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Bridging Peace, Prosperity, and Planet: Community Paralegals for Land and Environmental Justice

Namati champions a paralegal approach: we help people protect their livelihoods and the planet by putting the power of law in their hands.

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9 19

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*Please Upload User Experience Map (as attachment) and any additional Beneficiary Feedback in this field

"I don’t care what anyone says, this project is the best thing to happen in our history. Imagine: now we know our borders; we know our resources; we know our rules, and they are written down for everyone to see & know. People are attending clan meetings, and our clan feels stronger together. This has never happened before! Now it's easy for us to organize & ask the government or [foreign investors] for things we want or refuse things we don’t want in our community." - Community member, Liberia

Explain your project idea in two sentences.

Community paralegals help communities to understand, use, and shape the law. With the power of the law in their hands, these communities can protect their environments, livelihoods, and futures.

What is your organization name? Explain your organization in one sentence.

Namati is building a global movement of paralegals to help people know, use, and shape the law.

Is this project idea new for you or your organization? If no, how much have you already executed on?

For the past five years, Namati has been demonstrating and testing how paralegals can help communities, whose livelihoods depend on the planet, protect their land and natural resources. We have been rigorously improving our approach and are now looking to scale our work in four countries.

What is the problem you aim to solve with this idea? How would you define this problem as urgent and a priority in your target community?

Worldwide, demand for land and natural resources is increasing. Communities whose livelihoods depend on the planet need legal support to protect their rights: to gain formal title to their lands, to negotiate on more equal terms with investors, and to hold investors accountable for their actions.

What is the timeline for your project idea? What are the key steps for implementation in the next 1-3 years?

Our three-year scale-up plan involves several iterative steps: 1. Improve our paralegal training materials and learning system using human-centered design 2. Hire, train, and support more paralegals 3. Raise public awareness of land and resource rights, including what paralegals can offer 4. Through paralegals, empower communities with the legal tools and knowledge to protect their rights when engaging with powerful interests/investors, including companies, national elites, and government

Describe the individual or team that will implement this idea (if a partnership, please explain breakdown of responsibility).

Paralegals are the frontline drivers of the project. Trained in law, governance, and mediation, they are supported by experts at Namati and local partner organizations. They hail from the regions they serve, speaking local languages and understanding local cultures.

What do you need the most support with in this project idea?

  • Exposure

What is your primary goal over the next 6 weeks of Refinement?

  • Iterate or improve on my product/service

How do you currently measure (or plan to measure) results for this project?

In every community, we conduct baseline and endline user surveys, progress assessments during implementation, and deep impact assessments 6-12 months after project close. Our methods include household surveys, focus group discussions, and informant interviews. We are particularly focused on measuring legal empowerment. We want to know: what capacity do community members now have to act on their own if a problem arises? Can members now help their neighbors to undertake a similar process?

How has your project proposal changed due to your user research during the Beneficiary Feedback Phase?

We’ve realized that thinking through users’ learning journeys using human-centered design offers an opportunity to substantially level-up our methods for training paralegals and legally empowering communities. We now plan to develop an integrated 'learning system' to better equip paralegals to creatively co-design and nimbly problem-solve with the communities they support.

(Optional) What are some of your still unanswered questions or concerns about this idea?

Questions we continue to probe include: 1. How can paralegals facilitate land and environment protection activities to best foster long-term community ownership of the steps, from design to long-term governance? 2. How much external legal and technical support do communities need in these processes? 3. How can we best amplify community voices to inform and influence laws and regulations?

Namati trains and deploys paralegals who work with communities to advance justice. In 2016 alone, Namati and our implementing partners worked directly with over 15,000 clients in eight countries to protect community lands, enforce environmental law, and secure basic rights to healthcare and citizenship.

Explain your idea

Law has the power to advance peace, support prosperity and protect the planet, by giving people the power to shape their own lives and safeguard them from abuse. And yet, around the world, farmers, fisher people, and pastoralists are denied the power to manage what are often their greatest assets: their farmland, forests, pastures, rivers, lakes, and coasts. Meanwhile, there is an ever-increasing investment interest in exactly those resources. When the rights of those who live and depend on the land are insecure, we see conflict and shortsighted, environmentally harmful decisions instead of sustainable development. At the root of these problems there are profound imbalances of power—between farmers and a mining company, say, or between villagers and the local government where they live. There are also devastating gaps between de jure legal protections and lived experience. Many countries have laws recognizing customary land rights, for example, but those are of little use if people don’t have a map, or a deed, or institutions for making decisions about how the land is used. Namati champions a method -- grassroots legal advocates, or “community paralegals” -- for putting the power of law in the hands of people. These paralegals are trained in basic law and in skills like mediation, organizing, education, and advocacy. They form a dynamic, creative frontline that can engage formal and traditional institutions alike. Rather than treating their clients as victims requiring an expert service -- “I will solve this problem for you”-- community paralegals focus on legal empowerment. “We will solve this together, and when we’re done you will be in a stronger position to tackle problems like these in the future.” Over the past five years, we have continually improved our approach based on quantitative data and feedback from clients, partners, and other organizations working in the field. We have demonstrated that well-supported paralegals can help squeeze justice out of even broken systems. And we have seen that with a bit of legal empowerment, the people at the receiving end of environmental harm can be a powerful force for environmental stewardship. Their peace and prosperity depend on the health of the planet, and the planet in turn flourishes when these communities prosper in a peaceful society. Now Namati wants to dig deeper. We want to go beyond demonstrating legal empowerment methods. We want to use legal empowerment to change the course of nations. As Namati enters its second five-year phase, we plan to concentrate our focus on land and environmental justice in four core countries, using the community paralegal method to achieve large-scale transformative change. A partnership with OpenIDEO and GHR Foundation would play a pivotal role in enabling us to take on this challenge, particularly as some of our most significant core funding is coming to a close.

