Community-Led Development and Its Rationale


Patriarchy and ‘’top-down’’ development approaches have resulted in little or no change to the poor in the bottom. Instead of focusing on what strengths, assets, and capacities the communities possess, the approach solely has been trying to address the gaps and vulnerabilities without working to utilize or build upon the strengths. As a result, the existing indigenous skills and knowledge that are appropriate to the context were often ignored and less valued. Since the design, planning, and implementation of these projects didn’t consider the needs and wishes of the communities it usually becomes impossible to ensure sustainability upon their phase-out. As a result, dependency, lack of ownership and little or no impact have been the common features of many short-term, ‘’top-down’’, quick-fix development programs.

The most important issue with international development is delivering required resources to the right place at the right time and ensuring those resources are being integrated in a sustainable manner. The greatest failure of international development to this day is the wasting of resources due to lack of proper understanding of the contextual factors and its realities. It is this lack of accountability and meaningful investment—“the tragedy of aid”—that William Easterly criticizes in his book The White Man’s Burden (Easterly, 2006). He argues that while a significant amount of resource was allocated for the projects in developing countries, there is “shockingly little” growth to show for it. This can occur when bureaucratic interventions by governments, non-governmental organizations, or transnational conglomerates impose “top-down” solutions that fail to take into account both the needs and wishes of the bottom. Conversely, if solutions to community issues are identified and rectified by community-developed remedies—ones that better understand the delicate intricacies of local issues—success and sustainability are much more likely.

According to the Voices of the Poor study (Narayan and others 2000), based on interviews with 60,000 poor people in 60 countries, poor people demand a development process driven by their communities. When the poor were asked to indicate what might make the greatest difference in their lives, they responded: (a) organizations of their own so they can negotiate with government, traders, and NGOs; (b) direct assistance through community-driven programs so they can shape their own destinies; and (c) local ownership of funds, so they can end corruption. They want NGOs and governments to be accountable to them (Gillespie, 2004).

Based on this evidence and lessons from its many years of working with developing countries, the World Bank initiated community-driven development (CDD) and currently supports approximately 400 projects in 94 countries valued at almost $30 billion (Wong, 2012). CDD programs operate on the principles of ‘’transparency, participation, demand-responsiveness, greater downward accountability, and enhanced local capacity’’. The World Bank recognizes that CDD approaches and actions are important elements of an effective poverty-reduction and sustainable development strategy (World Bank, 2017).

The CDD and community-led development (CLD) have enormous overlaps, commonalities and share similar principles however the former approach is mainly project focused whereas the community-led development focuses on improving systems by changing mindsets, building capacity, ensuring self-reliance to achieve sustainable development.

What is Community-led Development?

The Hunger Project and many other organizations came together and have initiated a movement of 32 like-minded organizations committed to the success of the SDGs-called ‘’the movement for community-led development.’’ Calling for enhanced power and capacity of communities to take charge of their own development.  The movement has its own conceptual framework with each member organizations having developed their methodologies based on its principles. But what’s community-led development?

Researchers and organizations have defined community-led development in various ways however they all agree in the principles and that the approach puts the communities on the driving seat as agents of their own development with some external support from CSOs or government. Inspiring Communities which is an organization that catalyzes locally-led change in New Zealand defined the movement for community-led development (CLD) as ‘’the process of working together to create and achieve locally owned visions and goals. It is a planning and development approach that’s based on a set of core principles that (at a minimum) set vision and priorities by the people who live in that geographic community, put local voices in the lead, build on local strengths (rather than focus on problems), collaborate across sectors, is intentional and adaptable, and works to achieve systemic change rather than short-term projects (Inspiring Communities, 2013).’’

Torjman & Makhoul (2012) defined ‘’CLD as a unique approach to tackling local problems and building on local strengths which are guided by several core principles.’’ Some of the guiding principles are it ensures the voice and views of citizens, seeks to empower community members, co-creates a governance process, sets aspirational goals or visions. Despite their differences, community-led development approaches are bound together by a set of guiding principles, assumes that all communities and their members have strengths, skills, and resources on which to build, frameworks for change and translation of aspirational goals into specific steps. Community-led development is not a straight pathway. It is a process of continual learning and checking of progress against objectives (Torjman & Makhoul, 2012).

Community-led development focuses on step by step process of empowering communities to take charge of their own development. Evidence shows that community building, capacity building, ownership building, creating impact and ensuring self-reliance to bring sustainable development can best be addressed through community-led development. The community-led development allows people to participate in and feel ownership for their own development, gives an opportunity to the communities to prioritize urgent needs specific to their own community and builds trusting relationships, positively impacting perceptions regarding the capability of actors and the impact of their efforts (Mercy Corps, 2010).

John Coonrod (2015) says ‘’Community-led development is more than participatory projects. It requires a long-term process that empowers citizens and local authorities to transform entrenched patriarchal mindsets and take effective action.’’ The movement is inspired by SDG #16 calls for building participatory, effective, accountable institutions “at all levels” – which must start at the level closest to the people.

