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< prev - next > Social and economic development Social Development learning_from_practice (Printable PDF)
reconcile the need for pro-poor representation
with a light touch approach. This demonstrates
the extent to which working with community
organizations is a balancing act. Where
existing community structures are not
representative of the poorest or other excluded
groups (gender, ethnicity, caste, etc.), dialogue
can be used to raise questions of inclusion and
shift the perspectives of those in leadership
3. Meet practical and strategic needs
To improve the livelihoods and well-being
of the poorest, the practical needs of the
community must be met. Moreover, experience
has shown that community organizations can
be most effective and sustainable in situations
where they meet people’s specific ongoing
needs – where there are strong incentives for
community structures to exist to overcome
unmet problems. Otherwise, members tend
not to invest their time, money or effort into an
organization that brings no material or social
benefit to themselves or their community.
Group activities therefore need to centre
around ‘something with which people will
identify, and which will justify the transaction
costs of their participation’.5
Efforts to work with community
organizations must therefore be directed
towards meeting specific needs – as identified
by the community members themselves. Here,
it is important for NGOs to have the flexibility
and capacity to ‘seize on unanticipated
possibilities’.6 Similarly, we can foster such
flexibility in community organizations to
be able to respond to new opportunities to
overcome their identified problems.
Achieving a balance between technical
assistance for specific needs, and building
broader organizational capacity to address
ongoing needs is a challenge. Donors and
NGO practitioners both can be drawn
towards fulfilling direct technical needs
that produce prompt and visible impacts
(such as installation of wells or technical
training in agriculture) – over more long-term
organizational strengthening, which can have
profound effects, but requires extended time
frames for less immediate material outcomes.
Processes and tools
How to enact these principles? On the basis
of lessons Practical Action has learned from
experience in multiple places and contexts,
this section outlines a number of tools,
possible courses of action, and case studies,
to encourage successful and self-reliant
community organizations.
a. Carry out institutional analysis
A thorough institutional analysis is an essential
step in programme development, well before
specific projects are designed. Gaining a broad
understanding of the social, institutional
and political ‘landscape’, assessing strategic
opportunities for intervention, and anticipating
potential difficulties that may arise, will lead
to more appropriate planning and ensure
sustainable impact.
Contextual understanding can identify:
what community organizations and
structures already exist within a community,
as a basis for beginning dialogue and
identifying potential partners;
what challenges and unmet needs are
faced by a community; and where Practical
Action’s facilitative role can ‘add value’ to
ongoing community organization efforts;
connections with outside structures,
including government and external
organizations, so as to avoid duplication
and identify opportunities to facilitate
the extent of representation and inclusion
of poor and minority groups in community
institutions; and
An urban slum in Nakuru, Kenya.
Community organizations and the local authority
can deliver electricity and infrastructure