IIRR’s work is centered on the principles espoused by its founder, Dr. James Yen, who believed that “Communities have potential powers to solve their interlocking problems” and that “Outsiders can help, but insiders must do the job.”
Indeed, rural communities have accumulated local knowledge for generations – knowledge that can be built upon and optimized. IIRR’s role is to provide opportunities and create safe environments that allow communities to be actively engaged problem-solvers. IIRR often builds capacities by creating outlets for “learning by doing”, helping beneficiaries to reflect on their experiences and to choose the best course of action. This best way forward is often a mix of “technical know-how” from the resources of outsiders and the “practical do-how” of local communities. Taken together, these processes lead to a state of empowerment where local communities take the driver’s seat and decide on necessary actions.
Empowering communities does not happen overnight. It takes time and effort to understand the cultural specifics and histories of the brilliant historical and artistic regions where IIRR works. IIRR strives to create platforms where people can both honor these legacies and work together for a common vision. This strategy of “leading from behind” allows communities to develop ownership of their own development. Over the years, IIRR has tested community-managed approaches in rural development, health and nutrition, food security, livelihoods, and disaster risk reduction within its learning communities. These approaches uphold people-centered principles that can help deliver outcomes at the local level, where they are most needed.