The commitment to “leave no one behind” under Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) requires reaching everyone in situations of conflict, disaster, displacement, vulnerability and risk. More needs to be done to put this principle into practice, from participation to decision-making and benefit sharing.
Listening to the voices of the most marginalized is the first step to ensure that nobody gets left behind. However it is often not possible for the most marginalized to sit on the same table with power holders and decision makers.
Here I would like to introduce a concept of “empty chair”. Back in early 2000 during my PhD interviews, I realized that even the “silence” has an answer, and we need to factor “missing voice” in the qualitative analysis. Every time it reminds me that there is an empty chair to the important meeting tables where we are discussing development agendas. I believe that there is “empty chair” in the cabinet meeting, government meeting, donor meeting as well as I/NGO meeting.
Until now, Nepal has remained as a highly centralized country. The country is now in a process of profound changes with federal governance. Local government will now have to exercise effective and accountable governance with extensive roles and responsibilities to deliver services to the people. Local government will now provide over 60% of all services to the people including health, education, employment and local infrastructures.
Let us not talk about the central bureaucracy here for this topic, where political party cadre often fill “empty chair”. Nevertheless, in the changed context, we have a hope with newly formed local government, each with its own legislative, executive and judicial bodies.
We are glad to see that there are already many community leaders as well as from disadvantaged communities elected to local government structure. However, it is not a sufficient condition for getting most marginalized voice in the planning and decision-making.
We would like to see that the newly elected Mayors, Deputy Mayors, Ward Chairs and Members keep in their mind that there is “empty chair” in their entire planning and decision-making meetings. Empty chair represents the most marginalized among us or those left furthest behind or those severely affected by the earthquake or those who are prevented from adding voice because of other forms of oppression and marginalization.
It requires cultivating a positive mindset about “empty chair” because “empty chair” is the most important person in the room. It requires understanding that belong to “empty chair” and understanding their needs and barriers, and working from backwards. We also need to change mindset about the abilities of the most marginalized that they can contribute to the society.
We expect innovative leadership from the elected leaders at local level where every Nepali, including “empty chair” feels a sense of belonging, ensuring that no one is left behind and every person has a fair opportunity in life.
Dr. Prabin Manandhar is an expert of international development. Currently, he is working as Country Director of The Lutheran World Federation. He is the Chair of the Association of International NGOs in Nepal (AIN). He is also a visiting faculty at the Kathmandu University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org