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.

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


SDSN Report for Sustainable Settlements

This Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSNreport was written for municipalities to make progress on the Sustainable Development Goals. The SDGs provide a roadmap to sustainable and balanced development. Sustainable human settlements, both cities and rural areas alike, are critical for our planet’s health.

SDG 11 is the ‘cities’ goal, which recognizes and prioritizes the importance of sustainable, inclusive, resilient, and safe cities. There are concerns that Goal 11 “may promote separation between urban and rural areas,” but Goal 11 refers to all human settlements, cities and rural communities alike. Organizations who provide reports such as this one, whose focus is to help cities and urban areas, should construct and provide a toolkit for rural areas as well.

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The 2011 IFAD Rural Poverty Report states 55% of the world’s population lives in rural areas, about 3.3 billion people in 2010. About 34% of these 3.3 billion people live under $1.25 a day and 70% of the developing world’s 1.4 billion extremely poor people are living in rural areas. These numbers are a bit dated, but the impact is still relevant. The World Bank’s updated number of those living in rural areas worldwide to be 46%, still a very large number of people. With our human family numbering around 7.3 billion people, 46% is still 3.358 billion people, which suggests the 2011 numbers are still very plausible.

The points made in this report to promote sustainable cities and inclusive development apply to cities as well as rural areas. Each bullet point below summarizes a part of the report and can be applied to both urban and rural areas.

  • Local governments play a key role in defining local SDG policy and programming, as well as monitoring progress. What’s needed for local leaders are access to development resources and a ‘Sustainable Development Roadmap’ with concrete goals and targets to help settlements become more sustainable.
  • Initiate an inclusive and participatory process by stimulating public participation, increasing political alignment between stakeholder groups, by promoting the convergence of efforts by different development actors, and ensuring the inclusion of marginalized demographic groups and communities.|
  • A local SDG agenda should be prioritized by needs the community deems important and the targets should be relevant, achievable, and correspond to the local government mandate.
  • Sustainable SDG implementation needs policy coherence, multi-sectoral planning, and reflexive and responsive policy-making.
  • Monitoring and evaluation processes are important to gauge local SDG progress. The best M&E practices for monitoring local SDG progress are program performance administration, accurate settlement data, and evaluations, preferably external.
  • There is an opportunity for decentralized governments to have more power over SDG implementation and success. Cooperation and partnership with local government maximizes effectiveness for SDG success.
  • The triple bottom line of social development, economic development, and environmental protection calls for integration across government and policy by working across sectors, encouraging coordination among institutions, aligning development goals across government, and promoting multi-sector planning.
  • Adequate municipal finance will be crucial for the accomplishments needed for the SDGs to be successful. Cities should explore alternative financing mechanisms.
  • All levels of government will have to build institutional capacity to achieve the SDGs.
  • Policy frameworks are a set of principles and long-term goals that form the basis of legislation and regulations, giving overall direction to the planning and development for a country/region, or within a sector of operation. Policy frameworks will need to be shifted and made to be more enabling for the SDGs to be achieved.

A rural report need not be a completely new project. The processes outlined in this report to localize government and integrate participatory practices applies to rural areas as well. The success of Goal 11 will be best met when all local governments are transparent and inclusive. Delving into the subnational level of government is critical for the success of the SDGs; as much as 65 percent of the SDG agenda may not be fully achieved without the involvement of urban and local actors. However, a focus on urban development only is detrimental for the inclusive growth between urban and rural areas. A proportional amount of resources should be available for rural areas to ensure Goal 11 and all of the SDGs are met.


Rural poverty statistics from IFAD report and presentation.

HLPF 2016: Localizing the SDGs

From 10-20 July 2016, local and regional governments will be in New York to share their perspectives on the implementation of the SDGs with the international community and to launch the Roadmap for localizing the SDGs.

The High-level Political Forum on Sustainable Development (HLPF) is United Nations’ main platform for the follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals, adopted at the United Nations Sustainable Development Summit on 25 September 2015.

The session of the HLPF in July is the first since the adoption of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs. The session will include voluntary reviews of 22 countries and thematic reviews of progress on the Sustainable Development Goals, including cross-cutting issues, supported by reviews by the ECOSOC functional commissions and other inter-governmental bodies and forums.

The Global Taskforce of Local and Regional Governments has co-organized two side events alongside the formal sessions of the HLPF.

The first, on Localizing the SDGs: transforming global goals into local realities, is co-organized with UNDP, UN Habitat, UCLG and nrg4SD, will be held on Friday the 15th of July, and will see the official launch of the Roadmap for localizing the SDGs.

The second, on Localizing the SDGs: Achieving Global Goals through Subnational Action is co-organized with SDSN, the Office of the Mayor of New York City, 100 Resilient Cities, UCLG, nrg4SD (organizing partners of the Local Authorities Major Group), UNDP, and UN Habitat, and will be held on Tuesday the 19th of July. (Concept note attached)