CLD is a social innovation as it intends to address the development related social issues of the society in a new bottom-up approach which is a gender-focused and transformative process. Community-led development has strong relevance to good governance, peace and security, and humanitarian response, as well as to urban and rural social and economic development. As a result, it’s crucial to allocate funding and other resources for long-term development programs that are integrated and focus on empowering the local communities through community-led initiatives. The external forces such as CSOs and central government should acknowledge the capacities and strengths of the indigenous people. Thus, they should focus on supporting the processes by listening to the needs and wishes of the communities until and after the communities ensure their local self-governance, resilience, and self-reliance.



Coonrod, J. Development (2015) 58: 333.

Narayan-Parker, D., & Patel, R. (2000). Voices of the poor: can anyone hear us? (Vol. 1). World Bank Publications.

Mercy Corps. (2010, June). The Benefits of Community-Led Development Programming in Insecure Environments: Findings from Iraq and Afghanistan. LEAPP

Gillespie, S. (2004). Scaling up community-driven development: A synthesis of experience. International Food Policy Research Institute, Food Consumption and Nutrition Division, FCND Discussion Papers, (181).

Inspiring Communities. (2013). Learning by Doing: community-led change in Aotearoa NZ. Publisher: Inspiring Communities Trust, New Zealand.

Torjman, S., & Makhoul, A. (2012). Community-led development. Caledon Institute of Social Policy.

The World Bank. (2017, Sept 22). Community-Driven Development. Retrieved from

Wong, S. (2012). What have been the impacts of World Bank Community-Driven Development Programs? CDD impact evaluation review and operational and research implications. World Bank, Washington, DC.



Integration and Community Leadership Needs More Than Just Funding Changes

Screen Shot 2018-02-07 at 5.57.12 PMThe nature of our world is multi-nodal and, with technology, today’s means of accountability, collaboration, communication and fulfillment of responsibilities are evolving to reflect integration. International development needs to catch up – quickly. Locus, Pact, Church World Service, and The Hunger Project – all members of the international Movement for Community-led Development – addressed this in a comprehensive discussion at the United Nations during the 56th Commission on Social Development.

In looking at respective research and successes from integration, panelists and attendees identified a shared belief that integrated, community-led development is the effective and most dignified approach needed to achieve sustainable development for all. What ensued in discussion around means toward implementation was not typical banter about shifting funding streams and enabling conducive policy environments. Yes, of course that came up. But, robust discourse focused mostly on how development professionals should carry out their work by helping community members live authentically as thee leaders in our collaborative work toward the SDGs.

“When people tell me they will build capacity of communities, I say, ‘Who told you the community doesn’t have capacity?'” MacBain Mkandawire, Executive Director, Youth Net and Counseling, revealed the most obvious “secret” to development professionals: communities already have the capacity [and thirst] to incur their sustainable development. Our work should aim to compliment work already happening at the local level through collaboration with community leaders, not competition or programmatic control over them.

“People say, let us give voice to the voiceless. Well, they are not voiceless. We just haven’t talked to them.” Oyebisi Ohuseyi, Executive Director of Nigeria’s Network for NGOs, revealed the second “secret”: community members already behold opinions, grievances, solutions and priorities. In order to foster true ownership and agency, community partners should be the ones prioritizing which development issues matter most to them. And inarguably, communities have the deepest knowledge of their context and can offer the best insights on [most appropriate] ways forward.

Mkandawire added “Before we go to donors, we should be asking ourselves what do we need to change [in our work as development professionals]?” He was acknowledging that there are multiple layers of power and privilege toward realizing community-led development.

Therefore, the development community and its many stakeholders are called to move from the less helpful “outside expert-driven” tendencies and donor pandering toward budgeting and programs with a bedrock of fostering community agency and expertise. Ultimately, this means we need a new kind of capacity development professional: one able to convene, befriend, facilitate, energize, accompany, co-learn, and co-create with community members “with [sincere] reverence and respect.”

The discussion also brought attention to unrealistic time constraints and reporting windows that strap capacity, ultimately hindering sustainable change. Even incremental progress is valuable and worthwhile, as was described by a woman from and working in Nepal. She detailed an extensive self-managed cooperative thriving with over 1,000 members—but mostly after 18 years of incremental progress.

In reflecting on the discussion, the panel moderator, Ellie Price, Coordinator of Locus Coalition, noted “It is easy to get bogged down in the technicalities of our work, or the limitations imposed by global power structures.” This makes it near impossible to represent and act on views or experiences other than your own.

The event’s discussion shed action-oriented light. Members of the Movement for Community-led Development are dedicated to mobilizing and collaborating with local community leaders. Bringing government ownership to community-led processes is the Movement’s current priority to achieve sustainable development.

Rattling top-down power structures among stakeholders and influencing strongly devolved political systems will not only garner community leadership, but also community ownership and due dignity as people – rightfully so – steer their own development process.