Who Benefits?

Namati works with clients in India, Myanmar, Sierra Leone, and Kenya who live outside the protection of the law, and whose well-being and security is tied closely to the environment. This includes indigenous communities, farmers, herders, and fisher people. We have secured thousands of resolutions to injustices, but our impact extends well beyond case results. Our method is focused on empowerment and public spiritedness. Paralegals help clients to understand, use, and shape the law. Clients come away with the knowledge, skills, and confidence to resolve future problems on their own and to help others facing similar injustices. Shakir was one such client. A fisherman in India, he worked with Namati on cases of environmental noncompliance and shared his learning with his peers. "We fishermen now know how to produce strong evidence of an illegal activity. . . Earlier we would seldom hear back from the erring party or the government, but now we are seldom ignored."

How is your idea unique?

Namati did not invent community paralegals, but we are the first and only international group dedicated to the approach. The Skoll Foundation recognized our innovation by honoring us with their prestigious award for social entrepreneurship. In Namati’s approach, paralegals collect data on every case. Together with our clients and allies, we use that information to advocate for systemic changes, like better policies for land governance in Liberia & environmental regulation in India. The field has historically missed this opportunity to translate grassroots experience into structural reform. We also use this data to generate cutting-edge methodological learning that we publish across several mediums. We convene the Global Legal Empowerment Network, which has 1K+ organizational members from 150 countries. We foster learning & collaboration across this community, helping to grow ecosystems of organizations applying legal empowerment methods to protect land and environmental rights.

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Full-scale roll-out: I have completed a pilot and analyzed the impact of that pilot on the users I am trying to reach with my idea. I am ready to expand the pilot significantly.

Tell us more about you

Namati is an international non-governmental organization, founded in 2011. Defending the rights of communities to govern natural resources in the context of the global land rush comprises the largest share of our work. We directly implement our program in Sierra Leone, and in India, Myanmar, and Kenya we collaborate with local partner organizations to proactively define and protect community lands, support equitable negotiations with investors, and ensure compliance with social and environmental regulation. These partners train, deploy and assist community paralegals, with guidance and support from Namati staff based in the country and in the United States. Together, we generate and publish methodological learning and identify opportunities to advocate for improvements to laws or policies. The following Namati program directors will lead the scaling up our land and environmental justice programs in each of the four core countries: - Manju Menon, Director, Environmental Justice Program, India - Jaron Vogelsang, Director, Community Land Protection Program, USA/Kenya - Tim Millar, Program Manager, Myanmar - Sonkita Conteh, Director, Sierra Leone - Rachael Knight, Special Advisor for Land, USA/Kenya/Sierra Leone Vivek Maru founded Namati in 2011 to grow the movement for legal empowerment around the world. Vivek received the Pioneer Award from the North American South Asian Bar Association in 2008. He was named an Ashoka Fellow in 2014 and a “legal rebel” by the American Bar Association in 2015. He, Namati, and the Global Legal Empowerment Network received the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship in 2016. In 2017, the Schwab Foundation named Vivek (and Sonkita) one of its Social Entrepreneurs of the Year. In his recently published essay in Foreign Policy, Vivek offers four principles for grappling with the challenge of financing access to justice -- critically important during this pivotal time in history. In Namati’s leadership, he heads a team of dynamic, accomplished leaders across the world who are dedicated to realizing Namati’s mission.

Expertise in sector

  • 5-7 years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Namati  !

There are 7 day's left to respond to the expert feedback. I am looking forward to seeing your response and to know more about the specifics of your proposed project in terms of the numbers of trainees; how would you measure results; and, what would be a measure of success for this project?

As we are approaching the final leg of the challenge, are there certain types of organisations or organisations working in specific geographies that you are keen to connect to for this project or in general?

I am tagging some OpenIDEO members that have a background in the legal or environmental sector to see if they have some feedback on this project -
@DeletedUser Nadia Eldeib Jean Maurice Nsanzimana Umuraza Mathilde Juliana Bryant Stephen Ohuneni 

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