Is community-driven development just a fad or an achievable vision? Can a very (economically) poor community invest in its own development? These were some of the central questions of the 20th anniversary Kenya Community Development Organization (KCDF) conference on ‘Durable development: shifting the power, building community resilience.’
The conference brought together 300+ development practitioners for two days of power-packed exchange and intense dialogue. Our main takeaway from the conference was the answer to the above question – yes! It is possible for the community to fund their own development, no matter how poor they may seem, because of the very fact that they are poor in the first place by design! Therefore, to change this, there is a need for the power to shift – shift closer to the ground, giving the people agency to act on their own.
The discourse on power was very interesting. The participants debated on what to let go and what to retain given their positioning on the overall scheme of development (as beneficiaries, as donors, as service providers or practitioners). But what was more interesting was the notion of ‘realizing the power within.’ Thus arises the idea of durable development – development that is not a resource and time-bound ‘project’ but a ‘process’ that is driven from within. The way development processes are designed to operate may be blocking the shifting of power but it is also true that it’s the mindset that governs us all.
Amidst the powerful stories and intense conversations, we struggled to absorb the new insights while at the same time also engaging in deep introspection on our own values and practices. We were in awe of the richness of the discourses of the African continent as well as its philanthropic progress. We also felt very proud to be associated with Tewa, a women’s fund founded 22 years ago in Nepal and grounded on the same values and principles of durable development. The thoughts and aspirations of the founder, Rita Thapa, in founding Tewa resonated fully with the thoughts and sentiments behind this new (alternative!) development paradigm that charged the conference. This confirmation was very reassuring.
The various presenters and panellists highlighted core elements of durable development including community assets, capacity building, and trust among diverse actors. Tewa does not have any specific criteria for grantmaking. This in itself is a strategy for shifting the power to the people, empowering the people to define their own agenda and development need instead of Tewa defining what kind of ‘activities’ or ‘projects’ it can or cannot fund. However, there is one specific criterion for grant application: grants are provided only to organized groups of women or community-based women’s organisations.
The Aha! moment came during the discussion on philanthropy as a key pillar for driving durable development. Earlier, our limited understanding of philanthropy was just ‘raising funds’ to do the work. Now, we understand that philanthropy itself is the real work we all should be doing. We do not raise funds to pursue a cause but create philanthropy around the cause itself. It’s about creating organized groups, consolidated voices, and collective actions around issues that matter to the people. Durable development is about resilient communities that are empowered to drive their own development.
Back to the question – can a community which is very economically poor be the donor of its own development? Yes, they can, by generating and mobilizing local resources. This process begins with shifting our mindset, and our narratives of development and empowerment, from ‘communities are poor and vulnerable and need external support’ to ‘communities are resourceful.’ They possess assets, ideas, and a readiness for meaningful engagement in the process of their own development.