Social empowerment is understood as the process of developing a sense of autonomy and self-confidence, and acting individually and collectively to change social relationships and the institutions and discourses that exclude poor people and keep them in poverty. Poor people’s empowerment, and their ability to hold others to account, is strongly influenced by their individual assets (such as land, housing, livestock, savings) and capabilities of all types: human (such as good health and education), social (such as social belonging, a sense of identity, leadership relations) and psychological (self-esteem, self-confidence, the ability to imagine and aspire to a better future). Also important are people’s collective assets and capabilities, such as voice, organisation, representation and identity.
Poor people’s involvement in local associations and inter-community cooperation mechanisms can contribute to social empowerment by improving their skills, knowledge and self-perception. Local associations also act as self-help mechanisms through which poor people organise their economic activities, such as farming cooperatives, or microfinance groups.
The study examines the multiple dimensions of accountability and surveys the experiments that have sought to implement a new, expanded accountability agenda. The new agenda seeks a more direct role for ordinary people and their associations in demanding accountability across a more diverse set of jurisdictions. It uses a broader repertoire of methods, and is based on a more exacting standard of social justice. However, this agenda must be actively shaped if it is to have a positive impact on human development.
Vulnerable groups, such as the very poor, women and marginalised communities can often lack the skills and confidence to engage in community decision-making. It may therefore be important to support mechanisms designed to specifically target marginalised groups in order to ensure that they can participate. It is argued that participation in local associations can empower poor people to engage in public politics and collective action. However, research shows that building individual and collective capacities to engage is a long-term process.
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