GROOTS Kenya Local-to-Local (L2L) Dialogues

February 25, 2021 Jaskiran Gakhal, Participedia Team
June 15, 2018 Lucy J Parry, Participedia Team
February 21, 2018 Adebisi Alade
November 24, 2016 Adebisi Alade

A locally designed strategy in Kenya which involves grassroots women’s groups initiating and actively engaging in dialogue with their local administrative authorities in order to influence a range of policies and programmes of development in ways that address women’s priorities.

Problems and Purpose

The Local to Local (L2L) Dialogues are transformative actions that GROOTS Kenya employs in working through its “Women's Leadership and Governance” program. It is a locally designed strategy which involves grassroots women’s groups initiating dialogue with local authorities in order to influence them such that women's priorities are considered in their formulation of policies and programs. It is a pragmatic way of changing the position of grassroots women from being recipients of government programs to active partners and citizens. The methodology is a long process that begins with a collection of communities having closely related problems. The identification of such problems as well as solutions reinforces the need for community-to-community dialogues in order to map out strategies to seek redress. Having realised the significance of building consensus across community groups on what issues they would like to prioritise, GROOTS Kenya employed this methodology to engender “participatory development” vis-a-vis “participatory local governance." [i]

This methodology seeks to promote bottom-up approaches to governance as well as allocation of public resources in response to community needs. Even as GROOTS Kenya brings grassroots women together to negotiate a range of developmental programs in ways and manners that promote participatory local governance and address women’s priorities, L2L Dialogues combine women's marginalisation with social change and thus, supports grassroots women in taking active and meaningful impact in the planning and decision making processes on issues that affect their lives and families.

Prior to the violence-ridden 2007 general elections in Kenya, statistics indicated that the country had the smallest number of women in elective positions within the East Africa region.[ii] Women constituted 10 per cent (16 elected and 6 nominated women legislators) of 222 parliamentarians. Although all citizens have an equal right to participate in decisions that affect their lives, inequality and marginalisation resulting from patriarchy, illiteracy, and the socio-political environment of Kenya posed a barrier to women’s active and meaningful participation in Kenya’s democratic processes. Not only were they excluded from elective positions, they were equally sidelined in local decision-making processes. Although women account for 52 per cent of Kenya’s total population,[iii] it is estimated that about 80 per cent of them live in rural areas, working and contributing massively to the development of the nation’s agricultural sector while men and very few women dominate leadership and decision-making positions. GROOTS Kenya, a grassroots women’s movement, systematically connects women's advocacy groups and communities in rural areas and urban slums in order to create a self-help network to bridge this gap through initiatives that are not only community-cantered, but women-led.[iv]This would not only tackle their inadequate visibility in development and decision-making forums that impact lives, but also enable a shift in perceptions of women from beneficiaries to citizen problem-solvers, change women’s relationships from being seeing as adversaries to allies in development and most importantly, reconfigure power relations between marginalized people and local authorities.[v]

Origins and Development

A major distinguishing feature of any genuine democratic state is the active participation of all its adult citizens in state affairs. In new and emerging democracies, however, a large section of the citizens are excluded from public affairs and decision making. In times past, such exclusion often followed ethnic, religious, and gender lines. Despite considerable efforts and achievements of international organisations, national governments, and civil society organisations in nation-building which have reduced ethno-religious exclusion in political participation, gender bias still characterises many democracies, especially in Africa. Therefore, Grassroots Organisations Operating Together in Sisterhood (GROOTS Kenya), a movement of grassroots women-led Community-Based Groups adopted the Local-to-Local Dialogues method to empower and give a voice to those not often heard.

The Local-to-Local (L2L) Dialogues methodology was first experimented with in South Asia between 1999 and 2000, primarily as a model for grassroots political participation. Although as a concept, it materialised from the discussions of Society for the Promotion of Area Resource Centres (SPARC) and Swayam Shikshan Prayog (SSP) who are experts in community organizing and women’s advocacy. However, Asia Women and Shelter Networks (AWAS) was the first to apply the concept as a political participatory strategy within the South Asia region.[vi] The United Nations Human Settlement Program (UN-HABITAT) supported the Huairou Commission (a global coalition that promotes the capacity of grassroots women leaders in development and policy-making) to conduct a pilot project with this model on six countries — Argentina, Czech Republic, Kenya, Russia, Tanzania and Uganda — in 2002.