Bracing for Impact: Proposed Budget Cuts to USAID and the State Department

By: @alovelyimperfection

President Donald Trump released his first formal proposed budget to Congress on 16 March 2017. As promised, the “America First” budget is proposing $54 billion in cuts throughout different federal government agencies and programs to offset an increase to the defense budget. Here is a snapshot of some departments that will be experiencing budget cuts: President Donald Trump’s Proposed Budget Cuts.

Screen Shot 2017-09-13 at 12.40.50 PM
Department Cuts. n.d. CNN Politics. CNN. Web. 17 Mar. 2017.

President Trump wants to reduce foreign aid, and has reflected this by proposing a 31.4% cut to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and a 28.7% cut to the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). If Congress approves this budget, it would cut funding for international development programs and the World Bank. It would also remove funding from programs aimed at combating climate change, therefore, lowering U.S. support to the United Nations’ climate change programs.

Direct impact on Movement for Community-led Development (CLD):

Independent agencies, such as the U.S. African Development Foundation, U.S. Trade and Development Agency, Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the United States Institute of Peace have been suggested for elimination. These agencies provide economic support, childhood development, education and food security, amongst other development services to communities throughout Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Many CLD members’ programs rely on the financial support of USAID, the State Department and numerous independent agencies to support their missions.

It is imperative that Congress does not allow this blueprint to pass because of the negative repercussions it will have on U.S. foreign policy priorities and international development goals.

Additionally, CLD begins and ends with the empowerment of women for gender parity. These budget cuts – receiving strong criticism from both Republicans and Democrats – would jeopardize years of progression that development programs have achieved, particularly in the areas of reproductive and sexual health and gender equality.

The ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) rely heavily on investments and resources from the United States. The influence of U.S. foreign policy garners crucial support from communities and other donor countries around the world.

The Trump Administration’s budget proposal focuses on allocating the majority of federal funds towards defense spending. The international development community must stress to Congress that USAID and the State Department are critical implementers in protecting the United States from foreign attacks or additional immigration pressure.

African Fiscal Decentralization: A Means to Local Governance

A common problem of local community-led development efforts is that local communities sometimes lack the proper resources to accomplish their goals. Additionally, when central governments control the budgets of local governments, money disbursement can become unfair and untimely. This is where we begin to question the best methods of funding local community efforts, and this is where we turn to fiscal decentralization as a step in the direction of local governance.

Though a complicated task, the idea of decentralization is straightforward: it is the process of moving money from the central government into the hands of those in local government. The World Bank defines several different forms of fiscal decentralization, including local governments self-financing through taxes and other forms of revenue expansion as well as municipal borrowing between the central and local governments. Regardless of a country’s level of decentralization, central or local government may be better equipped to handle certain responsibilities. For example, the military should remain centralized because of its size and cost to the government, but education can generally be managed better in the hands of the local government.

The biggest questions of fiscal decentralization arise from where countries are in the midst of decentralizing. What approaches are countries taking to implement decentralization ? Why is there so little data on how much money actually goes to the local governments?

In 2014, the African Union adopted the “African Charter on the Values of Decentralization, Local Governance, and Local Development”, outlining what decentralized governments in Africa should look like. Concerning governance, the charter specifies several guidelines:

  • Local governments should have the autonomy to create their own laws and regulations, as well as the authority to enforce them
  • Transparency and cooperation must exist between the central and local governments
  • The money, whether disbursed from the central government or raised by the local government, must be used most efficiently for the people
  • Equal participation should be promoted for women, youth, disabled, and any marginalized groups in decision making.

The charter is thorough and relevant to many different decentralization models, but fails to set a standard of what percentage of central government budgets should be transferred to local governments. In other words, it provides a framework but does not deliver methods of application. Not only is there a lack of common methodology between African Union members, but we also lack accurate data that represents the percentage of central government spending going towards decentralization.

Though the charter promotes transparency between levels of government and the annual collection of decentralization data, we tend to only find helpful, but vague, data from international organizations rather than from the member nations themselves.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) released a working paper on “Measuring Fiscal Decentralization”in 2011 summarizing trends and measurement indicators of decentralization including revenue, fiscal burden, and expenditure. From the paper we learn that decentralization trends positively with “country size, income per capita, ethnic fractionalization, and level of democracy”, making countries like Sweden, Canada, and the United States some of the most decentralized at around 30% of central dollars going directly to local governments. We are able to see trends across time and find that once a country has committed to and implemented decentralization policy, the percentage of the budget that goes to the local governments stay fairly stable over time.

Below are examples of countries both of high and low decentralization status that have remained constant over time. The percentages listed represent the amount of the total budget of each country that was transferred to local government in 1995 and 2008.

1995 2008









Israel 11% *data  from year 2000


Most data sources we have on this issue tend to only report on the last 20 years. The measurements of decentralization are not standardized and not regularly collected by institutions like the African Union. The main barrier of measuring decentralization comes from using a difficult metric; in general, we use the ratio of spending at the local level compared to the spending at the central level to measure a country’s decentralization status. Tracking and reporting local level spending can be difficult in certain areas, which makes this metric inconvenient.

