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.

Proposed Budget Cuts: Community-led Development at Risk

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 the increase to the defense budget. Here is a snapshot of some departments that will be experiencing budget cuts:

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Picture Source: CNN Politics President Donald Trump’s Proposed Budget Cuts

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, culminating U.S. support to the United Nations’ climate change programs.

These budget proposals will have a direct impact on the 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. The CDL 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, which have been the frontrunner for women’s rights.

Community-led development begins and ends with the empowerment of women. This budget proposal would jeopardize years of progression that development programs have been able to achieve, particularly in the areas of reproductive and sexual health and gender equality. The ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) rely upon investments and resources from the United States, as well as other donor countries. The influence the U.S. has over foreign policy cannot be overlooked. Their funding is crucial in garnering support from communities around the world to see the SDGs come to fruition. The proposed budget has received strong criticism from both Republicans and Democrats.

The Trump administration’s budget proposal focuses on allocating majority of the federal dollars towards the defense budget. It is important that the International Development community stress to Congress that the USAID and the State Department are important entities to protect the United States from foreign attacks against our great nation. It is imperative that both the United States and the rural international communities are backed by the USAID and State Department.