These Community-Led Development Values Will Flourish In 2019 And Beyond

Nkem Akinsoto, a social sector leader from Nigeria, shares her hopes for community-led development.


When our organization, Strategy and Innovation for Development (SI4DEV), drafted plans to upskill and reskill upcoming volunteer community leaders in Nigeria, we had no idea how much response and engagement we would get—especially because volunteering at the community level calls for a special kind of person to step forward, someone who is able to support their development work with their own time and money.

But having seen what has happened since we started, I am glad to say that this first year of our journey to empower community builders in Nigeria has ultimately been rewarding and impactful, both to the community builders who have responded to the call, and the communities that these men and women have made a difference in.

So how did we do it? We harnessed two related development frameworks: community-led development and community-driven development.

Community-led development (CLD) involves a community working together on a shared vision to govern and learn from local action to achieve social change objectives. This framework for development promotes the use of internally generated evidence and external data. It boosts the skills of community leaders in planning, designing, and delivering projects, and involves as much of the community as possible to choose and implement projects. [How community led is your organization? Download GlobalGiving’s checklist to learn more.]

A related framework—community-driven development (CDD)—is a grassroots approach to development in which the locus of power is shifted to community groups to make decisions around how development resources are allocated.

Based on our own experience in Nigeria, here are my predictions for community-led development in 2019. Some of this can also be generalized to work in other developing countries, especially those in Africa:

    1. Increasing local leadership

    Community-led development has local people in the driving seat. Our SI4DEV Partners Training Program was designed with a sustainable pathway that trains local people to lead projects with the goal of positive social change. SI4DEV made itself accountable to the community-set vision and priorities. The plan was for community leaders to rally other volunteer community members and stakeholders in order to identify local needs and assets, set goals, and devise solutions and strategies for projects.

    We wanted the trainees in this program to be owners of their ideas and plans, and hold lead roles in projects design and implementation. Our first CDD project—a cassava and palm-fruit processing facility—has a Sustainability Team made up of representatives from the six villages in the local government area in rural Uyo that will use, work, and benefit from the project.

    2. Addressing the root causes of issues

    This will be a tougher nut to crack. CLD is focused on addressing the root causes of problems rather than meeting the immediate needs of the community. SI4DEV wanted to get to the bottom of the problem identified rather than swipe at the symptoms and so we promote the use of learning and needs assessments (like surveys, focus groups, stakeholder consultations) during project design, or before considering changes or adaptations. [Download a free worksheet to identify the root causes in your area of work.]

    While these present a steeper learning curve for participants, the benefits are worth it. Working in this way, development organizations can champion adaptable, evidence-based decision making based on feedback from the community. SI4DEV benefited immensely from activating and mobilizing our participants to collaborate and share knowledge with the community members to achieve systemic and sustainable social change.

    3. Emphasizing people instead of programs

    CLD focuses on empowering people instead of expanding programs. Allow me to be completely honest here: When it comes to fundraising, it may be slightly more difficult to convey your goals and capture the hearts of your audience. It appears more impactful to some boards and donors to say how many staff you added or how many supplies, cash, or food you donated.

    However, more donors are beginning to get it.

    Events like the Ebola outbreak of 2014 have made many understand the importance of strengthening local capacity and focusing on mission instead of brand.

    SI4DEV provides training services, partnering with, and providing fundraising and administrative support to individuals or organizations that are trying to achieve similar goals.

    4. Harnessing local funds and in-kind assets for implementation

    CLD calls for development aid or public resources to be handed to the community. But going forward I believe communities are actually willing to look inwards. SI4DEV projects are sponsored through crowdfunding by the community and local volunteers with fundraising support—sometimes matching funds from SI4DEV and international affiliates such as the Spring Development Initiative. We prefer and encourage income-generating projects—not just for enhanced livelihoods but also for community resilience and sustainability.

    In-kind assets include volunteers who are from the communities themselves or permanent residents rather than expatriates or NGO staff who are just passing through. More and more grassroots youth are learning and imbibing the culture of social volunteering. Another kind of in-kind assets, which is a little bit more embedded, is the donation of land or labor for construction projects.

    5. Listening to local voices and feedback

    Working with a skeleton curriculum developed by our affiliate in the United States this first year, SI4DEV was able to train hundreds of people in leadership, planning, and communication using resource materials developed through the efforts of this same group of trainees. Doing this not only helped them grasp the teachings more efficiently, the feedback they have provided has also helped us refine the training material so that it will be even more useful to other community builders who we work with in the future. Our efforts resulted in a total of 103 community builders being empowered with the skills that they need to go out into their communities to make a positive impact.

Community-led development is the way to go! Ethically, it is one guaranteed way to bring marginalized and underserved people to the head of the development table. These five CLD features will continue to gain traction in development work throughout 2019 and beyond.

Explore more 2019 hopes, predictions, and trends from philanthropy leaders across the globe.


Featured Photo: Prevent Gender-Based Violence in Nigeria by The Advocacy Project
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