“A decentralization process with local governments relying on their own resources should be more efficient than a decentralization based on transfers”

Though the data is scarce on how much money local governments receive from their central governments, we can extrapolate the data we do have to similar areas to get a sense of where the world is with decentralization. We know that the developing world is still quite highly centralized and has a lot of work to do. Before being able to really tackle fiscal decentralization, governments must be have a sound revenue system, a measurement plan in place, and transparency between the local and central government decision makers. The more we see local people having an influence over their own budgets, the more we will see communities leading their own development.


View the African Union’s 2014 charter on decentralization here

View the IMF’s working paper here.  

Feature image courtesy of


The White House Summit on Global Development: Celebration, Legacy, and Looking Forward

The Obama administration took July 20th to celebrate almost eight years of global development policies, strategies, and initiatives. The summit hosted six panels around youth, partnerships, governance, food security, energy, and global health. Each panel discussed successes and lessons learned, many of which hold the essence of the principles of community-led development. Practices like subnational government focus, empowerment of youth and women, and forging partnerships across sectors were well celebrated topics and panelists urged these trends to continue.

rajaniRakesh Rajani, the Director for Global Partnerships at the Ford Foundation, participated in the ‘Transparency, Accountability, and Open Government’ panel and spoke generously about strategic opportunities to work with subnational governments. In response to a question from moderator Ambassador Samantha Power about ways the United States government should use the next generation of Open Government Partnership action plans, Mr. Rajani emphasized the point that “people don’t live in national governments, they live in subnational governments: villages, communities, cities,” and urged that the next big opportunity for Open Government Partnership is to focus on the subnational level. This sentiment was echoed in a later panel on partnership, Partnering to Finance the Sustainable Development Goals, by moderator Marisa Lago who vocalized the importance of working with “municipalities, [and] states that have an interest and have their own domestic resources”. Experts from multiple panels spoke to the advantages of engaging local and regional governments: leverage local investment and utilize local resources to achieve broader goals. Community-led development is just that, development from within communities. A shift in focus from sovereign governments to municipalities is a step in that direction.

The Hunger Project recognizes the importance of engaging women in leadership roles as well as unleashing their economic potential. The panel on food security, ‘Feed the Future: Partnerships for a Food-Secure 2030’ mentioned often the importance of including women in the progress seen in food security and referenced the successes already witnessed with the improvements in women’s status and access to markets. The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) has tracked, monitored, and published data on the empowerment of women in agriculture. Shenggen Fan, Director General at IFPRI, mentioned that the Feed the Future uses IFPRI’s Women Empowerment in Agriculture Index to track progress in women’s empowerment in nineteen countries. During the panel on global health, ‘Transforming Global Health through Evidence and Partnerships’, Michelle Nunn, CEO of CARE, said that one of the most important things the development community needs are “comprehensive change and systemic solutions,” like “empowering women and looking at [development] through a gender lens.” In addition to women’s empowerment, unleashing the power of youth is equally as important. The panel ‘Engaging Generation Now’ highlighted the importance of programs that engage youth and give them access and exposure to leadership positions. An investment in women and youth is one of the smartest and most strategic methods that is needed to ensure the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Another common theme from the summit was to work with new partners across sectors and forge new partnerships at all levels. Willy Foote, founder and CEO of Root Capital, mentioned the opportunities to learn from coordinated, multi-stakeholder approaches to work across sectors that leverage a diversity of actors and their unique assets on the panel on food security. This is necessary in more fields than food security; almost every single panel focused on the importance of forging cross-sector partnerships to achieve ambitious goals. Pape Gaye, President and CEO of IntraHealth International, during the Transforming Global Health panel stated that “the SDGs are forcing us to think outside of our silos,” and went on to describe the critical necessity of cross-sector programming. Integrated responses and programs were highlighted in every panel. Partnerships that leverage the unique skills and assets of diverse partners forge smarter, more effective programs.

The White House Summit on Global Development was a day for the Obama Administration to celebrate its track record and give unofficial recommendations for the next President. Strategic patience, a term used mostly to refer to the United States’ foreign policy directive for North Korea, got a second chance for a life with more positive connotation. Panelists were optimistic about the successes they’ve seen to beget more success, but asked for strategic patience from all actors. The shift in discourse and intent from ‘aid’ to ‘investment’ has brought about a new need for sustained long-term vision and patience to achieve much needed ambitious goals. We need to work quickly, but most importantly we need to make sure we work strategically and with purpose.  

CARE Methodology

Founded in 1945, CARE’s original action plan has evolved from sending care packages overseas to funding and supporting projects that will deliver lasting change. CARE are focused on many different sectors include gender and gender-based violence, responding to emergencies and crises, supporting sustainable agricultural practices, encouraging education for women and girls, developing microfinance systems and other livelihood tools, and all the while promoting good maternal health and supporting those who live with HIV & AIDS. CARE works in 95 countries and their network of efforts is promoting sustainable, dignified change.

The following excerpts are taken from CARE’s website and adapted to explain more fully their different programs and methodologies.


CARE views women’s empowerment through the lens of poor women’s struggles to achieve their full and equal human rights. In these struggles, women strive to balance practical, daily, individual achievements with strategic, collective, long-term work to challenge biased social rules and institutions.

