Real Participation

In her ongoing consideration of global community development, Sabrina Karim says that “Real participation means recognition of how people already participate and using that to enhance their own personal liberty.” I think this is kind of fatalist, because inside this statement is the idea that people are only what they currently know, rather than beings-in-motion. Recognizing how people currently participate in community development, including children and youth, often amounts to a grim acknowledgment of the inability of individuals within the greater community. This in turn may further disenfranchise or alienate potential beneficiaries from transforming their own roles within their communities. 

Rather than using our current notions of participation to create new realities, I believe that community development needs to be bold enough and hopeful enough to imagine, propose and create new realities. These must acknowledge where folks are coming from – but they can’t get hung up in a stagnant notion of time and place. Rather, planners must expose participants/members/allies to others’ current new realities and encourage them to envision their own. 
I have found it most successful to frame this possibility in the bedrock of democracy: when people believe they can play an integral role in their own futures they become more invested in their communities, as they vest themselves in the relationship between how they live and who and what they want to become. My hope is that we all see that responsibility in our development work, whether we’re thinking about individuals or communities or our globe. That’s the future I want to live in.
Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to Learn more at!

One response to “Real Participation”

  1. I misinterpreted Sabrina’s comment. Where I originally saw her perception as being reductionist or otherwise minimizing young people. Instead, it turns out what she was really saying was that we need to work with children and youth where they’re at, rather than seeing them as adults-in-the-making or in some other form as incomplete beings. I fully agree with Sabrina’s idea that we need to use the ideas, experiences, actions and wisdom of young people right now rather than projecting on them adults’ inabilities to envision them as humans who’s voices are worth listening to. Sorry Sabrina!


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