I am Tom and I attended the ACFID conference and especially loved the discussions around systemic poverty alleviation through financial empowerment of minority groups.
Despite auspicious international aid programs, poverty amongst minority groups in the Indo-Pacific remains a perennial contemporary policy dilemma. Although financial aid acts as a vehicle towards alleviation of poverty, it fails to address the intrinsic on-the-ground structural problems that disempower minority groups towards financial independence in local communities.
Altering and challenging preconceived notions of minority groups roles in society strikes at the heart of entrenched cultural and social norms that have traditionally cornered minority groups to the periphery of engaging with broader societal operations, most pronounced in norms associated with gender and disability.
As participation is the first step towards financial empowerment, civil society organisations play an indispensable role in engendering a revisionist approach of minorities groups’ financial independence via the means of direct and indirect consultations of community members.
Firstly, predetermined gender-based perceptions have largely resigned women to have no feasible reality of reaching financial independence in particular communities across the Indo-Pacific.
However, civil society partnerships such as the World Vision-Promundo Partnership (‘the Partnership’) is a program that seeks to shift traditional cultural, customary perceptions and behaviours relating to women’s roles in society by engaging men as allies in women’s economic empowerment by means of education.
The Partnership hosts a series of sessions with hundreds of couples that have resulted in better support from men in women seeking paid work, a better acceptance rate in women engaging in work, better couple communication, an increase in men sharing household responsibilities such as assisting children and engaging in unpaid housework, a reduction in conflict and violence, and an increased interest by government partners in addressing gender norms in economic development programming.
Secondly, those living with a disability are another minority group within the Indo-Pacific that rarely find stable employment due to discrimination born from pre-existing cultural and social beliefs.
For example, in Sri Lanka, those with disabilities have been noted to generally struggle financially, have limited skills and agency, remain isolated, and are further trammelled by intersectional gender and social norms.
However, launched from July 2016 to September 2021, World Vision’s Sri Lanka Gender and Disability Inclusive Economic Development Project (‘iLIVE’) focuses on assisting the most vulnerable individuals in Sri Lankan society, including people with disability, who are often the last considered for formal employment.
The iLIVE project seeks to empower these individuals to self-generate stable income and become valued, productive, and inclusive members of their respective communities.
For example, Jesumalar*, a disabled man in Sri Lanka, was a beneficiary of the iLIVE project. iLive asked Jesumalar to attend a session on mushroom cultivation that has now lead to Jesumalar becoming a mushroom farmer. Jesumalar now trains other members of his community how to cultivate mushrooms to which has even extended to Jesumalar assisting the Dilmah Foundation.
As a result of the iLIVE project, 8,101 vulnerable Sri Lankans have directly benefited from an increase in income and agency, which has provided a robust business case for hiring those with disabilities and that intentional design can increase access for vulnerable individuals.
Whether it be directly engaging with vulnerable individuals or engaging other groups in society to challenge preconceived perceptions of marginalised groups’ roles within society, both approaches have the capacity to engender the journey of financial empowerment of minority groups, reflecting an essential step towards eradicating systemic poverty.
By Results Advocate, Tom Jessup