Therefore, CARE defines women’s empowerment as the sum total of changes needed for a woman to realize her full human rights – the interplay of changes in:

  • Agency: her own aspirations and capabilities,
  • Structure: the environment that surrounds and conditions her choices,
  • Relations: the power relations through which she negotiates her path.

Women’s empowerment is a process of social change, and CARE only captures part of its richness when they assess the process of empowerment in terms of its outcomes.

Furthermore, the nature of gender power relations, and the triggers for empowerment, differ from culture to culture and context to context. No standard list of impact indicators can be relevant in all places and times, for all women. For that reason, the SII requires each research team to build a process for exploring gender power relations in context, with the affected stakeholders – both to ground-proof relevant indicators, and to “fill in the spaces” with insight about how changes come about, and what role, if any, CARE’s work has played.

“However, we need a place to start, and that is what the SII’s global women’s empowerment framework tries to offer. It focuses on concrete outcomes for which we can hold ourselves accountable, and organizes the diversity of women’s realities into a shared framework. In each context, we can start to focus our work by linking women’s own definitions and priorities for empowerment to 23 key dimensions of social change which have been shown to be widely relevant to women’s empowerment across many studies and contexts.”


Ending poverty requires addressing the power inequalities between women and men, girls and boys that underpin gender-based violence.

CARE is committed to supporting the empowerment of poor women and girls in their challenges to enjoy happy and healthy lives and to change the contexts in which they live, learn, work and raise families.

This includes the organization’s dedication to working with women and men in all settings to confront gender-based violence, which affects at least one in three women worldwide.

CARE’s holistic approach to gender-based violence combines prevention with comprehensive service delivery, and addresses root causes driving various forms of gender-based violence and gender discrimination.

In more than 40 countries around the world, CARE works with issues of GBV, including providing critical medical, legal, psychosocial and protection services to people experiencing violence (primarily women and girls), and provides local activists with assistance and support to link with others to provide case management to survivors, advocate for improved policies and laws, raise awareness and change local norms that perpetuate violent behavior.

Resources and tools for gender equality and gender-based violence–


CARE is currently assisting with emergency relief in Yemen, Syria, Turkey, Jordan, Egypt, Lebanon, and the Balkans. Every year they are providing support for 12 million people affected by crises and emergencies.


In some countries, the Pathways program is being used. The Pathways approach is based on a global theory of change that addresses the underlying causes of poverty and women’s exclusion in agriculture in each of the countries of implementation: Mali, Ghana, Tanzania, Malawi, India and Bangladesh as well as related initiatives in Ethiopia. Across these contexts, CARE has identified five common and closely interrelated domains of change that must be impacted to achieve the Pathways goal:

  • Capacity. Women need the knowledge, skills, self-confidence and conviction required to succeed in agriculture, business and their roles as individuals and members of their households and communities.
  • Access. Women need access to and control over productive assets and services including land, water, tools, inputs and both financial and extension services.
  • Productivity. Women need the opportunity, knowledge and skills required to enhance the productivity of their land through sustainable agriculture.
  • Household Influence. Women farmers need enhanced influence over household decision making, particularly decisions related to the household division of labor, the use of household income and decisions affecting the food women and their families prepare and consume.
  • Enabling Environment. Both formal policies and informal cultural norms and expectations have significant impact on women’s potential. Both must be acknowledge and affected to achieve household resilience and women’s empowerment.


CARE’s work in health covers many subject areas: maternal health, clean water, family planning, child survival, and supporting those living with HIV & AIDS. Like so many of their other programs, many of the health programs focus on women. Things like collecting water and having good sanitation for girls in school helps women free up more hours of their day for income-generating activities and keeps girls in school, especially after menstruation begins.

More on Integrated health solutions.


CARE understands that so many girls want to be in school but there are often barriers to attendance. Working to mitigate these conflicting factors, CARE supports girls that want to learn.

In addition to promoting schooling for girls, CARE also conducts special youth-centered workshops to build skills and to ensure access to healthcare and other services.

“We recognize that poverty is inextricably linked to social marginalization and discrimination – and our experience has shown that simply providing young people with a few skills, then expecting them to conquer systemic injustices is not effective and does not lead to their empowerment. Rather, large-scale and sustainable change requires addressing laws, policies, gender norms and social and cultural barriers that stand in the way. By creating an enabling and equitable environment where young people can exercise their skills, knowledge and leadership, they are able to step into new roles and lead the change themselves.”

In addition to promoting the education of primary school girls, CARE engages with a more holistic education program for mothers. The SHOUHARDO program in Bangladesh had remarkable success in seeing a 28% reduction in childhood stunting in less than four years- not because of direct food aid, but because of women’s economic and social empowerment programs. These programs were mostly self-help groups that allowed a women’s-only space to discuss problems unique to women. This increased economic performance and resulted in women having more money to feed their families.

