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The Importance of Community-Led Projects in the Aid Sector

Community-Led Projects
The charity sector plays an important role in poverty reduction but its approaches have at times garnered criticism in terms of efficacy and reach. From Peace Direct, Third Sector and Non-Profit Quarterly comes a swelling of proposals to make charity work more effective, more democratic and more conscious. More specifically, community-led projects in the aid sector stand as a solution to strengthen aid efforts globally.

Issues in the Charity Sector

Decolonization academic Khadijah Diskin said at the BAME Fundraising Virtual Conference 2021 that the charity sector was “explicitly tied to the colonization of the Global South” and if “charities do not acknowledge their histories, they are likely to be repeated.”

A report published by Peace Direct and partners, including Adeso (African Development Solutions), Alliance for Peacebuilding and WCAPS (Women of Color Advancing Peace Security and Conflict Transformation) sheds further light on the issue.

The report published in 2021, titled “Time to Decolonise Aid,” claims that “power and resources remain dominated by, and between, certain organizations and relationships largely based in the Global North.” As a result, decision-making often ignores indigenous knowledge and experience. Instead, aid efforts are centered around “Western values and knowledge,” leading to misunderstanding and the reinforcement of old ways of perceiving the Global South as unknowledgeable and desperate.

From a purely practical standpoint, this makes the delivery of aid very difficult. It means extra people have to be employed to do a job that would otherwise be done by local people with intimate knowledge of the issues. Peace Direct closes the report with recommendations. NGOs are to adopt a “transitional mindset,” which puts in place targets for the “transfer of power and resources to local organizations.” Finally, NGOs are asked to “re-evaluate partnerships… so that they are more equitable and mutually accountable.”


Since the publishing of the “Time to Decolonise Aid” report, progress is invisible. The Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) is a global institution that boasts membership from the World Food Programme (WFP), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OCHCR). The IASC organized the Grand Bargain Caucus on Funding for Localisation in March 2023, in response to criticisms of efficacy and reach in regard to the aid sector.

Those represented in the agreement included USAID, DG-ECHO, Denmark, OCHA, UNHCR, Save the Children, IFRC, A4EP and the Northwest Syria NGO forum. All agreed that localization, or community-led projects in the aid sector, stood as the solution. All present also agreed that a target of 25% of total spending by NGOs should go toward community-led projects. A roadmap formalizes this target and directs all to:

  • “Measure funding to Local and National Actors (LNAs)” only from what is channeled directly – one must not count indirect funding such as support costs or cash delivery toward the 25% goal.
  • “Report all funding to LNAs through publicly available platforms” – all information on provider, recipient and location is to be provided.
  • “Develop individual roadmaps for when and how [to reach] the 25% target” – organizations must present this at the next Annual Meeting in June 2023.

Targeting 25% of all budgets to community-led projects in the aid sector is a huge win for social justice. The signatories present have great reach and can provide the necessary capital to get genuinely transformative local action off the ground.

Impactful Community-Led Projects

Community-led projects are not only more ethically sound but they are also more effective. This is according to Sami Adler of Global Giving, an NGO that “actively work[s] to shift power toward [their] partners.” This is because, as the executive director of the Solidarity Foundation Shubha Chacko suggests, “emotional closeness, shared sentiments and beliefs and commonality in terms of background and experiences” all collide and contribute to impactful service.

The Solidarity Foundation

This is visible in the work of the Solidarity Foundation. The Solidarity Foundation is a registered trust based in India that supports sex workers and gender/sexual minorities. Sex workers in India face a multitude of issues that contribute to “extremely poor” conditions of life. Prostitution is legal, but there are multiple barriers to soliciting and brothel keeping. Labor laws do not safeguard sex workers and sex workers have no access to trade unions. As a result, abuse cannot be policed, pushing sex workers further into the shadows.

Instead of receiving protection, sex workers are subject to violent and moral policing that seeks to correct their “deviancy” rather than seeking to investigate the roots of their condition. Poverty is a “contextual factor” regarding sex work in India.

The Sarvojana Coalition

According to the Sarvojana Coalition, an NGO that supports sex workers in the region, poverty pushes as much as 68% of women into the trade. Solidarity Foundation supports these sex workers by hiring those who previously worked in the trade into outreach and leadership roles. The empathy that comes from a former sex worker means sex workers are more likely to seek help. Sex workers can expect no moral judgment or shaming. Rather, the organization shows them that they matter and that there are viable alternatives to sex work if they desire it. Crisis Management, for example, is a project that the Solidarity Foundation team organizes. It is a hub in the local area that “increases a sense of well-being and improves access to justice” by offering walk-in support in times of crisis.

The Solidarity Foundation highlights the importance of community-led projects in the aid sector. By allowing members of a particular to take the lead on projects, aid can improve in terms of both reach and efficacy.

– James Durbin
Photo: Flickr