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Project Management, Survivor Voices, and the Justice Based Approach


We hear a lot about victims’ and survivors’ participation in humanitarian, development, or social justice projects. Who is a victim or survivor? Why is it important to let survivors lead the project or intervention design? How can we apply the Justice Based Approach to ensure survivor voices are leading in designing and assessing the success of any project? 

When an individual, family, or group is deprived of access to a better life, it always reflects some underpinning discrimination in the social fabric, creating victims of injustice. We live in a time of many urgent challenges. People are affected by crimes, pandemics, disasters, accidents, unemployment, economic downturns, gender violence, ethnic conflicts, terrorism, or similar events with catastrophic effects on the individual, family, or community experiencing it. And this is to say nothing of the broken systems causing these injustices – patriarchy, capitalism, climate breakdown, and on and on! 

Those who are affected directly and deeply are generally referred to as victims or survivors. The impact of injustices reflects on all areas of life; victims respond differently; and States and agencies respond to the issue based on their priorities and funding, respectively. Amidst all this chaos, the victim or survivor anticipates support to rebuild their life. In the current international aid architecture, this task is a shared responsibility of the community, the State, and grassroots organizations (GOs). 

How can we understand the needs of the population affected? Aside from participation in decision-making being a fundamental human right, we can see the impact of involving survivors in the life of the projects that support them. The social sector is a unique place where the government is a service provider, a system that must cater to the needs of the whole population. It is also a place where human beings should be at the center, yet are mostly ignored when decisions are taken on their behalf. 

We constantly hear about the aim for participation of victims or survivors in decision-making, designing, and implementation of projects. A desirable goal, but a road less walked by systems and organizations! Though the significance of survivor voices and participation has always been recognized, the challenge for governments is in the effort required to understand the victims’ experience and for GOs in the effort to involve them in decision-making that meaningfully represents those most affected. Yet, it has now become trendy to show interest in the value of survivor voices, or to educate donors in community-led projects, or even to ensure survivors are leading solutions themselves. 

Still, sometimes I wonder about the perspective among a not-a-few professionals that survivors are not capable of decision-making. Except for instances where decision-making capacity of an individual may be temporarily affected, people can make highly effective decisions with support and guidance. Many GOs working closely with communities use participatory decision-making processes; however, not all thematic areas have developed this capacity. 

Some social issues need a different approach due to the nature of the issue. There are some issues that affect so many people that meeting the needs of everyone can be difficult – but not impossible. Project can be designed to meet everyone’s needs if time and resources are effectively managed and learning is embedded into the project. Where States may fall short in providing the support, GOs take on the supporting role. Being at the grassroots level, closer to communities, gives the organizations the advantage of knowing the survivors’ needs. They are often even made up of the very people affected by the injustice they are trying to solve. Sometimes there is a barrier with the lack of capacity to systematically collect, analyze, and use data for decision-making. However, the building blocks are there, and this capacity can be developed at the grassroots level much easier than the State!

It is not enough to say that every project should start with a thorough need assessment at the beginning of the project and have an evaluation at the end of the project. It is not enough to prioritize baseline and endline assessments. If we take any lesson from applying the Justice Based Approach in project management, it is that we will only succeed in overcoming the massive injustices we are facing when survivors are leading the decisions from start to finish. 


[1]  There are various areas where injustice is perpetrated, for the current article, victims are used in a generic sense of those who are directly and deeply affected by the injustice that they themselves have experienced.

[2] GOs here refers to Non Governmental Organizations, Community Based Organizations, not-for-profit organizations, or organizations similar in nature.

[3]  For example, people living with severe mental illness may experience episodes where they are unable to decide what is in their best interest. In such instances, until the person regains the ability to discern, support is required.


Shalila Raj is an Associate of United Edge. She is an experienced and passionate social worker, researcher, and social change professional from India and an active advocate for the Justice Based Approach.

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