The pilot studies exemplified the effectiveness of the methodology in opening up new democratic space for cooperative effort and building relationships among grassroots women and local leaders.[vii] By the time GROOTS Kenya picked this strategy in April 2007 for its “Women’s Leadership and Governance” Program, L2L Dialogues was already being used in over twenty countries across Latin America, Europe, West Africa and sparingly in India.

Participant Recruitment and Selection

The GROOTS Kenya team works under the facilitative support of a research expert. In selecting the team, the Huairou Commission’s recommended approach is to task Regional Co-ordinators of GROOTS Kenya to assist in the identification and selection of a team of community members to carry out the exercise. This enhances the ownership and legitimacy of the process. Physical conditions of communities are often taken into consideration by the regional co-ordinators. In other words, rural communities and urban slums which obviously suffer from marginalisation are usually selected for the Dialogues. The fact that their living conditions are poor and densely settled, often within 1200 persons per hectare, makes these rural communities and urban slums a target for the Dialogues.[viii] As female-headed households continue to increase in Kenya (with a rise above 33 per cent in rural areas), the GROOTS Kenya considers such women and their communities as those in real need of the Dialogues. This consideration is also based on the fact that these women live below the poverty line with incomes less than a dollar a day due to rural-urban migration of able-bodied men to towns. The L2L Dialogues is therefore selected in order to develop integrated bottom-up approaches for their circumstances in order to secure a structural change.

Experience shows that when only a few people turn up to town hall meetings or a Peoples’ Parley that have been arranged for them, advocacy groups who organise such meetings often draw the conclusion that citizens are not interested in politics. Based on this, they often do not try different methods that suit different groups in the community. Given the obvious weakness of traditional meetings in promoting active and meaningful participation in political processes, GROOTS Kenya move the dialogues to the communities rather than invite members of communities to meetings.

How it Works: Process, Interaction, and Decision-Making

After communities were identified and selected as the location for the dialogues, a date would then be communicated to women’s groups from the selected communities. These meetings are known as preparatory dialogues.[ix] GROOTS Kenya organises over seven preparatory meetings with women’s groups from the selected communities to facilitate a discussion necessary for the identification of their priorities before meeting with any government officials.

Attendance at the meetings is usually encouraging because dialogues are held within communities that are in close range; and women’s groups are expected to have organised around their priorities before the day of the dialogue. Reports of these meetings indicate that members of the GROOTS Kenya coordinated them. Representatives of women's groups from the selected communities are given the opportunity to outline their priorities. There and then, a consensus is reached on what should be prioritised and what should not.

During the meetings, the executive members of GROOTS Kenya sometimes turn the dialogue into a site of learning. Adopting a learning-by-doing approach helps to build capacities and skills of the women's groups. This ensures that knowledge and skills are passed to the women's groups throughout the preparatory meetings. For instance, women became aware that they can seek guidance from the Ministry of Local Government on issues relating to HIV/AIDS and that they need to form into settlement groups to be able to address their land issues.[x]

Even after a consensus has been reached on priorities, subsequent meetings are held to review their works. At this stage, the most valuable resources that women's groups bring to the dialogues is accurate and up to date information on their communities. This information is usually more reliable than the numbers and data that officials collect. Moreover, sharing experiences by the different community groups unveiled new innovative ideas. For example, information on the pay toilets project by the “Tuelewane Self-Help Group” which addresses sanitation problems serves as a model for other women’s group and local government authorities.[xi]

After the preparatory meetings have been concluded and consensus reached among the women's groups on their priorities, meetings with policy makers and local authorities are employed to kick-off the dialogue process. Dialogues with government officials begin with an invitation letter being sent to them by the GROOTS Kenya. An agreement is then reached on a date for a meeting with government officials. At the meetings, selected group leaders articulate their priorities and government officials are allowed to respond. This first dialogue generally ends with participants looking forward to the next consensus meeting. Also, women’s groups would be broken into six groups to discuss the issues that had emerged from both the meeting with government officials and the earlier Local-to-Local Dialogues. Each group would be asked to analyse the government responses and re-strategize.

