This publication presents an intervention approach that is designed to help community organizations, civil society
groups, government offices and development agencies in their efforts to change the underlying causes of poverty
and ecological disruption. Building on a political economy perspective, this approach seeks to change the interactions
among social groups, private economic actors and the state as they compete and seek to accumulate wealth and build
political power. The explicit purpose of this approach is to increase the ability of poor communities to compete and
thrive in the emerging economic order and to increase their ability to manage natural resources in a sustainable manner,
be they in rural, peri-urban or urban contexts.
We believe that this approach can serve as an important complement to poverty reduction strategies adopted by
international development agencies and national governments. Reviews of those strategies have underscored that,
in relying on export-oriented growth strategies, those approaches tend to relegate environmental and sustainability
issues to the margins of development plans and investment programs. It is our belief that growth strategies must be
accompanied by explicit policies, programs and development processes that increase the ability of the poor, notably the
rural poor, to interact with and compete in markets, influence institutional arrangements and improve prevailing natural
resource management regimes in a multitude of ways.
This intervention approach was developed, tested and further refined through a range of activities carried out over
a four-year period at local, subnational and national levels in five countries—China, El Salvador, Indonesia, South Africa
and Zambia. The interventions led to outcomes that in some cases surpassed all expectations, whereas in others they
created expectations that could not be fulfilled, largely because of a lack of political influence and the control that
vested interests exert over institutions and political processes.
In the following pages we summarize the steps that our partners pursued as they sought to open opportunities for
improving living standards and changing natural resource management regimes in rural areas of their respective
countries. The first section, The Country Experiences, presents succinct summaries of the experiences in the five
countries as parties worked to change poverty-environment dynamics at local, subnational and national levels. These
summaries reference the socio-economic context in which partners operated, identify major objectives of their
interventions and offer a general assessment of successes and limitations. These experiences are the building blocks on
which we have developed a more generalized “intervention approach.” The second section, The Intervention Approach:
Basic Steps, dissects the four major steps carried out at local, subnational and national levels by our partners in each
country. These four steps highlight the diverse sets of activities partners pursued in promoting change in their
respective countries. The final section, Lessons, offers a series of lessons drawn from those experiences. They underscore
the importance of policies and institutions at the national level, the interface between growth and improving natural
resource management and the specific strategies needed to implement changes at the three levels.