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Centering Agency in International Development

International Development Week 2024: Joint Statement by World Renew, International Justice Mission Canada, and Citizens for Public Justice

How can the enhanced agency of the people we serve accelerate the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)? The world is currently in the thick of a poly-crisis of climate change, conflict, violence against women and girls, global food insecurity, debt, the crisis of mass displacement, and the suppression of bold voices that speak against injustice and inequality. As Canadian organizations come together for this year’s International Development Week, we acknowledge that at the mid-point review, most of the sustainable development goals are off-target. Of approximately 140 targets evaluated, half of them show moderate or severe deviations from the desired trajectory, with more than 30 percent of these targets experiencing no progress. Others have even regressed below the 2015 baseline (United Nations, 2023). Each target represents individuals and communities who continue to experience adverse or worsening health, political, economic, and social outcomes in their lives.

Involving the people most impacted by these crises is key to accelerating the achievement of the SDGs. International Justice Mission (IJM), World Renew, and Citizens for Public Justice (CPJ) believe that international development efforts must be localized and informed by - and when possible, led by - the intended beneficiaries. We believe that when development programs are built in partnership with and informed by the lived experience of communities, they will result in sustainable and dignified solutions that work for everyone.

Articulated in the first annual United Nations Human Development Report in 1990 is the concept of “human development” – that is, the enlarging of people’s choices. This notion that the expansion of choice-making capabilities is central to development marks a shift in international development discourse At its core, human development is about agency – an acknowledgment that everyone has the right and ability to choose. The human development approach aims to at the very least foster a “conducive environment for people, individually and collectively, to develop their full potential and to have a reasonable chance of leading productive and creative lives in accord with their needs and interests” (UN, 1990). However, there are circumstances in which structural barriers constrain available choices. Therefore, strengthening agency necessitates a deeply intersectional approach to international development work that centres lived experience.

Working in both the international and national spheres, IJM, World Renew, and CPJ aim to address structural barriers that limit the choices of individuals and communities worldwide. The three distinct organizations seek to centre agency through justice system strengthening, community-driven development, and national policy advocacy.

  • IJM seeks to end the everyday violence that violates human rights and prevents sustainable development. We believe accessible and responsive justice systems are needed to combat human trafficking, forced labour, sexual abuse, and gender-based violence. IJM’s program efforts rely on local staff and local partners working with hand in hand with victims and survivors to address injustice. Our efforts in the countries where we work focus on ensuring that every intervention must be trauma-informed and survivor-led. Our local programming efforts seek to empower survivors of violence to meet with local, national, and global leaders to speak into policies and decisions that will keep their communities safe. Our commitment to being survivor-led extends to the creation of the Global Survivor Network, supported by IJM. This is an international group of survivor leaders shaping and leading a movement to protect people from violence and help other survivors to heal from their experiences.

  • World Renew is an international humanitarian, development, and justice organization that joins with communities around the world to address the root causes of poverty and pursue sustainable development. Our goal is systemic, generational change in five key areas: peace and justice, community health, food security, economic opportunity, and humanitarian assistance. As part of our peace and justice efforts, World Renew is a Sponsorship Agreement Holder (SAH) with the Canadian government. As a SAH, World Renew partners with community groups across Canada to support refugees overseas to resettle in Canada. Since its inception in 1979, this program at World Renew has successfully sponsored and resettled more than 10,500 refugees.

  • Citizens for Public Justice is a national policy advocacy organization specializing in three policy areas: poverty eradication, climate justice, and refugee and migrant rights. CPJ’s advocacy campaigns are rooted in the lived experience of those who are disproportionately impacted by injustice and discrimination. One example is CPJ’s upcoming book, A Renewed Canadian Welcome, that centres the experiences of migrants and advocates in the development of policy recommendations and campaigns. The book – and our work at large – argues that civil society actors are well-placed to inform structural change and must be included in the policy-making process. No one knows what’s better for migrants than migrants themselves.

World Renew, CPJ, and IJM look forward to participating in this year’s International Development Week activities, sharing how their programs remove barriers to agency and contribute to holistic community development. The organizations believe that for Canadians and the Government of Canada to strengthen their engagement with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, they must continue to keep central the agency of the individuals and communities who are most impacted.

To learn more and get involved, visit:

IJM Canada

Instagram: @ijmcanada

World Renew

Instagram: @worldrenewcanada

Citizens for Public Justice

Instagram: @citizensforpublicjustice

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