Economic Development:

CARE’s microfinance associations, the Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs), are built entirely on member savings and interest from loans; they receive no direct capital investment from CARE. However, their members do receive a year of intensive training from CARE in group dynamics, governance, and in money management. This training enables the groups to become self-supporting, to flourish and even to establish and train other groups. The VSLA approach has unique features that make it a powerful tool both for broadening financial inclusion and for development:

    • It is simple and easily adapted to illiterate group members.
    • It promotes group solidarity and learning, and establishes a vehicle for addressing community development issues.
    • It relies on no infusions of outside funds.
    • It requires no physical infrastructure.

CARE has found that VSLAs meet the need for savings and credit at the very bottom rung of the world’s economic ladder. They create a platform from which the poor can advance to receive the more sophisticated financial services that they inevitably need as their resources, skills and confidence grow.

Additionally, CARE is helping local farmers build capacity and find connections to gain market access and leverage.

It doesn’t stop there

CARE doesn’t just create and execute supportive, community-led programs. Their feedback loops are inclusive and accessible: CARE teams are easy to reach and communicate with. If the community knows that CARE’s program isn’t working, CARE wants to improve their programs with community feedback. CARE also has community scorecards: where the community assess their service providers. This information helps CARE build better programs and ascertain what’s working and what’s not. CARE also has a participatory performance tracker that allows communities to monitor their own community organizations as well as inform CARE about actors that could be doing better, whether that’s local governments or CARE itself.

CARE has built a reputation of long-term, measured work: sticking with communities for the long haul and creating last change.

If you’re interested, here is a video of Emily Janoch, Senior Technical Advisor at CARE explaining more about CARE and how they work.

Evidence from Bangladesh

Counterpart International recently completed a three-year leadership development project in Bangladesh (LDP) with 13,000 participants funded by USAID. Several conclusions from the Baseline Assessment (here) and the Impact Assessment Final Report (here) that are relevant to our Movement for Community-led Development are:

  • Trainees’ knowledge and understanding of community development (Performance Monitoring Evaluation Plan #2) – a central goal of the LDP – achieved one of the largest positive changes. After training, leaders reported increased understanding of community development, as well as greater confidence in their ability to bring about change in their community. (p. 14)
  • As with commitment to addressing development challenges, greater knowledge and understanding of democracy is associated with greater political and community engagement (PMEP #12). Training increased this sort of engagement, including the range of civic activities in which LDP leaders participate. (p. 14)
    CPI blog graphic 1

     Graphic, p. 47
  • The number of leaders who indicated that they were highly involved in organized efforts to improve their community increased by 11 points, albeit from only 26 to 37 percent. Participation in formal community development committees rose from 26 to 41 percent, and 54 percent of LDP participants said their participation in community projects had increased in the previous year, up from 39 percent before training (p. 16)
  • Reflecting this greater participation, 54 percent of LDP participants said their participation in community projects increased over the previous year, up from 39 percent prior to training. (p. 53)
    CPI blog graphic 2

                                                     Graphic, p. 49

    Counterpart International’s Bangladesh Leadership Development Program largely achieved it’s goals. There were marked increases in participants self-confidence to take on leadership roles within their communities as well as being more accepting to women and girls in non-traditional roles and leading community projects (p. 34). All graphics and figures from the Impact Assessment Final Report.

Human-centered Design

Human-centered design, also called design thinking, is a process of design that incorporates feedback and iteration to create a product or system that is tuned to the needs of the community it serves. Design is more than fashion and interiors; it’s creative problem solving. Human-centered design is grounded in knowledge about users and it is collaborative, visual, and iterative. It is focused on empathy and optimism; harnessing this power allows designers to be more attuned to the needs of the community they are serving and not afraid of failure.

The human-centered design process starts with inspiration: immersion in a community, listening to the problems and challenges of that unique community, and opening your mind to creative possibilities. The most important part of the inspiration phase is the listening process. Human-centered design is first and foremost grounded in knowledge about its users. The collaborative process begins here by opening the pathways of communication between the users and designers.

The next step is the ideation phase: generating as many ideas as possible. Some will be viable, some won’t. The process of ideation includes refining, improving, and trashing ideas. After an idea is selected and honed, creating a simple prototype is next. Creating prototypes allow ideas to become tangible, and easily tested and tweaked based on feedback from the community of users.

The final phase is implementation.This stage is often dependent on building partnerships, shoring-up business support, and getting the final product or system into the world. The simple prototypes created to test out possible disruptions or failures in the product or system allow for a cheaper and more effective final product to be made.  The final product of the human-centered design process is responsive to the community’s needs because it has been shaped by them from the beginning. Creating a responsive feedback-centered process that prioritizes the need of the community over anything else results in cheaper and simpler solutions.

Human-centered design can be used for more than just product design. CorpsAfrica’s volunteers go through human-centered design training to prepare them for creating their own programs. Applying the basics of human-centered design to policy and programming ensures that the programs are designed with the community’s needs in mind. This kind of community-focused programming is similar to community-led development. The human-centered design approach is all about community and people. Both processes encourage design from within communities to find innovative and creative solutions.

