Implementing the concept of Leave No One Behind (LNOB) often correlates with facing multiple challenges on a municipal level. Hannah Schabert discusses lessons learnt.
According to the United Nations, „LNOB not only entails reaching the poorest of the poor, but requires combating discrimination and rising inequalities within and amongst countries, and their root causes.” This definition highlights the complexity of the concept. Hence, if it is to be implemented successfully, it requires the identification of groups that are being left behind as well as the mechanisms their discrimination is based on.
Identifying Marginalised Communities as LNOB Target Groups
Determining these groups depends a lot on the respective local context. While the UN describes LNOB target groups as “the poorest of the poor,” this does not reflect the everyday reality of international development cooperation. When working with mayors, councils, or other municipal representatives in a partner country, identifying the right LNOB target group means finding a group that is indeed left behind, but at the same time considered not too unpopular in the respective cultural and political context. In other words: It is very unlikely to successfully include LGBTI+ communities, and religious or ethnic minorities in some areas without losing the respective municipality as a cooperation partner.
Being active worldwide and in municipalities of any size – from Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, to Al Mohammara, a small village in the North of Lebanon – the Experts for Partners project highlights the importance of a context-sensitive approach. In addition, LNOB might appear as an additional workload which is detached from the actual topic in which a partner municipality requires support, especially for smaller municipalities which often lack staff and resources. Therefore, an appropriate communication strategy is crucial.
The successful implementation of LNOB activities requires in-depth planning. During the preparation phase, which includes workshops with the partners and on-site visits from time to time, Experts for Partners identifies potential target groups as well as the willingness of the respective partner municipalities to engage these groups.
Communicating the concept of LNOB depends a lot on the context. Experiences have shown that using the buzzword LNOB is nothing more than an abstract concept for most of the smaller municipalities, most often detached from their reality on the ground. Instead, it has been proven to be far more helpful to talk about the integration of a larger part of the population in the respective municipality as an act of public benefit. Assuming that mayors want to achieve the best possible outcome for the largest part of their municipality, including more communities is where the interests of both the project and the respective mayor are met – even more so if the target group consists of potential voters.
Informal and insecure living and working conditions remain a reality for many marginalised communities. © Hannah Schabert
However, this might not always be the case for larger cities that are active on a higher policy level: using LNOB as a buzzword has a different meaning for a capital city, which is more than a beneficiary of development cooperation, but rather an independent stakeholder with the ability to shape political processes.
Successful Implementation of LNOB Activities
Once the project and the partner municipalities identified and agreed on a target group for LNOB activities – for example, women’s groups (Peru), refugees (Lebanon) or waste pickers (Ecuador), among others –, it is important to meaningfully address these groups in cooperation with the municipal staff.
In order to ensure that LNOB target groups have the possibility to actively engage in planning processes, their inclusion is tracked in the Experts for Partners monitoring system. This includes checking on their active participation in working groups, a seat on the table for important planning meetings, and their own work package to achieve the respective municipality’s objective.
In Beit Jala, Palestine, for instance, people with disabilities were identified as an important target group. However, they are not only beneficiaries of municipal development projects but also active stakeholders. Since accessibility is one of the objectives of the new municipal development plan of Beit Jala municipality, they contribute their experiences and make sure their demands and ideas for inclusive urban planning are featured in the plan. Once the strategic development plan is finalised, both the content as well as the implementation of the plan can be monitored, and municipal representatives can be held accountable if they do not implement the outlined activities.
Key Lessons Learnt
The first year of active LNOB implementation revealed numerous pitfalls and potholes on the road. But while learning that LNOB has its limitations in municipal development cooperation, a useful strategy has manifested as well.
First of all, it is important to work in your context. Find a target group that is left behind, but not politically outlawed to make sure that your partners stand behind the measure. Furthermore, the right communication strategy needs to be identified. While in smaller municipalities, buzzwords often do not have the desired effects, they might well do in capital cities. Agreeing on binding measures by setting up concrete indicators and goals helps all parties to meaningfully include left-behind groups in an active way. Finally, sharing knowledge is essential. Especially smaller municipalities might not be very versed in the implementation of LNOB activities. Equip them with the tools and know-how they need.