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

Sources: Devex 1, Devex 2, Rural Poverty Portal
Photo: Flickr

Traditionally held beliefs and social values are stubborn to change through government policies and legislation. In many societies, this includes social acceptance or tolerance of child marriage, child labor, domestic violence, discrimination, rape and sexual abuse. Government policies have difficulty eradicating these practices because not only are these practices deeply ingrained in their societies, but governments of developing countries are often unable or reluctant to protect those who are most at risk.

Community-based programs have the power to transform these traditionally held beliefs.

Through groups, individuals are educated about their legal and humans rights. These programs utilize community groups to change social norms through collective discussion and decision-making. Communities can address, prevent and respond to the problems that exist in their circles.

Democratic participation of the families and children is a key proponent of boosting the success of these programs. Individuals, such as women and children, who are usually marginalized in communities, are given the chance to share their stories.

A case in Ethiopia shows the capability of community-based programs to change social norms. In 2000, female genital mutilation (FGM) was still extremely widespread in Ethiopia. A local NGO, Kembatti Mentti Gezzima, began working to “empower women and communities to fulfill their rights and to be free from abuse” by organizing public workshops called the Community Conversations. They were held twice monthly for at least a year to facilitate discussion and promote understanding of the harmful practice of FGM.

In 2008, a review study found that only 3.3 percent of respondents still practiced FGM. The community not only altered traditional practices of FGM, but changed the legal norms surrounding it as well. This in Ethiopia demonstrates that creating change through community-based programs is a slow process, but it can lead to lasting social and legal transformation.

At the moment, there is relatively weak empirical evidence to support community-based programs. Organizations largely focus on collectively qualitative evidence and testimonies from the communities. However, beyond anecdotal support, organizations can use a program evaluation with a high quality methodology, data collection and data analysis to ensure a strong evidence base that includes more quantitative evidence.

Short-term successes are projected to be limited, while long-term successes are anticipated to be long lasting and highly beneficial for the communities.

In many developing countries, government policies cannot reach those in need due to weak and lack of enforcement. However, community-based programs have the potential to bottom-up reform and alter beliefs that discriminate against the marginalized and the weak.

– Sarah Yan

Sources: UNICEF, CPC Conference
Photo: UNICEF Australia


Ending the practice of child marriage is an important step in eradicating global poverty and improving global health. Countries that have a high rate of documented child marriages also rank high in infant and maternal mortality as well as perpetual poverty. Here are some key steps to ending the practice:

  1. Transform cultural norms; In many places, child marriages are considered acceptable no matter the age or age difference between prospective spouses.
  2. Establish community based programs; Often, the groups that are the most effective in combating such issues are already rooted in the affected communities. Such grassroots efforts, when combined with enforced national laws and policies that prohibit child marriage can greatly decrease them.
  3. Increase education; Girls who have access to education are less likely to marry early than those with minimal or no schooling. Even girls who are married, however, should be to encourage their education. This will help to make them more qualified for any economic opportunities that may come their way.
  4. Provide economic opportunity; Many girls enter into marriage at a young age because of the dowry given to their family by their prospective groom. Young women are also sometimes forced into marriage by their families when they can no longer afford to take care of them, or when it appears that the groom’s family will be able to better provide for her. Thus, practices such as microlending, savings clubs, and job placement programs can provide other options.

– Samantha Mauney

Source: ICRW
Photo: Sulekha