Pioneered by design firm IDEO, the Human-centered Design process is a useful tool for community-led development organizations and projects. There is a helpful and free online training toolkit for human-centered design at

Read more here and here

Some instructive videos are here and here

Image courtesy of

A How-To on Policy Advocacy

Advocacy is not a thing to be feared. This online training tool will equip and prepare you to confidently advocate for community-led development. Whether you are a total novice, much like I was before completing the course, or have some experience in your back pocket, PATH’s training lays down a step-by-step process that can be helpful at any level of advocacy work. On-boarding and syncing to a framework such as this can help streamline partnerships and coalitions who at one time all used different processes and terms but now can communicate easily and seamlessly.

Their ten part framework will help users strategize about the best way to affect policy change by implementing PATH’s own approach to policy advocacy that focuses on informing policy making, fostering coalitions, and strengthening advocacy capacity. Composed of a pre-test, introduction, ten modules, and a post-test this training promises to help those who complete it be able to:

  • Identify the critical components of policy advocacy strategy
  • Identify policy changes to address health challenges
  • Identify tactics for influencing decision makers

As a complete novice in policy advocacy I found PATH’s step-by-step approach very helpful to get a basic understanding about the most effective way to create policy change. The program is interactive and easy to understand. The training uses a case report influenced by real events to walk you through the ten step process. Each module use examples from this case report in every step from defining your advocacy goals to brainstorming effective advocacy activities and tactics. There are interactive sessions that allow you to deeply engage with the material.  

PATH was born from the ‘belief of health equity and the power of innovation to improve health and save lives’. For more than forty years they have pioneered progress in vaccines, drugs, diagnostics, devices, and system and service innovations. Their online learning platform G3 hosts a training for ‘Policy Advocacy for Health: a course on policy advocacy strategy development’. This training is a brief, yet thorough, introduction to policy advocacy. The program focuses specifically on advocacy for health policy, but the framework provided can easily be applied to other areas of focus as well. PATH’s training provides a common language and steps for advocates to follow to achieve their policy goals.This is a great tool for complete beginners and would be a useful part of any intern orientation for policy advocacy organizations. A quick, straightforward training such as this will be useful to get teams on the same page and help broader groups speak the same language.

Saemaul Undong – The Republic of Korea’s New Village Movement, part 2

Due to the successes the Saemaul Undong (SMU) Movement saw in the Republic of Korea (ROK) in the 1970s, the government of ROK began to expand their practices into Africa, Asia, and Latin America. ROK demonstrated unprecedented growth, introducing what the World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim described as “an economic and social revolution that made one of the world’s poorest countries an OECD member in less than 50 years”.1 The Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA) was established in 1991,2 with the intention of fighting global poverty based on the strategy that had seen such success in the past.

KOICA has identified its priority areas as:

  • Global hunger and food security
  • Climate change and humanitarian assistance
  • Overseas volunteerism
  • Public-private partnership promotion
  • Health and education
  • Aid effectiveness

In 2011, the United States and ROK signed a memorandum of understanding on international development cooperation, making ROK the first country to transform from a US aid recipient to a fellow donor.3 The SMU Movement laid the foundation, allowing ROK to achieve modernization and development, thus facilitating them to assist other in-need countries.

Now an Official Development Assistance (ODA) donor, ROK’s volume of international development programs remains relatively small but it has expanded significantly at a time when other countries are scaling back their development budgets.4 ROK has shown a determination to modernize their method of providing assistance and complying with international donor standards, by offering technical training to developing countries so that they may build up their own self-help programs.

Currently, KOICA is receiving requests from more than fifty developing countries to share knowledge about the successes of SMU-style community-led development. It is supported as a strategy either directly or indirectly by Nicaragua, Paraguay, Ecuador, Colombia, Senegal, Ghana, DR Congo, South Africa, Rwanda, Uganda, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Kyrgyzstan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Lao PDR, Vietnam, Cambodia, and the Philippines (see table below). It has been recognized as a legitimate alternative to development by the World Food Programme, the United Nations Development Programme, and the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific.5 In November 2015, ROK hosted its second annual Global Saemaul Leadership Forum (GSLF). More than 500 delegates attended from 50 countries to learn more about the SMU model. The primary objective of the conference was to spread the knowledge established by the Global Saemaul Undong Training Center in Seoul.6

Ethiopia Capacity building in agricultural irrigation in Dodota District
Ghana Vulnerable community empowerment for Saemaul Zero Hunger through Community Asset Creation
Uganda Enhancing nutrition and increasing household income in Karamoja sub-region through vegetable cultivation and marketing / Establishment of the National Farmer’s Leadership Center
Senegal The Project for capacity building of Agricultural Training Center in CIH / The Project for Improving agricultural Productivity on rice and onion
Bangladesh Korea-WFP Saemaul Zero Hunger Communities in Bangladesh

(Korean International Cooperation Agency.)

SMU as an official ODA model focuses on seven main objectives, identified by the KOICA “Smart SMU Strategy”.

