Access to information reduces inequality

October 16th, 2014

It is very common to hear the word “inequality” as development professionals start discussions – be it a two-person dialogue or a conference with dozens. I have witnessed many of them ever since I started my professional career. People talk about poor services to a certain group of population, weak linkages with other better-off populations, inappropriate policies, negligence of the government bodies, etc. when we get into the world of Inequality. Each time, I question myself – what actually is the root cause? What makes community “A” better-off than community “B”?

If somebody asks me -“When do you feel that you are empowered, equal to others, and fairly treated?”. Without thinking twice – I would reply “when I have access to all of the information I require”.  It is definite – information on the existence of resources opens way out for you to enjoy the resources. This might not be true in all of the situations – but to most of them – “Access to Information” is something significant that resolves issues related to inequality.

Social map prepared by local people in Chitwan, Nepal.

Social map prepared by local people in Chitwan, Nepal.

Development sector, by now, has well understood that the trickle-down model of service delivery is no more functioning. It is the people who actually need to identify and prioritise their needs. Wouldn’t it be an ideal context when people in need are informed that resource allocation is made for them, they have right to enjoy these resources, are able to develop their own practical plans? What if they are trained well enough to push relevant authorities in materialising their plans?

Well, here is an example of a proactive and informed society which no longer wants to be disadvantaged compared to the others. At Practical Action, this is exactly what we are doing through our project “Delivering Decentralisation: Slum dwellers’ access to decision making for pro-poor infrastructure services” since 2006. We aim to build the capacity of 70,000 slum dwellers and associated local authorities in decision making to plan, deliver and sustain community-led services in selected urban and peri-urban areas of Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri-Lanka by 2016. By the end of the project, we expect that the slum dwellers in 6 towns and 78 slums in three countries are able to work closely with the local authorities and other stakeholders, and participate in decision making process; their services are prioritised, their income is boosted and the environment in which they live in is enhanced. We envision this situation to be possible as we strongly bring forward our approach of enhanced Access to Information.

The networks and linkages we create are the major sources of information. Sincerely, I feel more confident when I know, when I am aware and when I am informed. I wouldn’t claim unless I know that I have the right to claim; and unless I claim, I don’t get – others will. As it is said – money attracts money, information attracts information too! It is the principle source of empowerment and should be strictly considered if we want to lessen inequality and create a JUST society!!

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