President Barack Obama visited Kenya and Ethiopia earlier this summer to draw global attention to challenges facing development organizations throughout Africa, including establishing more widespread access to electricity.
While those large-scale initiatives are important in providing poor regions with economic opportunity, another initiative, equally important, went largely uncovered: community-based development.
Community-based (or “community-driven”) development is defined by Rural Poverty Portal as “a way to manage development, including the design and implementation of policies and projects, [which] facilitates access by poor rural people to social, human, and physical capital.”
Strategies used by community-based organizations include enabling targeted communities to design their own anti-poverty policies, establishing the means for good long-term governance, and prioritizing the impact of public expenditures from the “bottom of the pyramid” up.
Wayne Firestone, CEO of International Lifeline Fund, points to the malaria epidemic in northern Uganda as a phenomenon that could benefit from the inclusion of local communities.
Previous top-down health initiatives, such as indoor residual spraying interventions, he said, have lowered the immunity of residents, made them complacent in taking preventative measures, and have generally made communities more vulnerable to the disease.
Such initiatives would become more effective if they included local communities in “the design, implementation and maintenance of solutions.”
While local communities have voiced their desire to become more involved in decision-making processes, their national governments have started to endorse that sentiment on a global level.
One of the primary takeaways from the Financing for Development Conference in Addis Ababa earlier this year was that developing countries want to take “greater ownership” over their development through domestic resource mobilization (DRM), a process in which countries raise and allocate their own development funding.
USAID associate administrator Eric Postel notes that while DRM has historically been overlooked in global anti-poverty efforts, the international community has begun to realize its importance for countries hoping to escape poverty.
“DRM is hardly a new concept, but one that has unfortunately been out of the spotlight for many years. I remember attending the aid effectiveness conference in Busan, South Korea, in 2011.
Support for DRM was barely discussed there,” he wrote in an article for Devex. “Since then, the global community has coalesced around the importance of this transitional bridge from a nation’s receiving international aid assistance to its sustainable providing for its own.”
While some developing countries may never realize absolute autonomy in directing their own anti-poverty initiatives, DRM is a positive step for countries hoping to become more self-reliant. Earlier this year, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta made an appeal to African countries to stop accepting international aid entirely.
Although certainly not in the best interest of many African civilians, that position reflects the common and natural desire among poor countries to achieve sustainability and self-determination.
Indeed, the lack of cohesion among rural communities like those in northern Uganda can make community-based development difficult, primarily because it takes time to establish functioning bodies vested with the ability to prioritize community needs.
According to Firestone, however, development assistance ought to be rethought in ways that will enable communities to participate in the management of their own affairs.
“For decades, development assistance has created a culture in which these communities are recipients, not leaders of their own solutions,” he said.
“Many development thinkers have started conversations around how we can shift that culture to make sustainable progress; how residents of poor, rural communities can be problem solvers rather than problems, and can embrace changes they generate internally.”
– Zach VeShancey