  1. Multi sectoral approach
    • Integrative CLD model – livestock, fishery, social sectors such as education, health, hygiene, gender, technology such as ICT, energy, environment
    • Potential to contribute greatly to achievement of SDGs
  2. Incentive based mechanism promoting competition
    • Those who committed themselves to movement and generated good results received special incentives to do better. This generated a positive and virtuous environment which people compete to benefit their community
  3. Village level development
    • When a larger scale project is required to develop infrastructure, such as roads, rivers, water facilities, regional projects may be implemented
  4. SMU education tailored to the needs of each community
    • Village leaders provide education on SMU who have a better understanding of their communities
    • To improve capacity to deliver education, leaders are given opportunities to learn from each other via Saemaul Undong education center
    • To make education on SMU customized to characteristics and conditions of each village, local experts brought into process of developing textbooks
  5. Partnership
    • With purpose and determination, partnerships will be forged to carry out SMU projects. It is important to work with diverse partners, including international organizations, international NGOs, and businesses to innovate ways to deliver SMU to countries in need
  6. Appropriate Technology
    • SMU aims to drastically raise performance in improving the level of income within a short period of time by identifying and mobilizing helpful technologies
  7. Expanding Value Chain
    • Improving value chain, including production (land, seed, equipment, microfinancing, cultivation, technology), harvest, storage, processing, distribution, marketing and sales is important if income is to be increased on a sustained basis. Thus, it is taken into consideration in planning what activities to carry out to generate incomes (e.g. growing speciality crops)7

In 2014, the ROK government in partnership with UNDP launched the Global Saemaul towards Inclusive and Sustainable New Communities (ISNC) in order to scale up the New Village Movement as a viable development solution. In 2015, UNDP released a report on the Saemaul Initiative Towards Inclusive and Sustainable New Communities: Implementation Guide. Within it, UNDP explains the historical successes of Saemaul, and emphasizes the ISNC model as a new way forward. The hope with the project is to demonstrate “how various development operation modalities, ODA, domestic resource mobilization, and South-South and triangular cooperation can complement one another within one development initiative”.8

UNDP’s contribution will help develop an integrated local development approach, to expand beyond the scope of ROK’s capacity. The project will be defined by a 2-3-5 model of financing: 20% of ODA will be matched by 30% government cost-sharing and 50% in-kind contributions of labor and services mobilized by the communities.9

ISNC differs from the original SMU New Village Movement in its inclusion of sustainability and inclusiveness. Women, youth, and the community’s poorest strata will serve both as participants to the project and as beneficiaries. The original SMU Movement emphasized the inclusion of women, but ISNC will expand this further. The original New Village Movement ensured women played a leadership role in improving the local economies, involving them in rice saving campaigns, raising funds for other women, and running village consumer co-ops and daycare centers. Villages were strongly encouraged to elect a female Saemaul leader, and eventually every village had a woman in a leadership role. This process allowed Korean women to play an elevated role in society. Women were allowed to play different positions, such as banning gambling, creating village credit unions, increasing savings, and increasing the village’s living conditions.10

At the heart of the ISNC project are the three principles of the SMU movement: diligence, self-help, and cooperation. SMU seeks to alter the mindset of the community, so that all members of the village are invested in the improvement of their community. This method focuses on the three pillars of sustainable development:

  1. Economic growth
  2. Social development
  3. Environmental sustainability

The SMU Movement is growing with the help of international organizations such as UNDP, Millennium Promise, the World Food Programme (WFP), the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), and the Global Donor Platform for Rural Development (GDPRD). The Saemaul Undong movement in ROK also includes a strong international volunteer program, facilitating the spread of knowledge by deploying professionals to SMU partner countries. Some have even acquired a Master’s degree in Saemaul, and work to help monitoring and evaluation, local language interpretation, technical support for agriculture and livestock, and facilitation of correct technological usages.11

In these ways, SMU as an ODA model can greatly contribute to the SDGs’ ambitious objectives. SMU has been so successful because it draws off of voluntary participation, and accommodates developing countries’ government’s poor capacity to finance development projects.12 The ROK government has found that people in rural villages have achieved higher levels of happiness by volunteering to be agents of change within their own community. By overcoming obstacles to bring themselves out of poverty they are working towards a solution to make their own lives better in a sustainable way.

  1. Korean International Cooperation Agency. Saemaul Undong Rural Development. Republic of Korea, 2015. print.
  2. “Mission & Vision.” Korea International Cooperation Agency.
  3. Snyder, Scott A., and Seukhoon Paul Choi. “From Aid to Development Partnership: Strengthening U.S.-Republic of Korea Cooperation in International Development.” Council on Foreign Relations. 2012.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Korean International Cooperation Agency.
  6. Sawyers, Dennis. “South Korea’s New Village Movement.” The Borgen Project. December 20, 2015.
  7. Korean International Cooperation Agency.
  8. United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), 2015: “Saemaul Initiative Towards Inclusive and Sustainable New Communities: Implementation Guide.” Bureau for Policy and Programme Support, pg 22. n.d.:
  9. UNDP, 23.
  10. UNDP, 18.
  11. Korean International Cooperation Agency.
  12. Ibid.