Experts answer online questions on empowerment

On the second day of the expert group meeting on empowerment taking place in New York on 10-12 September, it was time for the experts to answer questions from DESA’s online community. “The questions were sound, they were provocative, they reflected concerns,” said John Mathiason of Cornell University, commending the engagement and participation on Facebook and Twitter.

“This is actually quite precedent setting. The UN has not done this before. One interesting thing about empowerment is that you got to engage participation. When people both looked at Facebook and made their presentations on Facebook, Twitter and the survey, they were actually demonstrating that you can have empowerment of people who are far away,” Mr. Mathiason added.

More than 20 experts from all over the world gathered in New York this week to focus on how to empower people to eradicate poverty and to promote social integration and decent work for all. They represented various organizations including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Finland, the Institute of Development Studies from the UK, Human Sciences Research Council in South Africa, Youth Development and Civil Society in Jordan, NGO Committee for Social Development, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, FAO and ILO.

“Empowerment is critical to poverty eradication and to development. Indeed, I would even say that any long-term solution to poverty must start with empowerment,” said DESA’s Under-Secretary-General Mr. Wu Hongbo at the opening of the expert group meeting on 10 September.

Leading up to the meeting, DESA and its Division for Social Policy and Development (DSPD) opened an online forum on Facebook to collect input and questions on empowerment from across the globe. And the engagement level was high.

“How are people aware that they are empowered?” read one of the questions. Mr. Clem McCartney of Club de Madrid, answered, “It is important that we have a sense that we can pursue our aspirations, not necessarily that we can achieve them, but that we can pursue them, with that sense I think we have the beginning of being empowered”, he said, also underscoring the importance of people feeling that they are being listened to.

Ms. Deepa Narayan, Advisor on poverty, gender and development, highlighted the importance of the right to choose and having access to information. “If a woman doesn’t have information about the availability of contraceptives, there is no way she can choose to spread out the birth of her children, or to stop having children”, she said. Ms. Narayan also discussed the right to negotiate. “It is not just a passive receiving of information, but actively using this information to negotiate changes that impact poverty.”

Concerns were raised via the online forum bringing to light the challenge to empower people if social services, budget allocation, in developing countries are cut. Ms. Sylvia Beales from HelpAge International in the UK, responded saying, “people can feel their power by organizing to get information, by organizing to know what exactly is available, and to seek change and to self-help.” She also mentioned that there are many examples around the world of citizens monitoring, which involves people organizing and negotiating for change.

These were only a few examples of the questions answered during the meeting, arranged as part of the preparations for the 51st session of the Commission for Social Development, scheduled to take place in February 2013. For the full question and answer session with the experts, check out the video posted with this story and the social media Q&A.

It is clear judging from the online engagement level that the question of empowerment is close to peoples’ hearts. Mr. Wu Hongbo also underscored its significance as he addressed the meeting, “going forward, let us be very clear: Empowerment is a key means to achieving sustainable development and other vital goals. But it also has a value in and of itself. We must not lose sight of the need to empower all individuals and groups on our shared planet.”

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