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This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Making people-driven development work

Selections from the Report of the Commission on Development Finance, 11 April 1994, commissioned by SANCO

"People-driven development" has become the new in-phrase on the South Africa left. But what does it actually mean in practice? The SA National Civic Organisation recently commissioned a report on development finance. It takes the discussion of people-driven development forward and deserves wide reading.

We publish extracts here.

Only a first step

"Development is not about the delivery of goods to a passive citizenry. It is about active involvment and growing empowerment," according to the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP). Development is "a people-driven process".

"The central objective of our RDP is to improve the quality of life ... through a process of empowerment which gives the poor control over their lives and increases their ability to mobilise sufficient development resources".

This report puts forward some preliminary thinking on what the new government must do to ensure that communities are able to mobilise resources in a way that makes development people-driven. It is based on the understanding that money is power and that to change from the present developer-driven. institution-led, top-down development to present developer-driven development requires a total reversal of the way resources are distributed. In the past resources were in the gift of governments and development agencies; communities were supplicants. Community-driven development will only occur when communities control the funds.

This is not easy. There are no glib answers and we do not suggest any. But the evidence here and abroad is that communities can effectively control funds and use them more efficiently and honestly than development agencies with bloated and overpaid bureaucracies.

At the grassroots

People-driven development is more than communities simply agreeing to projects. It means they must take an active part in determining the very nature of the project, in designing it, and even in organising the construction work.

Our study has found numerous examples where civics and other community-based organisations (CBOs) have successfully coordinated or carried out development projects. At the same time, the most consistent complaints about development agencies occur where funding goes to developers and private contractors rather than to communities.

Communities have the skills

IDT [the Independent Development Trust] has commissioned semi-independent studies of some of its programmes, which underline this point forcefully. The evaluation of the drought relief development programme concluded that IDT "learnt that rural communities possess the skills, judgement, and above all, the desire to manage their own development."

At first IDT talked of a community approach, but its ideas were "vague and the emphasis perhaps fell more on community participation than on project control." Under pressure from commmunities, however, the emphasis shifted "as experience convinced the IDT that many rural communities do indeed have the potential to implement projects ... The sustainability of local capacity is dependent on empowermnet through control over resources and access to information." And the report stressed that "active participation, in our view, only becomes effective if it involves the control over resources."

The report also found that:

     "An analysis of the length of the planning process according to implementing agents shows that genuine community driven projects do not take any longer to complete" the planning phase than those which were done through NGOs and public sector agencies.

     "Rural community structures are able to administer a substantial bud-get, are capable of supervising large work teams and have the skills to deliver quality outputs."

     "The system of community elected committees has been an unequivocal success."

The report concludes that "there appears to be no convincing reason" for the use of NGOs or government agencies and that IDT should "make almost exclusive use of community committees as implementing agents."

Participation essential

Meanwhile, a still to be completed study of the IDT site and service (capital subsidy) scheme will be a harsh indictment of top-down development. It notes the scheme stressed delivery and pipe in the ground. Site and service was "developer-driven"; consultation and participation were intentionally limited in order to get the job done quickly. But it was more than that. One member of the study said they "gained a consistent impression that IDT was wary of allowing community leadership too much say"; developers, professional, and local government also resisted community involvement. Consultants' mistrust of civics and their attempts to bypass civics delayed some projects.

This has resulted in badly chosen sites which have not been occupied and the failure to organise maintenance leading to "a high risk" of collapse of roads, outlets and pipes.

The study notes that the single biggest complaint - greater even than the vociferous objection to getting a toilet and not a house - was about the lack of consultation and participation. One team member commented: "This is not just political rhetoric as some would assume. It is a genuine desire on the part ofcommunity organisations to be taken seriously and be given due responsibility for implementation."

The "few" instances in which communities were able to force IDT to give them an active role were the smoother-running projects.

Indeed, the only aspect that worked well was the one where communities were in charge - site allocation. "Community structures proved themselves capable of ensuring that fair, transparent and widely supported mechanisms of allocation were put in place." IDT could not have done as well on its own, commented the researchers. "More than any other argument, this demonstrates that more could have been achieved in other aspects of the projects had the local organisations been trusted and trained to make critical decisions."

No surprises

Such reports may come as a surprise to IDT and the development establishment, but not to members of this Commission. We cite these two studies at such length precisely because they come from a large main-stream agency and confirm what so many grassroots development workers - and communities themselves - have been saying all along.

Our experience also is that capacity grows when communities have something to work towards - a concrete project such as water or housing. In that way, money stimulates organisation. One of our Commission members noted that she watched some of the poorest and most dispossessed communities successfully establish creches within nine months, once they knew money was available.

We also support the system of in-principle approach introduced by IDT in its drought relief and development programme. Community groups and others were able to sumbit quite simple and scrappy initial proposals on which a decision was taken within seven days. With in-principle approval, the community could then work on a detailed plan with some confidence that the project would be approved; this clearly had a capacity building effect. By contrast, most NGOs and donors re-quire proposals to be detailed before they will look at them; many cornmunites have had hopes raised by NGO representatives or other facilitators only to have those hopes dashed when the proposal was rejected. The effect is decapacitating rather than capactiy building.

Money and power

Money is power, and apartheid power relations will never be redressed until communities control development funds. The RDP recognises this when it says that housing subsidies "must be paid directly to individuals, groups or community controlled institutions." This is in contrast to the payment of subsidies directly to developers.

There is also a practical reason for this. Bad housing construction led to many bond boycotts; often this bad construction was gross andcorrupt, such as houses built without foundations. Housing and site and service schemes were often built on land which a developer wanted to sell, rather than in a place where people wanted to live. If local people had controlled the money, these expensive mistakes would not have been made.

