Workers enjoy a break after their shifts in a maquila. Annie Bungeroth/Oxfam

From Poverty to Power: Case studies

These case studies were written as a contribution to the development of the First Edition of From Poverty to Power in 2008. They were published in order to share widely the results of commissioned research and program experience. The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of Oxfam International or its affiliate organizations.

See the Background papers page for new papers referenced in the second edition. 

Case studies

Albania: development of agricultural cooperatives 

Oxfam support for herb collectors in Albania results in better income and collective action.

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Yemen: advocacy on violence against women

Two Oxfam partner organizations working with women and the law have greatly improved the position of women in custody, prisons or detention centers, and have established a women-only detention center where women are likely to receive better treatment.  

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Israel: advocacy on employment issues for Arab women   

Oxfam GB partner Sawt El-Amel (Laborer’s Voice) defends the rights of unemployed and working poor Arab citizens of Israel. It helps to challenge inequalities and exploitation created by the ‘Wisconsin Plan’ aimed at moving people into work. Establishment of a Women’s Platform and carrying out a Partipatory Needs Assessment led to changes in the Plan to the benefit of marginalized groups.

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Russia: economic marginalization

Oxfam is working with local authorities to help to revise perceptions of poverty and social exclusion and to create a ‘can do’ approach so that people can respond to their own needs.

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Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA)

The important role of GYLA in supporting democracy, playing a ‘watchdog’ role and providing free legal advice in support of people’s rights throughout the country.

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Roma Organizations: capacity building

Capacity-building work with the poorest community in Europe, the Roma, has enhanced advocacy, lobbying and negotiating skills that have led to improved interaction with local authorities on education and discrimination.

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CLADEM and the Inter-American Convention on Sexual and Reproductive Rights

Campaigning for reproductive and sexual rights in Latin America and the Caribbean in the context of broader human rights.

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Papua New Guinea (PNG) Land Rights

Discusses gender and land ownership reform in Papua New Guinea.

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Solomon Islands & Forestry

Problems for local communities and the economy arising from the logging industry.

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From Moratorium to a Convention on small arms: a change in politics and practices for the 15 member countries of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS)

The ECOWAS moratorium on small arms entered into force in 1998. Although significant, it was not binding on states. This paper describes how civil society action across West Africa has succeeded in transforming the moratorium into a legally-binding regional convention on small arms control. Through a series of regional workshops organized by civil society organizations, a network of ‘agents of change’ was developed to create policy influence at national and regional levels. A draft civil society convention was developed for presentation to ECOWAS. This became the basis for the resulting ECOWAS convention, which was signed in 2006. Once ratified, the Convention will give West Africa stricter arms controls than any other region in the world, in turn giving impetus to the UN Arms Trade Treaty negotiations. The author describes how dialogue with government and ECOWAS representatives, and sustained advocacy work within member states, have been essential for the success of this campaign. 

Available in English and French

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Agricultural reforms and rural poverty: the case of the peanut industry in Senegal

The peanut industry is a pillar of the agriculture sector and rural economy in Senegal. Its decline following policy reforms in the production support and marketing systems creates serious hardship for small farmers and exacerbate poverty in rural areas. 

Available in English and French

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Local Resources for Development: the experience of Somaliland’s General Assistance & Volunteer Organization (GAVO)

With minimal assistance at a key point in its development, GAVO evolved from a local charitable and service organisation grounded in and supported by the local community into a strong public outreach and advocacy organisation advising Oxfam on government/civil society relations throughout the region

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The Road to Self-Reliance – ABCD

An Asset-Based Community Driven (ABCD) approach that starts with the identification of community assets, rather than needs, is bringing very positive results especially for women and girls in Ethiopia and is a model for other communities.

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Reflections on Community Based Coastal Resources Management (CB-CRM) in the Philippines and South-East Asia

Small-scale fishing is an important source of food and livelihoods for millions of rural poor people in South-East Asia. Yet fisheries management has tended to diminish access of the rural poor to fishing grounds in favor of commercial operations. This paper describes how civil society action was instrumental in creating change in national fisheries policies in the Philippines. A system of community-based coastal resource management was adopted, with the aim of ensuring better access and influence over resource management for poor fishing communities. Although reported impacts have been modest, the changes have supported some regrowth in the small-scale fishing industry, as well as other gains, and the approach is being adopted in other countries. These gains are threatened by intense competition for fishing access, the development of export-oriented aquaculture industries, and WTO support for fisheries liberalization. Sustained advocacy for the protection of small-scale fisher livelihoods is required at national and global levels.

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What has made Vietnam a poverty reduction success story?

Vietnam has actively integrated into global markets since it adopted an ‘open door’ economic policy in 1986. The government has led a series of economic reforms, in conjunction with poverty-reduction policies. This has resulted in steady economic growth, while poverty rates have more than halved. This paper analyses the context and policies that have underpinned this success. Adopting a stepwise approach to reform and liberalization of agriculture and state-owned enterprises, the government retained strong control over domestic economic policy. This control extends to relations with donors and NGOs, with good aid co-ordination and high levels of budget support. Universal education has supported the development of an educated labor force, while commitment to gender equity has enabled women to benefit from economic development. Nonetheless, civil and political rights remain weak, and there are strong pressures for increased political participation. To avoid fueling inequalities, political reforms must address the rights of internal migrants and ethnic minorities. 

