as researchers, policymakers or academicians. Over three days from May 29-31, the panelists collectively explored their local realities, experiences, perspectives and strategies they employed to cope with the effects of climate change. This process aimed to lead to policy formation through the members of the farming community and their informed responses to how Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and State Action Plans on Climate Change (SAPCC) affects them. The ground level panel process enabled the community members to transition from being carriers of knowledge to the owners and users of knowledge.


Climate change has become a significant global issue at the turn of the century. With the ride of temperatures, there are warning reports from the World Bank that there will be severe impacts in the next 10-20 years. While this has prompted climate change’s visibility in global policy debates, there is a lack of community participation. This is of real and immediate concern, especially in a country like India, where 70% of India’s population is still dependent on climate sensitive sectors like agriculture, fishing and forests. People at the margins – the landless, small and marginal farmers, Dalit and indigenous people, rural women and children and other such relatively voiceless communities, are pushed further away from policy debates.

Taking lessons from a Ground Level Panel organised by Praxis in 2013, where a group of 13 people living in poverty and marginalisation came together to respond to the UN High Level Panel’s recommendations on what should replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), this second Ground Level Panel on agriculture and climate change was facilitated by Praxis, with support from Oxfam India, Dialectics and Partners in Change (PiC). The 13 farmers belonged to thirteen habitations located in 6 districts across Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Uttarakhand to discuss the impact of climate change on their lives and the need to examine the state level action plans on climate change and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Among them, they represented several identies – there were seven women and six men in the team, of whom one was less than 25, four were in the 26-40 age group and eight were above 40. Three of the panellists were landless, while the others owned some amount of land. The group had religious diversity, with one following the tenets of Dr Ambedkar, two Muslims and the rest Hindus. There were eight farmers, five who worked as agricultural labour and five who engaged in daily wage work along with working on the fields. There were eight Dalit panellist and five from the OBC community. There were also three who migrated on work to supplement their income.

The Process:

The Ground-Level Panel employed a deliberative and participative dialogue process, during which the 13 participants discussed how climate change had impacted their lives and shared their inputs on the State Action Plans on Climate Change and the Sustainable Development Goals. The panellists derived their expertise from their day-to-day experience. The aim of the panel was to ground policies and global agendas in knowledge from the margins.

The Findings:

The panelists deliberated on key questions, which relate to the impact of climate change on their agricultural practices, livelihoods, environment and life styles. They also reflected on state and global policies and made recommendations, giving reasons for their recommendations, which were shared with civil society, government agencies and the media.

For the community, climate change has a multitude of variables which range from climate to agricultural production and from agricultural practices and other vulnerabilities which result from this to their coping mechanism for the same. It would be inappropriate to simplify this complexity as climate change.

The panellists felt they were trapped in a maze of changes in climates that led to changes in agricultural production to changes in agricultural practices which then impacted their lives. This maze was difficult to get out because it perpetuated itself constantly. One of the examples that the farmers mentioned is that they were encouraged by the State to use fertilisers to improve yield. These were supplied widely and while it did serve the purpose initially, they had to keep increasing the quantity of fertiliser and water as years went by. What has happened is a complete depletion of soil quality and a situation that farmers are contributing to climate change with the use of fertilisers.

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Participation – Going beyond the rhetoric

Tom Thomas, Chief Executive of Praxis, recently addressed United Nations member states at A post-2015 agenda for people and the planet – Echoing voices from civil society, an event organised by Beyond 2015, the Permamnent Mission of Denmark to the United Nations and other organisations to brief them about developments in discussions on the post-2015 agenda. The broad focus of the discussions were on the vital importance of the inclusion of equality across all levels and themes of the post-2015 framework, and addressing all dimensions of sustainable development through implementation and accountability mechanism.

During his presentation, Tom built a case for deeper participation and raised a few vital questions about whose participation we envisage, in what areas and what kind.

