Inspiring Radically Better Futures

Ruth Mayne Active citizenship, Influencing, Participation and Leadership

The Inspiring Better Futures case study series is a collective endeavour with contributions from many people around the world.

Hope has been quite the buzzword in 2020. And hope is surely needed given that 2020 has seen the collision of multiple crises: the climate emergency, economic inequality, gender injustice, racial inequality and the coronavirus pandemic.

This collision of crises has made even more visible the gross inequalities that urgently need radical change. The urgency and scale of change has led to much-heard calls to ‘build back better’ and for ‘a just and green recovery’. But what evidence base exists for hope that these injustices can be tackled, particularly in tough contexts?

Oxfam’s Inspiring Better Futures series looks beyond the rallying calls for action and investigates if it is possible to create a more inclusive, kinder and sustainable world and how this can be achieved.

Hope with evidence

The series of case studies is not about wishful thinking. It’s about hope based on evidence that a better world is highly achievable, as well as a moral belief that it is possible and worth fighting for.

Together, the 18 case studies in the series show that people are already successfully creating better futures, benefitting millions of their fellow citizens and protecting environmental health. This is happening against the odds in some of the world’s toughest and most fragile contexts. 

The series offers examples of practical transformations that can be implemented to genuinely ‘build back better’. By helping reduce poverty, inequalities and environmental harm, the cases offer important pathways to build resilience and reduce the impacts of future pandemics or shock.  

 A glimpse at radical impact at scale

Climate and environmental and resource degradation

  • The spread of agroecology in West Africa, one of the most environmentally fragile zones on the planet, is estimated to have improved food security for an estimated three million people, increased farmers’ incomes and helped reverse desertification (‘Regreening the Sahel’).
  • In Cuba, over 200,000 families have joined the Campesino a Campesino (CAC, or Farmer to Farmer) movement, with many more adopting agroecological practices, and have benefited from increased productivity and higher incomes, more secure access to nutritious food and resilience to impacts of the climate crisis, among other improvements.
  • The Brazilian government’s Bolsa Verde social protection scheme reached 74,522 people living in extreme poverty in remote areas of the Amazon while simultaneously reducing deforestation in those areas by over 40%.
  • The Beyond the Grid Fund for Zambia (BGFZ) provided 875,810 people, a quarter of them in female-headed households, with access to clean energy and associated health and economic benefits.

Gender injustice

  • An estimated 5.5 million people from 8,830 communities in eight countries in Africa have declared that they have abandoned the practices of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) and early marriage. They include 5,315 communities in rural Senegal, where the prevalence of FGM/C has fallen by more than half in participating villages.
  • In Pakistan, the Raising Her Voice initiative to strengthen women’s leadership and political participation has benefited over 187,000 women in Pakistan and globally reached an estimated 700,000 women in 17 countries.
  • In India, the Mahila Housing SEWA Trust (MHT) has improved security of tenure and access to water and sanitation for around 1.8 million women in 1,081 informal urban settlements across 36 cities.

Economic inequality

  • Uganda is a low-income, heavily indebted country and one of the poorest in the world, yet the government, with pressure and support from civil society, has increased taxes on high net worth individuals (HWNIs), thereby reducing the tax burden on people living in poverty. As a result, it increased nominal expenditure on agriculture, public services and social protection by more than one-third between 2015/6 and 2018/19.
  • The World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO) works with and benefits around 965,700 economically marginalized producers, over 95% of whom live in low-income countries and 74% of whom are women. The wider Fair Trade movement represents over 2.5 million producers and workers in over 70 countries.
  • The struggle of the Miskito Indigenous people in Honduras, one of the most violent countries in the world, finally resulted in the restoration of their land rights and self-governance, enabling 90,000 Miskitos to secure land titles.

Radically better futures today

Each individual case study offers rich detail. Together they offer insights about how to achieve transformative and inclusive impact at scale, including:

  1. Focusing on structural change, rather than only relieving symptoms or undertaking incremental reforms, offers a powerful way to achieve transformative impact and prevent or reduce future problems emerging.
  2. Addressing interconnected crises at the same time. Many of these initiatives simultaneously tackled poverty, addressed economic and gender injustice and/or protected the environment.
  3. A mix of pathways. The cases used a mix of vertical, horizontal and functional pathways to get to scale.
  4. Explicit attention to inclusivity. Involving and supporting marginalised and affected groups in creating solutions helps ensure inclusivity. Community leadership provides local knowledge on what matters and what will work into change at scale.

Accelerating the pace and scale of change

Growing pressure from these intensifying crises could catalyse radical changes to the system.

But there is also a real and significant risk that entrenched vested interests and government capture will slow or skew urgently needed solutions in favour of the wealthy and powerful. 

The future direction and speed of change will depend critically on investing in and accelerating the creation and scaling, of the kind of fair, inclusive and sustainable solutions offered by these case studies. As the case studies show, this will require mutually reinforcing efforts by, and strategic collaborations between, civil society and progressive elements within governments and businesses.

Oxfam acknowledges and thanks the inspired, courageous and determined people involved in the Inspiring Better Futures case studies who have demonstrated that radically better futures are possible and within our reach.

It also acknowledges and thanks the many people around the world who have generously given their time and contributed to the series whether by helping with research design and methods, nominating and identifying cases, shortlisting, research, reviewing drafts, commenting, editing, formatting or design.


Ruth Mayne

Ruth Mayne is Oxfam GB lead researcher on Influencing and Climate Justice


Irene Guijt