Namati: Innovations in legal empowerment

Namati is an international organisation dedicated to developing a strategy of legal empowerment. Namati implements innovative legal empowerment programmes in partnership with governments and civil society organisations in several countries. They host the Global Legal Empowerment Network where practitioners can share resources and experiences.

Read about Namati

Namati launched their global legal empowerment organisation in 2012. Below they explain the importance of legal empowerment.

About legal empowerment

Legal empowerment draws from the human rights, legal aid, access to justice, and international development traditions to craft practical ways for communities and their citizens to hold public institutions and private firms accountable.

‘Too often, human rights and legal entitlements only exist as lofty concepts, with no real impact on the lives of ordinary people. Legal empowerment is about strengthening people’s capacity to exercise and defend those rights in practical ways. It works at the grassroots level to bring laws out of books and courtrooms and into communities.’

Legal empowerment is about levelling the playing field to ensure that people who have been excluded from the law are given a fair chance. It works from the bottom up to build the knowledge and capacity of communities to act on their own behalf.

Legal empowerment interventions

In partnership with civil society groups and governments, Namati implements innovative interventions along several themes, including legal aid, community land protection and environmental justice. Each intervention is researched and evaluated rigorously. Namati’s website allows visitors to explore pilot programmes and see how they test legal empowerment models, how they improve practices and demonstrate impact across a range of socio-political contexts.

Legal empowerment programmes often combine a small group of lawyers with a larger frontline of community paralegals working at grassroots level. Community paralegals are trained in law and the workings of government and use advocacy, mediation, organising, and education to assist citizens in finding concrete solutions to instances of injustice.

‘Like primary health workers, community paralegals are close to the communities in which they work and deploy a flexible set of tools. Just as primary health workers are connected to doctors and the formal medical system, paralegals are connected to lawyers and the possibility of litigation and high-level advocacy when frontline methods fail.’

Namati’s research and interventions focus on exploring the potential of legal empowerment in specific countries, including Sierra Leone, India, Liberia, Mozambique and Uganda. The aim is to learn from the experiments and inform practice worldwide.

For example, a study Protecting Community Lands and Resources: Evidence from Liberia, Mozambique and Uganda by Namati’s programme director Rachael Knight and partners documents the results of a two year, multi-country randomised controlled trial that tested models for protecting community land rights. The study concludes that community land protection should combine three processes: the technical task of mapping and titling community lands, the peace-building task of resolving border conflicts, and the political task of strengthening local systems for land governance.

Legal empowerment initiatives encompass reforms to state institutions, such as strengthening grievance mechanisms to deal with breaches in public service delivery and guaranteeing access to government information.

In a thought-provoking essay published in 2010, Vivek Maru, chief executive officer of Namati stressed the importance of combining social accountability interventions with legal empowerment strategies. Read his essay.

Global Legal Empowerment Network

To cultivate a more robust movement for legal empowerment, Namati hosts a growing global legal empowerment network of practitioners and supporters. Members share resources and experiences, including research findings, training materials, monitoring and evaluation tools, case management systems and advocacy strategies.

‘The network will combine extensive outreach, user-friendly technologies, and timely content to cultivate a vibrant, supportive community, which will in turn enrich and expand the legal empowerment field.’

Open Society Justice Initiative

The network grew out of two years of discussions among legal empowerment practitioners convened with the help of the Open Society Justice Initiative and the World Bank’s Justice for the Poor Programme. The network is guided by a committee of fourteen respected practitioners from 14 different countries.

Read more or join the Network.

About Namati

Namati is a Sanskrit word with two meanings: ‘to bend something into a curve’ and ‘to bow’. The first meaning evokes the transformation spirit of Dr Martin Luther King Jr’s words, ‘the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice’. The second meaning is about reverence. Namati are guided by both these principles.

Namati brought together existing groups involved in grassroots justice projects. The initiative grew out of work carried out in Sierra Leone by ‘Timap for Justice’, co-founded by Vivek Maru. You can read more about Vivek’s work.

Endorsing the work of Namati, the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) has said:

‘The evidence that governance matters for economic development is overwhelming. But technocratic interventions and capacity building for bureaucrats are not enough. Good governance also requires the empowerment of impacted communities, so they can hold officials accountable by representing their own interests at the ballot box, in the streets, and in the courts. Justice for the poor requires that the poor have a voice. By building capacity from the bottom-up, legal empowerment initiatives are working to build that capacity and voice.’

Namati draws on learning from both our own experience and from that of the wider network to advocate for reforms to policies and institutions and greater, smarter investment in legal empowerment.

Namati receives financial support its partners: OSF – Open Society Foundations, UKAID – the UK’s Department for International Development, AustralianAid and UNDP – the United Nations Development Programme.

Read more about Namati

Published: 19 October 2016

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