One of the most powerful things we have observed in the community development process is that when the community gets involved, they acquire a sense of ownership and begin to identify and address other issues. One of those is corruption.
Throwing it Back
When local issues of perceived or obvious corruption arise, it’s tempting to want to jump in and save the day. It’s much more effective, however, to allow the community to own the issue and the solution.
In one community development process, the locals had decided that a gardening program should be their initial project. However, when it came time to finalize plans, one of the local village leaders stood up at a community meeting and said, “No, what we need is a better road into the community.” He then proceeded to whip out a plan that he had drawn up complete with (outrageous) cost estimates.
Our development process and meeting came to a screeching halt. It was evident that he had a history of being a strong leader and his outburst made the other community members uneasy. As the outsider, I didn’t know anything about this man’s plan or where his ideas were coming from. The community’s hesitancy in confronting him brought the entire process to a stand-still.
What happened next was a lesson in humility (for me), and ultimately, one of empowerment for them.
First, I DID NOT jump in with a solution or attempt to overrule this gentleman.
Second, I threw the situation BACK to the community.
Third, I helped them revisit the tools and exercises that had led to the original decision of the gardening project.
The road to good community development is paved with patience.
It wasn’t easy. At times, I grew frustrated to have to revisit the CD process. However, watching the community members apply the tools they had acquired to this particular situation proved to be very gratifying. They came at the issue from multiple angles, entertaining multiple solutions. They also contributed the kind of local knowledge I could never have known–further shaping their decision-making process. Turns out, a road had been proposed many times before, but the funds relegated to that process typically ended up in the pockets of the leaders-one of which was this gentleman.
Ultimately, he withdrew his proposal and the community moved ahead with their chosen project. Within two years, the gardening project had proved to be a great success and, in a sense, a gateway project for other improvements. The community made bold strides and acquired clean water, improved agricultural techniques, a better school building and, lo and behold, a new road.
As a CD professional, this experience confirmed to me that tremendous results can be achieved by following just a few, ultimately very simple guidelines.
- Do not jump in. Do not offer a bandaid. Do not think that you know what’s best for a people and community you’re just getting to know.
- Throw it back. These issues belong to the community, thus the solutions should as well.
- Let the CD tools work for you. Trust the process. If said tools helped a community reach a positive, agreeable solution, those same tools can be applied when a conflict arises.
Every community will face challenges along the way. Most projects will involve a degree of adversity and possibly corruption. It is neither effective or appropriate, however, for CD professionals like you and me to swoop in and slap on the solution we think is best. Give the community the respect and space to find their own solution, which will likely be exponentially more powerful and longer lasting.