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Oxfam Hong Kong’s advocacy work on relocation of rural schools in China

Research and advocacy work on the adverse effects of rural school consolidation and school closures in remote rural areas of China.

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How change happens in the private sector

This paper summarizes the main factors that brought about change in two private companies, and their implications for civil society actors aiming to generate more pro-poor change in the private sector.

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Indigenous People’s Education - Mindanao, the Philippines

Indigenous education improves the Pulangiyen quality of life and provides a model for the promotion of culture-based education throughout the country.

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India’s National Rural Employment Guarantee Act - A Case Study for How Change Happens   

This case study identifies critical elements to the passage of the NREGA, an act guaranteeing employment to all Indian citizens.

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Yogyakarta Earthquake Community Recovery Grants supporting Gotong Royong

Timely and carefully targeted grants using a community-based approach enabled early recovery of productive activities and reinforced community spirit and decision-making following a powerful earthquake in Central Java. 

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Territories and citizenship: the revolution of the Chiquitanos   

The Chiquitanos are an indigenous people living in lowland Bolivia. They have suffered exclusion and discrimination under successive governments since the colonial era. In the 1980s, the Chiquitanos mobilized in response to neo-liberal reforms which put increased pressure on indigenous territories. Political decentralization in the 1990s created impetus and political opportunities for such indigenous movements. Water privatization and rising unemployment in 2000-01 led to political unrest throughout Bolivia, particularly amongst indigenous groups. Since 2003, mobilization in demand for political change has reformed the basis of political participation and representation. This has resulted in the election of several indigenous people to high-level government positions, and significant directional changes in social and economic policy-making. This paper describes the Chiquitano struggle for land rights and political representation, analyzes the diverse catalysts for this radical shift in Bolivian politics, and reviews the initial achievements of – and challenges for – Bolivia’s new government. 

Available in English and Spanish

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All Ukraine Network of People Living with HIV (PLWH)

PLWH has achieved significant success in supporting HIV and AIDS positive people and has become a model for advocacy and lobbying networks across Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. 

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Market access for indigenous women producers in Guatemala       

With support, Mayan women are improving their agricultural production and their marketing skills to improve income and self-confidence. 

Available in English and Spanish

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A tool against climate change…and hurricanes

A new data collection and early warning system, together with indigenous knowledge, helps communities in Nicaragua in tropical forest areas to adapt to climate change and maintain their livelihoods. 

Available in English and Spanish

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Centre for Trade Union and Workers Services (CTUWS) (Egypt)

CTUWS supports an independent labor movement and has carried out independent election monitoring activities; it is currently seeking registration as a legally recognised NGO in Egypt. 

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 Adva Center (Israel) 

The Adva Center in Israel provides independent socio-economic analysis and advocates for more equitable policies that favour disadvantaged citizens. 

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Honduras: analysis of the impact of the Collective of Honduran Women (CODEMUH) on workers’ rights and occupational health, 2002 to 2005

The Collective of Honduran Women (CODEMUH) is a feminist organization which defends women’s rights in Honduras through capacity building, legal action, and public campaigning. This paper describes CODEMUH’s public campaign in support of women’s labor rights and occupational health, focusing on export garment industries. Efforts to increase Honduran manufacturing productivity in the context of global supply chain competition have resulted in erosion of workers’ rights, for example through increases in unpaid overtime, suppression of freedom of association, and failure to meet health and safety requirements.  Since 2004 CODEMUH has been campaigning to inform workers, managers, and government officials about occupational health risks for garment industry workers. The article describes how CODEMUH has successfully harnessed media, public events, and strategic international linkages to promote the issue and to increase pressure on government and companies for change. The impacts of the campaign are analyzed, along with the challenges and lessons learned.

Available in English and Spanish

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The challenge of eliminating racism in Brazil: the new institutional framework for fighting racial inequality   

This paper argues that racism is a central force perpetuating socio-economic inequalities in Brazil, one of the most unequal countries in the world. Brazilian racism has its roots in the African slave trade. The historically popular opinion that Brazil is a ‘racial democracy’ continues to suppress acknowledgement of racial inequalities. Yet these are profound and persistent, trapping many black Brazilians in a vicious circle of poverty, poor educational outcomes, low access to goods and services, labour market discrimination, and violence. Brazil’s long-established black movement has fought for public action against racism. Recent achievements include the establishment of a legal framework for dealing with racism; a series of participatory policy discussions and conferences on racism; the creation of government institutions tasked with promoting racial equality; and the appointment of black people to senior government positions. The challenge remains to tackle institutional racism at all levels and to create a more constructive media environment. 

Available in English and Portuguese 

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Social participation as a democracy-consolidating process in Brazil

Brazil’s transition from an authoritarian regime to a democracy has been supported by the institutionalisation of efforts to integrate citizen participation into policy-making. This paper traces the roots of citizen participation in the development of diverse community movements from the 1950s onwards, and the democratic movement that emerged from these. As a result, the 1988 federal constitution established a range of institutions to support the integration of civil society organisations into formal policy making.  Twenty years on, the author describes the range and diversity of opportunities for citizen participation that exist in Brazil, and lists numerous positive social outcomes. Current challenges are analysed, such as the reluctance of some public managers to share power – particularly in economic policy-making – and recent managerial reforms of the state which fail to integrate the constitutional vision. Ongoing investments in civil society capacity will be essential for meaningful engagement to be sustained.

Available in English and Portuguese 

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