SDI Reflects on CBA17

by James Tayler

The 17th International Conference on Community-Based Adaptation to Climate Change took place from 22-25 May in Bangkok, Thailand. SDI’s delegation made impactful connections while gaining invaluable insight.

Following this year’s event, our SDI delegation reflects on CBA17 after four days of discussion, debate, peer-to-peer skill sharing and knowledge exchange.


CBA was held in person for the first time since 2019, with an SDI delegation of eight representatives attending events, contributing to discussions and hosting our own sessions. The event created a dynamic space for interaction with diverse sessions aimed at learning, connecting, networking and collaboration with the objective to reimagine solutions that enable transformative outcomes through the agency of communities that drive local climate action.


Our delegation included Tamara Merrill (Programmes Manager at the SDI Secretariat), Melanie Chirwa (Community Programmes Coordinator at People’s Process on Housing and Poverty in Zambia), Jane Wairutu (Program Manager at Shack Dwellers International – Kenya), Kelvin Stanley Mburu (Program Support Officer for Youth Engagement at Shack Dwellers International – Kenya), Kamila Gojobe (Community Organiser at Shack Dwellers International – Kenya), Nicera Wanjiru (Founder of Community Mappers), Theresa Caramptana (President of the Homeless People’s Federation Philippines Incorporated and member of SDI’s Board), and Ruby Papeleras (National Community Leader at Homeless People’s Federation Philippines Incorporated).



This year’s agenda focused on key themes such as climate finance, nature-based solutions, youth-led LLA (Locally-led Adaptation), innovation and a novel theme ‘decolonising climate action’ – which explores how unjust legacies, racism, systemic exclusion and power imbalances undermine progressive climate action.


Our delegation shared some of their reflections from the sessions they led at the conference.  In collaboration with IIED and SDI Kenya, an important dialogue was facilitated for the session titled: Every Voice Counts: Decolonising Climate Action Through Equitable Partnerships.   SDI Youth along with Plan Denmark and Green Africa Youth Organisation (GAYO) facilitated a session that highlighted youth’s role in climate action through their session titled How Are Urban Poor Youth Driving Locally-Led Adaptation in Africa?


“We had a lot of donors in the session and INGOs surprisingly,” shares Jane Wairutu.


“It was attended very well, and their participation was also good. And they were very open-minded. The community people are just the SDI team and one person from the government.


In that whole conference, not the session, but the conference, we didn’t have community representation.


As SDI, we are community-led and firmly believe that global spaces often leave local communities out of spaces and discussions that focus heavily on community issues. At CBA17 specifically, community voices we minimally represented.”

Highlighting SDI’s community ideals, Kamila Gojobe shares that communities have solutions. 


“They know their problems. Donors and NGOs, really need to listen to them, understand their solutions, understand their problem, and then support them.”


Melanie Chirwa notes that many of the sessions were incredibly technical which results in any of the discussions being inherently exclusionary.


“Some sessions were quite high-level, very technical and not so easy to follow. As the conference progressed it became more interactive,” shares Melanie.


“We hope that future community-focused events aim to lower the barriers to access for community members driving solutions at the local level. It’s important to have local and urban youth at this global conversation,” reflects Kamila.


“Communities and youth are doing so much to create awareness, and if they’re not a part of the global conversation, then they won’t be heard. 


We need to have these local communities, practitioners, and all these people learning from each other. We need to understand each other and come up with solutions for climate change together.”

According to Jane, the idea of capacity strengthening is misunderstood, and she highlights that there is an existing fallacy around it that donors often overlook.


“Donors are being challenged and need to take the time to learn from the existing knowledge on the ground especially when talking about climate action, locally-led action,” shares Jane.


“We find communities have been doing innovative practices and no one recognises that they exist. 


There’s a tendency to come up with new innovations that might not really work instead of looking at what is already in place or happening locally.


Communities are left behind because they [donors] feel like the community is not up to par or up to the level of knowledge to design a solution to their problems.”


She reiterates that it is key for governments, INGOs and donors to come to the table and have discussions about what solutions already exist to local problems.

Reflecting on some of the individual sessions, Kamila praises the Every Voice Counts: Decolonising Climate Action Through Equitable Partnerships session.


“We were able to demonstrate the power dynamics in the room because this is a community-based adaptation and the majority of people who are there are not community—it’s the donors, the INGOs, the NGOs,” says Kamila. 


“As we trickle down the community people were only three in the room and mostly it was us from SDI.”


Kamila shares her recommendations for future events and engagements with communities, which include giving communities the platform to voice their local issues and solutions.


“The community people have solutions,” she says.


“Let’s have more representation because, at the whole CBA, we didn’t have that much representation of the youth and the communities we’re representing.”


Platforms, such as global conferences, are often not developed to accommodate existing power dynamics and structural inequalities.  However, the SDI network was able to use our influence and facilitate conversations that highlighted the disparity by pointing out that very few community voices were included and issuing a call to action to urge actors to insist in the that future conferences are better representative of youth and the communities most impacted by climate change. 


We hope that future community-based events and global events turn their eye to the ground and raise local voices to global heights so these high-level spaces have access to and are represented by local actors with local solutions.reads like it but there aren’t quotation marks.