Here are some excerpts from his speech:

“A wealth of inspiring, deep and not always inward looking recommendations have emerged from people living in poverty. Equity and equality stand out as the core of people’s concern, and People, Planet and Participation have emerged as the three most important pillars on which to build the post 2015 framework.

These welcome beginnings notwithstanding, the larger question that begs an answer is how participation will be placed in the post 2015 framework. Rhetoric as usual or will the UN and governments be more imaginative to infuse into the framework a participation that has the potential to deepen democracies and produce superior outcomes?”

Pointing out the need for exploring and unpacking ‘community’, which is a conglomerate of excluded and marginalised identities, he calls for the inclusion of not only invisible groups such as disabled, lower castes and religious minorities, among others, but also ignored groups like youth and children.

“It must be recognized that there will be many sub population groups that will be normally invisible and ignored, even through ‘participatory processes’ – both by commission and omission. While a certain amount of discussion has taken place over the past decade about the invisible sub groups like the disabled, the elderly, the lower caste, religious minorities, women, etc., not enough has been said about the ignored population. Youth and children are a classic example of groups that get ignored as many of the processes are designed with an able bodied adult male as the active participant.”

Limiting participation to the process of goal setting would be a big mistake as it will reinforce their identity as receivers of dole.

“Raising communities to the level of active participants and partners in the framing, roll out and monitoring, will not merely make the targets more achievable, but also raise the self esteem of communities, an essential factor to help them stay out of poverty and better theirs and their communities’ lives.”

Participation should not be the kind aimed at increasing efficiency of a project or goal, but rather the kind that aims at empowerment. An empowered citizen, he says is better equipped to claim rights essential for better living.

“… what we need support for and champions from the member states, is to move participation from a mere ‘efficiency coefficient’ to an ’empowerment coefficient’.”

Rejecting the two big barriers cited for seeing participation as an essential component of any planning or implementing exercise, Tom points out examples of Praxis’ experience on how involving people cuts down the cost and increases the accuracy of information.

“The (high) estimates are for expert-led monitoring that as the authors themselves admit will finally at best yield estimates. The question then, would be, whether we want a monitoring that gives us accurately wrong information by experts or approximately correct information led by communities? Participatory monitoring not just gives you approximately correct data, it also engages communities in understanding and analyzing data thereby raising their critical consciousness and self esteem and make them not just recipients, but active partners.”

And last, but not the least, as Praxis experience with the shows, these are “testimonies of people’s capacities to vision for a future that is achievable”.

Tom ends with a call for action, urging the audience to help communities and civil society organisations claim spaces of participation within the post-2015 framework.

You can read the full speech here

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Ray of hope for sewerage workers struggling for safety and dignity

Dignitaries release the Voice for Change: Negotiating Case, Dignity and State Apathy book at the consultation held in Delhi on Friday.

Dignitaries release the Voice for Change: Negotiating Case, Dignity and State Apathy book at the consultation held in Delhi on Friday.

Event photo

Safety and the importance of following government mandates emerged as the topmost priority at the national consultation on issues faced by sewerage workers organised at Gandhi Peace Foundation in New Delhi on Friday, August 22, 2014.

The consultation, which was hosted by the National Campaign for Dignity and Rights of Sewerage and Allied Workers (NCDARSAW) and Occupational Health and Safety Management Consultancy Services (OHSMCS), began with the screening of Gutter Mein Zindagi, a participatory video made by the sewerage workers with support from Praxis Institute for Participatory Practices. The video showcases the daily risks and plight of sewerage workers, the contractual nature of employment and the resultant life of drudgery and uncertainty they get pushed into. The consultation also saw the release of two publications –‘Down The Drain’, a study on the occupational health hazards and the perils of contracting faced by sewerage workers; and ‘Voice for Change – Sewerage Workers Negotiating Caste, Dignity and State Apathy’, a narrative based on the experiences of sewerage workers in Delhi.

The consultation saw sewerage workers share the hazards they faced in terms of lack of safety mechanisms, absence of an accountable authority they could turn to in case of emergency and the undignified way in which the work was carried out. “We don’t even have a place to wash after cleaning the drains,” said Chetan in the video shared at the consultation. “We don’t even know the name of the contractor,” another worker said.

