Community Empowerment


Poverty, inequality and marginalization are locked into place by disempowerment, which becomes a vicious cycle. The goal of IfE’s Community Empowerment initiative is to help communities living in extreme poverty to break out of this cycle and gain agency over their own development agenda and lives.  


1.1 Picture


All around the world, IfE’s Field Hearings communities reported to us that poor and marginalized people are disempowered when those with wealth use their political influence to generate more opportunities to enrich themselves, and block access to resources and opportunities by those who need it most. This systemic problem manifests itself through anti-democratic governance, corruption at high levels, vast inequalities in wealth and income, extreme poverty, land and resource grabs, human rights abuses and hopelessness.

Communities who participated in our Field Hearings called on IfE to organize a way to follow up on their community’s priorities. We are developing a set of activities that can be utilized by local organizations and regional networks to help their own communities to gain empowerment and develop solutions to restore equitable development and a powerful voice at the local, national  and international levels. IfE member organizations are now invited to implement the initiative, called Community Empowerment (COMET), in marginalized communities where they know the local people, language, culture, and political situation. Our process for facilitating the empowerment of marginalized communities emphasizes community priorities and leadership, rather than direction by an outside organization.


(1) The first step is for us to listen, and for community members to be heard.

With coordination by the IfE secretariat, our local Partners conduct Field Hearings around the globe to learn what people in disadvantaged communities are thinking about their future:

  • What are the main problems faced by their community?
  • What are some possible causes? Solutions?
  • How does inequality affect their community?
  • What is needed in order to have a more equitable and sustainable future?
  • What are their priorities for action?

The process of conducting Field Hearings is powerful in and of itself. It is often the first time that community members have been asked what they think and want, or have held an organized discussion on the problems and potential solutions for their communities. Voices from the Field Hearings are also effective at a global scale. From 2012 – 2015, we took data and voices from these communities to the UN, resulting in the establishment of inequality as a major issue throughout the Sustainable Development Goals, and the drafting and adoption of SDG Goal 10 on inequalities.  

Read more about the Field Hearings (see Sidebar Menu to the left), then get involved!


(2) The second step is to convene discussions focused on community-led development.

COMET discussions will be convened by local partners and community members to explore proposals for facilitating community-initiated social and economic development. These proposed approaches should be viable, sustainable, democratic, pro-equality alternatives that community members find compelling. They should meet community needs, use skills and resources available within the community, and attract effective partnerships with existing agencies, where possible.

IfE’s COMET Coordinating Committee is working to prepare a clear protocol for these discussions,  including options for development to consider, and access to help from experienced experts. 


(3) The third step is to set up Community Empowerment Groups in each community.

These COMET Groups will consist of engaged and thoughtful community members who want to pursue effective strategic planning, advocacy and action towards their community’s development objectives. COMET Groups will gather information, take steps toward the development they want, and call for assistance from local and national decision-makers. IfE’s COMET Coordinating Committee is currently developing a clear list of objectives and strategies that COMET Groups can think about as they develop strategies that will work for their own specific circumstances and needs. Community members must take the lead in setting priorities and choosing strategies! Local IfE partners are there to provide ideas and back them up.


(4) The COMET Experts Group will provide technical information and advice for communities.

Once a COMET Group has an idea of what they want to do in their community, IfE will help make expert information and advice available to them. These experts are being invited from around the world, based on their successful experience and expertise in specific technical aspects of development, including:

  • finance (approach, bundling, microfinance critique, interest rates, loans vs donations, sources, community currencies, mobile banking, etc.)
  • structure of enterprises (cooperatives, community enterprises, decision-making principles & rules, role of capital, risk-sharing, over-arching financial structure, etc.)
  • existing markets; establishing new markets that support local communities more effectively
  • infrastructure development within communities
  • educational development within communities
  • health care development within communities
  • social aspects of development within communities
  • legal aspects of doing all this (laws that govern the planned activities; making changes)
  • due diligence (how can we assess projects to limit risk and promote success?)
  • technologies for community self-sufficiency (3-D printers, open source ecology blueprints)

Funding raised for each community discussion and COMET group will include an amount for consulting fees to the appropriate expert(s).


The diagram below shows the structure of this initiative.


The COMET Coordinating Committee will develop the needed surveys, protocols, contracts, fundraising support and other needed materials for the initiative, and will keep a close eye on all the work, relationships and data to be sure it is functioning in a way that empowers the community and leads to intended outcomes.


The IfE network supports the Community Empowerment initiative in a number of ways:

  • A Committee of engaged members develops the methodology (which individual partners can modify to meet their own needs)
  • Experienced partners train and mentor others on the process
  • Our Experts Group provides assistance to community groups, as described above
  • Groups of partners come together to support each other in a region, convening national discussions to frame the issues and coordinate actions as needed
  • IfE Global (our secretariat) assists with private and secure meeting platforms, and other infrastructure and information as requested and possible
  • A writing committee compiles, edits and publishes reports on the projects

IfE Global may also provide text for funding requests, coordinate global advocacy on common patterns of disempowerment and common solutions, and organize international support and advocacy when particular communities come under attack for their self-empowerment efforts.


Please join with us in this global effort to increase social, economic and political equality and empowerment for marginalized communities!