Empowering Communities and Representative Institutions
Practical Action has developed a framework for a community-centred approach to reducing vulnerability, see 'From Vulnerability to Resilience (V2R)'. It recognizes the need to build the capacity of community members and institutions to analyse their situation and to plan and implement relevant activities to strengthen resilience.
Empowerment to build communities’ capacity to determine their own future as well as to access and influence institutions and decision making process that affect them is central to Practical Action’s approach to livelihood security. Building self-reliance is at the heart of our approach, and this is achieved through valuing and respecting people’s livelihood choices and building on local skills, capacity and knowledge to strengthen those livelihoods. Most of our projects take a collective approach to working and this is achieved through strengthening local institutions, such as Village Development Committees, Women’s Development Associations and other Community Based organisations. These organisations vary considerably, some are connected to the lowest level of government (e.g.in Nepal) and others are based on traditional tribal structures, sometimes outside of project support (e.g. in. Sudan). Other groups are more specific and represent the interests of groups within communities such as women, fishers, farmers or blacksmiths and others are based on social institutions such as savings and loan groups or water management groups.
Community organisations are essential in ensuring that communities are able to analyse the causes of their situation of poverty and envisage and plan for positive solutions. Community based approaches promote local ownership of processes of change, and so can ensure better management of knowledge and resources for implementing public action and ensuring sustainability long after external support phases out.
Practical Action has developed guiding principles to support the process of working with community organisations and help overcome some the challenges that can be faced. There can be obstacles to mobilising community organisations which can include problems of dependency, accountability and the maintenance of existing hierarchies where the interests of the group is captured by elites, therefore not addressing the needs of poorer members. Our guidelines contain three main principles that experience has shown are important when working with community organisations: (1) Facilitate community empowerment and self-reliance through a ‘light touch’ that encourages empowerment and lessens dependency on external actors (2) Include and represent the poor to ensure their voices are heard (3) Meet practical needs to ensure wellbeing as community organisations can be most effective and sustainable in situations where they meet people’s specific on-going needs. In order to enact these principles, Practical Action uses a number of tools in different contexts to encourage successful and self-reliant community organisations which include facilitation, community based planning and capacity building measures such as leadership training, bookkeeping and financial support. More detailed information can be found in Practical Action’s ‘Training for Transformation’ Handbook and ‘A Light Touch’ briefing paper.
In Zimbabwe, Practical Action has worked to develop an approach of ‘community based planning’. Community based planning is a process of producing plans that can be designed, implemented, managed and maintained by local communities. This process empowers local communities to voice t...Read more
In North-West Kenya, close to the border with Uganda, recurrent drought and disease epidemics have had devastating effects on pastoralist’s livelihoods. The situation has led to increasing cattle raiding by neighbouring tribes which accounts for over 70% of deaths amongst males aged 30-3...Read more
Strengthening community organisations is the key strategy used in Northern Darfur, Sudan for helping people to help themselves. The area is affected by drought and conflict and is more often associated with humanitarian aid than long term development processes. Practical Action works with Vill...Read more
The Awajun communities live in the San Marin region of Peru, they traditionally live off of products they collect naturally from the forests they live in. However, in the past few decades, migrants from other areas of Peru have encroached on their land and have started cutting down large tract...Read more
Facilitation and participation are key in Practical Action’s work in food and agriculture. Through facilitation, our aim is to strengthen community skills, knowledge, confidence and collaboration. An example of this kind of participatory facilitation is in our work in Sudan which is help...Read more
Practical Action works with the extreme poor who have failed to benefit from past development assistance and are often overlooked by development agencies and NGOs. They are different from smallholder farmers, as the extreme poor are not merely poorer than poor people: they are without assets, ...Read more