Referring to their plight, Mr Raju Sarthar from the Delhi Safai Karamachari Aayog (Delhi Safai Karmachari Commission) said it was imperative to stop outsourcing of sewerage work and bring in permanency in the contractual nature of the job. He also pointed out that initiatives had been taken to provide cashless medical facility and an order to the effect would be out soon. This comes as a beacon of hope to many contractual sewerage workers who are forced to shell out money on treatments for diseases contracted during duty.

Mr Sarthar also said that the accidental death of any worker on duty would see a family member provided with their job along with a sizeable compensation, both of which were made mandatory by the government in 2013.

Mr Ved Prakash, of the Delhi Jal Board Workers’ Union said the board should demolish sub-contracting in sewerage work. “It should initiate creation of safe and secure environment for sewer workers” he said. He also pointed out the need for awareness among the public about the plight of sub-contracted sewerage workers.

Mr. H.P. Mishra of Kamdar Swasthya Suraksha Mandal said there was a dire need for data on sewerage workers and the need to increase awareness about existing legal provisions. “There is no awareness among workers themselves.”

Mr. Dunu Roy from Hazard Centre said “Delhi Jal Board should show transparency in sharing the amount spent on cleanliness.” He also added that impact on health was severe for both permanent and contractual based workers, hence the focus should be on health and health services. He also noted the importance of working on the structure of sewer lids, which would decrease the health effects and threat to the life of sewer workers.

Dr. Ashish Mittal From OHSMCS pointed out that the workers lacked proper training about the technical aspects of working in a sewer. He said the workers needed to be trained in performing first aid in case of emergency.

Links to the video Down The Drain (Gutter Mein Zindagi):

Link to the Voice For Change book:


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Friends, the 500 countdown to the MDGs lapsing begins today. Which means, we have the daunting task of 500 days remaining to evolve an alternate plan which will guide the development world for the next decade or so. Praxis believes that development can be fruitful and sustainable only if voices of the poor and the marginalised are heard and acted upon. Today, we share our learnings from communities on various issues revolving around the MDGs and invite you to follow/share your thoughts on twitter marking @praxis_india, #Act2015 and #MDG500

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One Year Since GLP – ‘Towards Direct Talk with communities’

It is a year since the first Ground Level Panel (on Post 2015 development agenda) was pioneered by Praxis in India. A year on, the inputs from the community are still orbiting the various UN processes and there is not much clarity on how much or how deeply those voices will be embedded in the final product brought out by the UN. But what we do know for sure, is that the Ground Level Panel as a strategy and methodology drew immense appeal and acceptance almost immediately – amongst the communities and those wishing to engage seriously on development issues – be it students, development workers, politicians, journalists, activists or even representatives of missions of various countries involved with drafting the post-2015 sustainable development goals.

It was a step closer to removing the intermediary barrier of NGO/ Journalist/ Politician who hitherto spoke on behalf of the poor. Ever since the advent of ‘rapid rural appraisal’ and subsequently ‘participatory rural appraisal’ about 2 ½ decades ago, opportunities for people experiencing poverty and marginalisation to input into global policymaking spaces have been on the increase. However, much of it continued to remain extractive and used by development workers, campaigners and advocates and seldom by the communities themselves. The GLP process broke that barrier and brought communities face to face with the policy maker, journalist and general public with insightful recommendations and development goals of significantly higher quality than those otherwise produced by experts. I recall last year’s GL Panellists’ unequivocal voice;  “इनाम नहीं, नाम  – not doles, but identity and rights”.

Today, we have many more ‘Direct Talk’ methodologies, in addition to GLPs, to aid us. Digital Story Telling (DST), Participatory Video (PV), etc., are but a few of those. As development workers, we will have no more excuses to keep the community voices from directly engaging. How we make that graph grow steeply up, is in our hands.


Tom Thomas,

CEO, Praxis

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