We have sought out positive examples of participation

 Laurent Ganau, a permanent ATD Fourth World volunteer, led the project "Unheard Voices" and has produced a number of short films for it.

Why this website?

During an international conference in 2009, a senior World Bank official expressed his astonishment at how the very poor were capable of speaking on their own behalf and on the behalf of others: "Senior officials like me are unaware of this. Everyone must be told. It will have an impact on our way of doing things"

What was your approach to this project?

It's impossible to show everything in just one film. So we thought about producing a DVD covering different stories. But we would have had to wait two or three years before everything was ready. For that reason, we decided to create this website, which allows us to progressively add new films and also enables greater interaction with the public.

Isn't citizen participation recognised in all countries?

It is often recognised by law, but there is a long way to go before it can be said to be effective. It is rare for the opinions of the poorest members of society to be taken into account in public debates and at political level. In most countries, people living in poverty are regarded as useless, costly, and even dangerous. So we set out in search out positive examples of their participation in associations, in local democracy, in the economy and in political decisions, to name but a few. We tried to get the bottom of how, from the perspective of the poor as well as the institutions and decision-makers, a relationship of trust and partnership was built up, leading to real transformations.

How does such a relationship come to be built?

It always starts with an encounter between individuals. It calls for time, a willing ear, trust and commitment. It also requires the identification of other ways and means of organising the work of institutions, NGOs, public services, etc. This also means a change in attitude, so that everyone involved is ready to really change (him/herself, not just "others").

Sometimes, a particular event will act as a "catalyst" for participation.

Yes, a pressing need which leads to a "spark of commitment", as illustrated in the short film "Dakar, commitment in the suburb". In one neighbourhood, rising water levels (since 2005) have triggered charitable and collective activities among youngsters, which have garnered support from the city council. They had no choice but to rely on each other for support. Because if some of them had continued to build dams to hold back the water in certain areas whilst others continued to excavate canals to have the water flow into other streets, they would never have been able to control the floods.

Interview: Jean-Christophe Sarrot