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Equal Power for Transformative Dialogue: Insights from CBA17

Learn about Zahid Shashoto's (a board member for the Climate Justice Resilience Fund and program development officer for Uttaran) key takeaway messages from the 17th International Conference on Community-Based Adaptation to Climate Change.
Multiple Authors
CJRF Board Member Zahid Amin Shashoto attended CBA17 in Bangkok, Thailand this year
CJRF Board Member Zahid Amin Shashoto attended CBA17 in Bangkok, Thailand this year

Introduction

By Zahid Amin Shashoto

Since their announcement in 2021, the Locally-led Adaptation (LLA) principles have steadily gained momentum, and the discourse around them has been held by a diverse range of voices. During the 17th International Conference on Community-Based Adaptation to Climate Change (CBA17), I witnessed a diverse set of stakeholders—donors, INGO staffers, researchers, representatives from local grassroots organizations, and government officials—display a strong desire to embrace LLA principles.

This year’s CBA offered a space for the adaptation community of practitioners to come together to share how to put the principles for locally led adaptation (LLA) into practice, recognizing the complexities, innovations and challenges that must be overcome to do so. By hosting an event with a wide range of stakeholders in the room, CBA17 demonstrates what happens when power dynamics are leveled, and when everyone can engage in transformative dialogues. As a CJRF board member and the program development officer for the grassroots organization, Uttaran, I was encouraged to learn from the differing viewpoints of LLA. Below are three key takeaways from my time at CBA17.

Open and Honest Dialogue

When people have equal power, open and honest dialogues can emerge. For example, local organizations across the globe mentioned a reoccurring issue: they feel the pains of scrutiny. Top-down systems often question the capacity of local organizations, resulting in those organizations feeling underestimated. The local organizations present at CBA17 asserted that top-down systems do not address the lack of resources they face (such as salary gaps and insufficient institutional development support).

CBA17 offered a place for everyone to listen to these concerns. As a result, several smaller consensuses were reached, such as emphasizing the need to dismantle top-down standardized approaches to adaptation, and highlighting the importance of intermediaries in supporting grassroots movements to build networks, engage in multi-lateral advocacy, and enhance technical capacity. Intermediaries also play a crucial role in allocating grants to local organizations from high-resourced donors. This engagement allowed everyone to gain a deeper understanding of the perspectives of local organizations and donors regarding LLA principles, recognize the need to relinquish restrictive control approaches, and empower individuals with decision-making power.

Applying LLA Principles

Throughout conference discussions, it was clear that despite the existence of eight LLA principles, people are still grappling with several dilemmas in operationalizing the principles, particularly when it comes to accountability, the prevailing power structure, finance mechanisms, equitable partnerships, and most importantly, the roles of different partners at various levels. CBA17 provided an opportunity for everyone at different levels–to grapple with these questions, express their positions, and highlight evidence to support their case.

Although grassroots organizations are closest to the ideology of LLA principles (in terms of their alignment with its objectives), they are actually the furthest from familiarity with the term itself. As CBA17 unfolded, grassroots organizations began to understand that LLA principles represented a framework for addressing the long-standing demands of grassroots communities. This unfamiliarity lay in the terminology rather than the principles’ ideologies. The power dynamic of this language stems from the principles’ origins: the Global Commission on Adaptation established these principles to encourage donors and funders to allocate more resources and power to communities. As a result, promotion of these principles has taken a top-down approach, where international NGOs advocate for LLA principles and guide grassroot organizations on how to incorporate into them into their work. Rather than supporting grassroots groups to promote community-driven adaptation and development plans, the prescriptive funding mechanisms and strategies of larger entities has hindered their ability to do so.

The Role of Intermediaries

LLA principles suggest the need to diminish the role of intermediaries over time, while strengthening the position of grassroots organizations. Grassroots organizations claim they have the capacity to independently implement projects while also adhering to policy standards—it’s the way funding is structured that drives the need for intermediary funders. They argue that with flexible and predictable funding, they can enhance their organizational capacity and enable donors to fund them directly. Donors at the conference largely agreed with this point and want to fund grassroots organizations directly. In fact, some stated that intermediaries increase operational costs; however, they also recognized their struggle to find proper mechanisms to provide smaller grants to local NGOs.

As both a funder and a funding intermediary, CJRF will continue to tackle with how to best continue our efforts to achieve the LLA principles and work towards climate justice

Conclusion

CBA17 provided a platform for open dialogue among people from grassroots organizations, intermediaries and donors regarding LLA principles. While challenges and debates persist, the conference discussions fostered a better understanding of perspectives, identified gaps in existing practices, and explored opportunities for support and empowerment. Furthermore, the growing interest and engagement in LLA principles indicated a positive shift towards more equitable and effective climate resilience strategies. Continuing such dialogues and collaborations will ensure that the principles are implemented in a manner that truly empowers and supports local communities and their adaptation efforts.

The insights gained from CBA17 will undoubtedly shape and influence CJRF’s strategic approach as both an intermediary and donor. CJRF takes pride in its unique approach, which prioritizes empowering communities and fostering sustainable development from the ground up. CBA17 provided valuable validation and reinforcement of CJRF’s funding principles and further strengthened our resolve to continue championing these principles in our future endeavors.

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