Experience with community-driven development (CDD) shows that communities already have substantial skills. Local capacity exists, but needs empowerment to be harnessed. This is a major conclusion of a technical consultation organized in Rome in 1997 jointly by the World Bank, FAO, IFAD, and others.
Considerable institutional capacity already exists in communities and local governments. This capacity has been cloaked by a lack of local empowerment to use it. Any definition of capacity that focuses only on technical capacity will miss the huge potential that exists. Existing capacity is best defined as the ability to solve problems. People who have survived by trying to solve problems in difficult economic and political conditions have considerable capacity to put their experience and skills to work, once they are empowered.
Capacity building in communities is an important objective, but needs to be preceded by mobilization of community capacity that already exists but becomes evident only when communities are empowered. Empowering communities means that communities should have voice, decision-making powers, and access to resources.
Three key facets of community empowerment are:
- Organizing and improving community participation - Participation is a central pillar of the CDD approach. Rather than being mere recipients of services and grants, communities take the lead in the development process. Only communities know their local conditions and issues and are best placed to decide what their priorities. The participatory process gives communities the opportunity to analyze and discuss their local situation in systematic fashion, identify community needs and implement action plans. The pariticipatory process is inclusive of all the different social, ethnic groups within a given community. It provides the space for the hetrogenienty of the community to be exposed and thus would lead to identification of community needs and priorities that are reflective of all the different social groups involved. Participatory planning processes also tap into existing social capital, and also help build and strengthen the community’ social capital. The methods, tools and techniques needed for community participation are not new, and includes village mapping, Venn diagramming, semi-structured interviews etc. The process typically includes the following steps: diagnosis; identification of priorities; problem and solution analysis; elaboration of action plans ; ensuring fuller participation of vulnerable groups; strengthening community organizations; and strengthen community based accountability.
- Financing communities through matching grants - In order to develop local planning and resource allocation capacities, it is important that there is a shift from earmarking to matching untied grants where communities have control over the funds. Untying matching grants does not mean giving money with no rules or conditions at all. On the contrary, it must be accompanied by guidelines to ensure wide local participation; to promote transparency and accountability; to prevent fraud and misuse; to avoid elite capture and social exclusion. The money will not be tied to specific projects, but its disbursements must be based on the observance of approved procedures, and ultimately on performance. The concept of matching grants implies that local communities will contribute part of the share of project costs. Good social accountability mechanisms accompanied by a strategic communication and information dissemination campaign is a pre-requisite. Communities must be equipped with the information and knowledge required for them to actively participate and contribute towards the design and implementation of their own development initiatives.
- Targeting interventions to ensure the participation of socially excluded sections - It is important to recognize that communities are not homogeneous, and targeting may be needed to reach normally excluded groups such as the poor, women, youth, elderly, handicapped, socially marginalized groups (due to class caste or ethnicity) and minorities.
Community empowerment will be unsustainable if it is not embedded in institutional structures. It is crucial to have linkages between the community and other stakeholders, and community empowerment needs to be accompanied by local government empowerment. It is important to ensure adequate political, administrative and fiscal decentralization. Local governments need to have both the authority and resources to plan and coordinate local-level schemes and provide local frontline services.