Though this series of Local-to-Local Dialogues serves as an ideal model for community based organizations to work with local authorities, women's groups in some cases successfully negotiate access to resources for their communities on time. In exceptional cases, the negotiations go on until a result is achieved. In both situations, however, the aim of the method is achieved — that is, making women understand and practice strategic engagement with local administrators, building their information base, and helping them build strategic alliances for participatory development.

Influence, Outcomes, and Effects

This methodology has not only improved the living condition of participating communities in four villages in the Mathare Valley of Nairobi, but has equally given voice to marginalised women. Since 2012, the method has accelerated over 110 grassroots women to local decision-making and leadership positions, mostly as treasurers of district level committees.[xii] With these women in decision-making positions, different women's economic empowerment programs have been initiated in the 3 sub-counties of Lari (Kiambu), Kigumo (Muranga), and Kiharu (Muranga). One example is a community-led watchdog program that combats dispossession of property among widows and orphans.[xiii] In Nakuru and Kitui Counties, 3500 women were organized into 131 functional farmers groups with a focus on dairy, horticulture, and indigenous chicken trade.

Analysis and Lessons Learned

The United Nations Program Officer for Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women — Gender & Governance, Democracy and Human Rights asserts that GROOTS Kenya’s method has a great transformative leadership process; the learning-by-doing approach to capacity building actively engages women at grassroots level in participatory governance.[xiv]The close monitoring, assessment and support received from different development partners across the world such as UN-HABITAT, USAID, Huairou Commission, and Japan Social Development Fund, has largely influenced the GROOTS Kenya's activities. This support makes the Local-to-Local Dialogues method functional in engendering participatory development vis-a-vis participatory local governance.

While some difficulties are encountered in getting rid of patriarchal culture that marginalises and disempowered women in Kenya, the GROOTS Kenya recognises that reaching out and working with men on women’s empowerment has great potential for this method. In other to prevent mistrust and even gender-based violence, the involvement of men is needed to help neutralize negative perceptions and make it possible to agree on ways to address the development needs of men and women.

See Also

Peoples’ Parley


[i] Silliman, S., The Local-to-Local Dialogue Resource Manual A Guide for Grassroots Women-Led Engagement with Local Government and Decision Makers. (Brooklyn: The Huairou Commission, 2011), pp. 5 and 92.

[ii] Ogada, P. “Women’s Participation in the 2007 General Elections in Kenya”. Pambazuka News: Posted on 19th December, 2007 and accessed on 16th December, 2016.

[iii] World Bank, “2003 Kenyan Strategic Country Gender Assessment”., accessed on November, 16th, 2016. [DEAD LINK]

[iv] Groots International, “GROOTS KENYA: Let Us Be Masters of Our Own Destiny”.

[v] UN-HABITAT, Local to Local Dialogue: A Grassroots Women’s Perspective on Good Governance. (Nairobi: UN-HABITA and Huairou Commission, 2004) pp. 19–20.

[vi] Silliman, S., The Local-to-Local Dialogue Resource Manual. p. 2.

[vii] Silliman, S., The Local-to-Local Dialogue Resource Manual. p. 4

[viii] UN-HABITAT, Local to Local Dialogue: A Grassroots Women's Perspective on Good Governance. p. 39.

[ix] UN-HABITAT, Local to Local Dialogue: A Grassroots Women’s Perspective on Good Governance. p. 18.

[x] UN-HABITAT, Local to Local Dialogue: A Grassroots Women’s Perspective on Good Governance. p. 28.

[xi] GROOTS Kenya, Taking Acton: Participatory Grassroots Communities Public Land Mapping Process, A Community Reference Guide Book. (Nairobi: GROOTS Kenya, 2013), pp. 13.

[xii] Muiru, E. M., Amati, J. and Mbotela, A. W. “The Champions for Transformative Leadership Initiative: Kenyan Grassroots Women as Agents for Change”. International Journal of Human Development and Cooperation: 2(1), 2012.

[xiii] Okech, A. GROOTS Kenya: Changing Their World. (Toronto: The Association for Women’s Rights in Development, 2008), pp. 3-4.

[xiv] Mwaura Muiru, E., Amati, J., Wamaitha Mbotela, A. The ‘Champions for Transformative Leadership’ Initiative: Kenyan Grassroots Women as Agents of Change. Universitas Forum, North America, 3, Feb. 2012. Available at: <>.

External Links

Huairou Commission Website

Groots International