Skip to main content

Empowering Marginalised Actors

PMSD Toolkit

In a nutshell: A set of strategies for empowering and building the capacity of marginalised actors to have the basic set of skills and power to kick start engagement with other market actors.

Status: Core Tool

Key principles: Empowerment of marginalised actors focuses on participation of the marginalised by focusing on three basic competencies or skill sets: (1) representation and mobilisation; (2) market literacy; and (3) dialogue and negotiation. It incorporates gender by targeting women and empowering them to have greater voice and agency.

Preconditions and preparation: A useful background step to engaging in empowerment of marginalised actors is to first understand why they are marginalised – using the Marginalisation Analysis tool. Another preliminary step to empowerment is identifying and meeting with representative groups for marginalised actors.

Timeline and resources: Direct capacity building of marginalised actors is a time consuming and resource-intensive process that should be considered from the offset of the project.


Below the three main areas of competency are further explained. Strategies for developing each need to be developed in the local context.

1. Representation and mobilisation
Finding elected leaders to represent large numbers of marginalised groups is critical to reaching scale and involving marginalised people in participatory processes. Election by a wide number is often more impactful at finding representative leaders than selection by a small number. Projects can seek to influence the selection process by emphasising the key behaviours of elected representatives, who ultimately will represent the marginalised groups during the PMSD process. Possible representatives to consider:

  • Translators who carry ideas between different groups (e.g. farmers and traders and policymakers);
  • Connectors who connect different types of market actors through strong relationships; and
  • Opinion-makers who can influence the choices and investments of their peers.

Gender is a key issue when considering representation. You need to be aware of gender dynamics amongst the marginalised actors you are working with. Norms may mean that women do not put themselves forward to be representatives or that, unless there is a change in attitudes, their views and feedback will not be taken seriously. You may also have to contend with a lack of women in many groups. Addressing these issues is not easy. You need to have a basic understanding of the gender dynamics at play and then develop strategies to specifically target and support women to engage.

2. Market literacy
There are a wide number of issues and perspectives included under market literacy. From household finances, operations of cooperative groups, understanding of key roles and functions in the market, and economic factors that influence market actor behaviours. Ultimately, we want marginalised groups to better understand what drives other market actors, so they can strategize how to interact with them on terms that serve them.

3. Dialogue and negotiation
These skills enable marginalised actors to have the confidence to interact with more powerful actors. Try to focus negotiations on feasible business opportunities and measurable reference points, and steer away from personal attacks and misconceptions. Negotiation requires multiple rounds of interaction – in different forums (large participatory sessions, small group meetings and 1-to-1 meetings).

Outcomes/behaviour changes

Below are a set of behaviours and actions to look out for in marginalised groups, that signal their engagement and implementation of the three core competencies/skillsets.

Representation and mobilisation

  • Engage with market actors with the interests of peers in mind;
  • Use power responsibly and strategically – speak up for peers in PMSD workshops;
  • Report back to peers what is happening in PMSD process;
  • Help peers align strategies and investment plans with other market actors.

Market literacy

  • Negotiate mainly on quality and quantity; not just price;
  • Know the buyer and what they need or desire;
  • Make repeated sales your main objective;
  • Build trust and transparency with buyers and suppliers.

Dialogue and negotiation

  • Other market actors engage you out of interest not pity;
  • Where other market actors have similar interests – use them to build trust and collaborations;
  • Listen carefully, be kind, be respectful;
  • Patience – dialogue and negotiation takes time and multiple meetings.