SUCCESSFUL community development begins with the premise that the more people affected by development have a stake in its formulation and implementation, the greater is the likelihood that when the funding stops and the experts leave, what remains is a sustainable future for all community members. If development means giving people a maximum number of options and ensuring that a host of basic human rights are met, strategies to achieve it must combine adherence to universal principles of transparency, accountability, pluralism, justice and participation, while tailoring development projects to the specific realities of each community’s unique identity and condition. The challenge of sustainable community development is balancing the general with the concrete, marshalling a growing body of economic knowledge with the often complex dynamics facing project designers.
Any global agenda for community development that hopes to make positive contributions must be shaped within the context of four major trends or forces: globalization, urbanization, the spread of democracy, and an information technology revolution that promises to increase exponentially people’s access to information. In addition, the world has witnessed during the last decade a dramatic trend toward devolution, with traditionally strong central governments ceding to local governments both the functions and resources to deliver services in an efficient and effective manner. Especially in Africa and Latin America, a new generation of mayors has demonstrated the wisdom of local control over community affairs, in which city hall or the state capital functions as a mediator between the concerns of individuals, families, and neighbourhoods and national policy-makers in the country’s capital.
Increasingly, development strategies bring together players from within and outside the community and from various sectors – government, business and civil society. This means people are forced to work together in ways that may seem to them alien and threatening. But an accepted truism of the professional development community is that no one sector can do it alone – not government, not business, not civil society. A primary ingredient of this new mix of talents and voices is trust, without which partnerships flounder and dissolve into cynicism and bitterness. Each participant, and, above all, the members of the community being sustainably developed must feel that the other partners are playing according to accepted rules and saying what they mean. In other words, motives, operations and processes must be transparent, which in part depends on effective public disclosures of information. To ensure that participants understand each other’s values and methodologies, media presentations and use of the internet can prepare the ground for fruitful development work.
Successful projects recast the community from being the object of development – acted upon by international lending agencies and experts – to being an active subject in the process leading to the goal of a sustainable future. However, community participation requires a preceding phase of community consultation in which members can become involved in and share control of the development process itself. The community’s values and traditions should help shape the project, not only for reasons of upholding democratic principles, but because citizens possess knowledge that can dramatically affect the development process. Consultation leading to participation can unlock a storehouse of human, social and cultural capital, the exercise of which on their own behalf can solidify commitment and provide vital lessons in self-determination, empowerment, and producing the cultural self-confidence needed to ensure that development projects are sustainable.
When communities cease being recipients of aid and instead become partners for change, they assume ownership over the development process. Empowerment of this sort is infectious: it easily transfers to other aspects of community life beyond the scope of the development project. For these reasons, lending agencies and development organizations recognize that participation must be nurtured despite the frequent difficulty of arriving at consensus. Indeed, a 1994 World Bank study on participation concluded that ‘although lasting benefits from participation take longer to emerge, and are more difficult to quantify, over time they can be expected to offset incremental costs.’ Positive externalities include: fostering training in democratic decision-making; allowing community participants to supply ‘sweat equity’ to the project, hence stretching development dollars; and facilitating an evaluation process in which community members willingly help generate and assess data measuring the project’s success.
- MAMTA MANTRI