Amplifying voices: SNV's GESI-Led approach to climate resilience and inclusion


Women, girls, and marginalised people all play a crucial part in the functioning of global communities. However, their voices are often not heard. We lose their invaluable insights, experiences, and understanding of their deepened vulnerability to climate change and environmental degradation.

At COP28, we’re promoting a GESI (Gender, Equality, and Social Inclusion) approach to climate adaptation and mitigation that champions locally-led principles. To facilitate and champion the right for voices to be heard, enabling women, girls, and marginalised individuals to lead us into the future. In turn, addressing systemic inequalities that deepen fragility and contribute to our collective climate crisis.

At SNV, GESI is a core theme in our 2030 strategy. We prioritise a GESI-led approach in all our projects across the agri-food, water, and energy sectors This comes from a belief that GESI gives us the pathways to identify vulnerabilities, innovations, and feasible climate adaptation approaches which empower people, communities, and systems to build their resilience, for the benefit of all.

We define resilience at SNV across four indicators:

  • Agency: Empowerment of the actors in a system and their ability to act.

  • Buffering: Reserves, stock, and free space that can be deployed in case of need.

  • Connectivity: Connections with other elements inside and outside of the system that can be mobilised.

  • Diversity: Having different options so one can adjust to shifting circumstances.

Resilience is very important in the context we work. We need only look at the contributions of women in agri-food to see an example. Women do at least 50% of rural farming, but it is not reflected in their incomes, assets, connections, or access to resources. This is before we confront the more difficult examples of vulnerability like gender-based violence and menstrual health.

When climate events occur, women, girls, and marginalised people are disproportionately impacted. In the short term, they’re impacted more severely, and in the long run, they are unable to bounce back as quickly.

Transforming systems to readdress the balance

The challenge of a GESI-led approach is that people within that category are not inherently more vulnerable. They are vulnerable because of systemic marginalisation, lack of participation, and low levels of resilience we’ve just explored.

Transforming these systems with our partners is our vision, working across more than 20 countries in Asia and Africa. And talking about the inequalities inherent in communities challenges them. It challenges existing power structures and asks us to examine the root causes of human development lags, such as poverty.

Because of this, a GESI-led approach requires a long-term strategy. Often internal transformations must happen before external.

In our actions as part of the 2030 strategy, we have set a standard across projects that they must be GESI-responsive at minimum. This means that men and women get the same out of the project. We cannot fall into the same systemic inequalities, that is our baseline. From there, we work with partners, households, and businesses on pathways to empowerment for transformation in the long term.

In the energy sector, for example, in the short term, our training and activities should benefit men and women equally. But we’re also pushing long-term towards a just energy transition – and the inclusion of women in the energy sector and energy workforce.

In water, that long-term goal is about shifting social norms around responsibilities of household roles – such as unpaid care work. While in agri-food we’re seeking to overturn the systemic under-recognition of the contribution of women, girls, and marginalised people in food production.

For example, extension workers who go out into communities and train farmers on how to grow crops, usually train the head of the household – which in most countries is a man. Even though, in Rwanda for example, women do 70% of the farming.

Locally-led principles in Zimbabwe

It’s important, in addressing these inequalities as development partners, we remember that this isn’t about saving a helpless sector of our population. While GESI communities are often more vulnerable and less resilient, they possess valuable contributions in climate adaptation and mitigation. Marginalised people women, and indigenous communities bring a wealth of experience and expertise, offering solutions to address the challenges facing their communities, nations, and our planet.

This is particularly true of indigenous populations. And it informs our continuing move towards locally-led principles and inclusivity. This means the inclusion of diverse voices – not just in participation but also leadership – along with locally-led adaptation which is centred around local perspectives and decision-making.

Locally-led principles promote a two-way process – where knowledge, expertise, and experience can be exchanged towards solutions that are equitable for all.

As COP28 approaches, one example of this in action within a GESI context is in Zimbabwe – where we are supporting the development of their National Determined Contributions (NDC) plan, through funding from the UN.

NDCs lay out a nation’s plan for contributing to climate change adaptation and mitigation – and we are supporting specifically gender and disability. Our focus is on lifting those voices up to be heard in this national project – collecting data and speaking to groups from those communities to inform that forward-looking plan.

The result will mean not only representation within Zimbabwe’s NDC about how climate change impacts them specifically – but how they can help to input to and implement the national strategy for contributions to the reduction of climate change.

The importance of listening at COP28

There will be much talk and discussion at this year’s COP28, as critical milestones loom and our climate crisis is brought to the fore.

Amidst the headlines, we must not lose sight of the importance of listening to and lifting up the right voices. Specifically, those women, girls, and marginalised people from communities and contexts most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

Interview with Ami Reza, SNV GESI Global Theme Lead

Photo: Copyright SNV Nepal

To learn more about our GESI work