Year founded: 1992
Geographic reach: Global; headquarters in Seattle (USA)
Annual budget: $11.8 million (2016 expenses)
Number of employees: 160 (2016)
Landesa is a global organization working to secure legal land rights for the world’s poorest women and men. Secure ownership of land in the developing world is a critical contributor to sustainable livelihoods, providing access to shelter, income, education and healthcare, as well as improved economic and nutritional security. The organization works closely with governments and civil society to design, promote and implement land rights reform initiatives that provide secure legal land rights to poor women, men and communities. With offices in the United States, India, China, Myanmar and Tanzania, Landesa has worked in over 50 countries and with governments on reforms that have provided secure legal land rights to more than 120 million families.
Landesa’s work is rooted in the pioneering land reform efforts of Roy Prosterman, a professor at the University of Washington Law School (USA), which began in Vietnam in the 1960s. He was later joined by Co-Founder Tim Hanstad, one of his former students and an advocate for land rights. Prosterman’s early interest in land rights led to the US government’s adoption of the Land to the Tiller programme in South Vietnam, which gave land rights to 1 million tenant farmers, increased rice production by 30% and decreased recruitment into the Viet Cong by 80%. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the organization worked closely with economies in transition, primarily China and former Soviet republics, to implement pro-poor land reform programmes that would give the rural landless access and title to land.
In 1992, Landesa left the umbrella of the university and began to work more strategically, identifying countries where land reform could act as a catalyst for moving people out of poverty. In the 2000s, the organization began country-level engagements in India and several countries of Sub-Saharan Africa. Currently, its country-level programmes are focused primarily on India, China, Myanmar, Tanzania and Ghana. Landesa also has a Center for Women’s Land Rights, and newer initiatives on both global advocacy and corporate engagement.
How Landesa works
The organization uses a four-phased programmatic approach to land rights reform in its country-level engagements (Figure 2):
- Research: Landesa deploys its research team to conduct extensive interviews with rural farmers and village leadership, identifying current conditions, laws and regulations, policies and cultural conditions.
- Design: Landesa assists in designing land reform policy and programmes, and proposes changes to existing laws and policies related to land ownership and rural development.
- Advocate: Landesa conducts local advocacy work, constantly seeking ways to promote land ownership for the poor through educating public officials about the positive effects of securing land rights for economic development and social stability.
- Implement: Landesa promotes, plans and assists in the implementation of land reform measures, while also employing a monitoring and evaluation phase, noting Key learning from the process to recommend improvements for future programmes.
Figure 2: Landesa’s Four-Step Engagement
In 2009, Landesa realized that despite its persistent and successful efforts to grow its organizational reach through its country-level operational model, it would never be able to grow fast enough to meet the needs of the more than 1 billion poor, rural people lacking secure land rights. At the same time, the organization believed that the development sector was reaching a tipping point in its interest in land rights as a tool to unlock significant value for the global poor. To facilitate this tipping point, it decided to invest in a global advocacy strategy that would add land rights to the global development agenda.
Landesa was challenged, as it had never seen itself as a global advocacy organization. Its country programmes were strong in advocacy, since land reform efforts nearly always require local and national-level policy reform. However, the organization did not have a similar international profile or relationships at the global level. To build its global advocacy strategy and guide the process, Landesa developed an internal working group that considered several strategies for global advocacy, including exposure in influential media publications, convening other land rights organizations, equipping other organizations to insert land rights into their own programmes, and influencing the post-2015 development agenda at the United Nations (now the Sustainable Development Goals [SDGs]).
With limited resources to commit to global advocacy, Landesa put its efforts primarily into influencing the SDGs. Importantly, the organization decided to position the issue of land rights within a broader set of higher-profile development issues, including agriculture, food security, the environment and women’s rights. A contributor to sustainable, economic development, women’s rights became the strongest angle for its advocacy efforts. To clarify this positioning, Landesa co-wrote a White Paper that argued persuasively for securing women’s land and property rights as a means to achieving progress in inclusive economic and social development, environmental sustainability, and peace and security. The organization invited several other land rights organizations to peer review the paper and thereby create a broader coalition behind the issue. The paper opened doors, and Landesa was invited to present at one of the High Level Panel sessions hosted by UK Prime Minister David Cameron (2010-2016), who co-chaired the process. Based on this presentation, Landesa was able to collaboratively assist in creating land rights language that was officially adopted in the SDGs.
Due partly to Landesa’s efforts in leading a broader coalition of allies, the SDGs were adopted with land rights-related targets in three of the 17 SDGs. This achievement provides a significant platform for Landesa and the sector as a whole to promote secure land rights in the future.
Looking across boundaries exposes unlikely allies in advocacy efforts.
When developing its global advocacy strategy, Landesa decided to treat land rights as a “wedge” issue, embedded in other social issues, such as agriculture, food security, the environment and women’s rights. To do this, Landesa expanded its network beyond its land rights peers, opening up conversations with other non-profit organizations, development agencies and funders who were focused on these broader issues. Ultimately, women’s rights captured the greatest attention from the global development community, and became the foundation for Landesa’s global advocacy efforts.
Timing and evidence are critical to successful advocacy.
To prepare for global advocacy, Landesa analysed the policy environment and assessed its readiness to change. It realized that a global advocacy approach would only be appropriate with sufficient momentum for carrying through a policy agenda. Prosterman had worked for over 50 years in land rights before global interest in them began to materialize. Landesa also worked to identify the systems actors with sufficient power and motivation to carry the issue. The United Nations and the SDG process provided an opportune moment to put land rights on the global agenda.
Landesa also knew that building the evidence base was critical for global advocacy efforts. To influence decision-makers, having clear evidence of the impact of decisions for which they were advocating was critical. The organization collected research from its programmes around the world, as well as external research that supported its claims, and began presenting evidence in more compelling and digestible ways, such as through infographics.
Questions for social entrepreneurs
- How could convening and advocacy complement your existing strategy?
- Which local and global organizations are working in your space, or working on issues related to your own? What important linkages could be formed with other organizations working in these related areas?
- What is the current policy environment in your sector? Is there a readiness to change? What evidence base do you need to be a credible advocate for policy changes? How can you best present that evidence?
“We began to look at it from an impact standpoint – the universe of the problem is so great and the number of people without secure access to land rights is spread across such a large number of countries. We knew that we are only able to work in a relatively small number of those countries at a time. However, we still felt compelled to try and have an impact in some way. We decided that if we’re not able to reach those countries directly, then global advocacy could be a way to help facilitate the work in those geographies in an indirect way, reaching beyond our country operations and helping to influence others who could pick up on the work that we were doing and secure rights for those people whom we would not be able to directly impact.”
Tim Hanstad, Co-Founder and Senior Adviser, Landesa