Theoretical framework, goal and orientation
Diakonia's theoretical approach is briefly described as empowering the poor – challenging the privileged.
Poverty is multidimensional
Diakonia defines and analyses poverty as multidimensional, where lack of power, choice and material resources are taken into account, and where formal an informal structures generate and reproduce poverty. This multidimensional view of poverty includes how the individual experience her or his situation of poverty, i.e. the perspective of the poor.
Qualitative participation for a socially sustainable development
Diakonia believes that sustainable development for poverty eradication must be based on the empowerment and qualitative participation of hitherto discriminated groups and individuals. Diakonia believes that such participation is conducive to senses of ownership, responsibility and ultimately empowerment, and when people’s participation includes these characteristics, we may speak of a socially sustainable development.
A strong civil society for structural change
Given Diakonia’s emphasis on the political dimension of a socially sustainable development, citizens’ self-organization for management of common concerns and collective mobilisation for political influence is viewed as crucial. This puts focus on the importance of a strong and vibrant civil society as counterpart to a strong democratic state for effective democratisation and development.
Supporting strategies leading to change
Diakonia engages in countries and develops programmes by focusing on the identification of dynamic processes for change which are already in motion. In these processes we have come to identify important steps on the way:
- An increase of citizens’ knowledge and awareness on a wide range of issues of direct or indirect political relevance, e.g. social rights, gender equality or legal framework for participation.
- Citizens’ self-organization around common interests, ideas and concerns as defined by themselves, aiming at solving local concrete problems, as well as advocacy, which may range from women’s groups in rural areas to national networks on trade agreements. This component often encompasses the challenge to formalise and develop the organization or movement democratically.
- As a crucial part of Diakonia’s notion of qualitative participation, lasting effects often result when organised groups of discriminated citizens attain the capacity to act collectively in a political context;
- Increasing influence and possibilities to achieve concrete improvements, e.g. claiming their right to health or the need to end an armed conflict.
A normal condition for Diakonia’s work in developing countries is that it is carried out in contexts where limited development combined with weak and authoritarian states have produced weak and fragmented civil societies.
This situation is often underpinned by prevailing elitist and exclusive structures of social, economic and political power. Hence, Diakonia’s main rationale for engagement may at times be to focus on strengthening local organisations mobilised around practical needs rather than being strategic or political, e.g. via small-scale productive projects or the provision of basic education.
Consequently, the strategies applied and roles played by Diakonia and partners differ between regions, countries and over time. In this way, the qualitative participation of the poor and discriminated in matters of societal concern is not only a means but to a high degree an end in itself, which corresponds to the understanding of democratisation as a long-term process.