It will require significant amounts of money to capacitate community groups, but the savings from preventing mistakes and corruption could be as least as large. And communities are more likely to maintain projects that they have controlled, reducing future costs.

Strong community involvement also ensures much greater participation by community members as workers and contractors, and means that more of the project money remains in the community to stimulate the local economy further.

The RDP puts substantial stress on community-based organisations. "Locally controlled housing associations or cooperatives must be supported." "Village water committees" should be created in rural areas, where clean water is seen as the top priority.

Group ownership

The apartheid government and all of its development agencies put a blinkered stress on single ownership - that houses and farms must be owned by individuals. The RDP calls for other forms of ownership. It calls, for example, for "the development of new and innovative forms of tenure such as Community Land Trusts and Communities are more likely to maintain projects they have controlled other forms of group land holding. On housing "the democratic government must ensure a wide range of tenure options including individual and collective home ownership as well as rental".

Group tenure and ownership are empowering because they give people experience of working together. There are also practical advantages. Throughout the world, housing associations and cooperatives have proved to be efficient and sensitive providers of affordable housing.

One of the most useful and important aspects is likely to be community liability and responsibility. Poor people without permanent jobs are rarely able to obtain loans - from small loans for informal trading to larger loans such as house bonds - even if they are able to pay from their income. The history of collective liability and responsibility is that if a group of people take out a loan, they ensure it is repaid; if one group member falls ill or becomes unemployed, the others temporarily cover the payments. Small business loans are often more easily made to groups of people in the same trade, such as carpenters or car mechanics, who may also be sharing equipment and premises. Conservative private institutions will not readily lend to such groups, but a new state clevelopment bank could do so profitably.

What is a "community"?

It is essential to be more precise about what a "community" is, how to ensure that community groups are representative, and what the relationship is between communities and the new democratic local governments. None of these three questions are easy and they will continue to be debated for many years to come. In the next few sections, we discuss these issues and try to lay down some broad guidelines, knowing that we cannot be definitive and that many books will still be written on the subject.

We consider a "community" to be a geographically defined set of people who are few enough in number for direct democracy - meetings and assemblies - to be practical. Thus a community will be one or two urban neighbourhoods, a small town, or a few nearby villages.

Communities tend to define themselves and this should be accepted, unless the boundary has been intentionally defined to exclude some group on grounds of race, income, etc.

Because of the geography and history of apartheid, communities involved in their own development will normally be of disadvantaged people. Community groups may join compacts and forums with groups from previously privileged sectors of society, but these sectors would not normally be seen as part of the same community. This will change over time, as apartheid geography and disparities are broken down.

Community-based organisations (CBOs) are voluntary bodies within a community - civics, parents' associations, traders' groups, etc. Some will be representative, while others such as churches and sports clubs represent special interests.

Representative community groups

Communities are never homogenous or unified. Inevitably different people will have different interests. So if community groups are to carry out development activities effectively, they must be broadly representative, reflecting the interests of all the diverse groups in the community. They cannot be dominated by one party, a warlord, traditional leaders or men. They cannot be hijacked by a special interest group.

Truly representative groups will be a challenge to the vested intereststhat dominate many communities. Aparthed and the lack of democratic institutions mean that some communities are controlled with an iron fist by thugs, warlords or hated chiefs. People may be frightened to join forums without the approval of the headman.

There are no easy solutions. It will take time and outside support to build community groups which incorporate both traditional leaders and acitivists, old men as well as young women, home owners and shack dwellers, and so on. Sometimes the problems are more subtle. We have noted many examples of civics which are accepted as representative; but others are not. We noted one instance where the civic was broadly representative of all political interests but was male dominated and came into conflict with the local women's group. Some civics have represented most of the community but come into conflict with traditional leaders.

This problem is not just academic; people have been killed when broadly acceptable development projects conflict with the interest of a small group in a community, for example, illegal migrants who did not want to register with any agency, or thugs who saw an illegal business threatened. Small groups in the community, or individual traditional leaders, cannot be allowed to veto projects. But ways must be found to accommodate their needs.

This is directly relevant, because we have argued that representative community goups have a right to capacity building finance. The challenge is to define effective minimum standards to ensure that groups really do represent the entire community, while not creating complex bureaucratic hurdles. Communities must be able to understand and comply with the rules without out-side help.

Creating a representative group is likely to be a long and continuing process. Apparently broadly based community groups may still only represent the elites and powerful groups, or may be taken over by them. But part of capacity building is enabling people to articulate their needs, and encouraging them to challenge authorities which do not represent them.

Composition of committees can often play a defining role in setting priorities. For example, the study of the IDT drought relief development programme noted that committees consisting primarily of women opted for creches, clinics, water systems and income generating projects, while male committees showed a bias toward stock dams, fencing, road construction and business centres. Older people preferred farming activities while younger ones wanted community and recreation facilites. Teacher-dominated committees wanted school extensions.

Development forums and trusts

In our study, the Commission saw a number of examples of successful community development organisations. Community Development Forums and civics seem able to bring disparate interest groups together. Community-based Development Organisation (CBDOs) have shown that they can actually carry out development.

The RDP says "government must support capacity building in the district councils, local councils and voluntary community structures such as local development forums. To advise communities of their options, it must train a cadre of Community Development Officers." We note that the word "officers" has a very bad connotation, so we will refer to these people as "Community Development Facilitators" (CDF).

There will be many routes to representative community groups and CBDOs, and whatever system is established must be flexible while also having clear and simple rules. There is an urgent need to put in place some structure, however temporary, that recognises community groups as representative, gives them capacity building funding, and supports the establishment of CBDOs. In what follows, we propose a two step system. This is not the only possible system, and it :nay not be the best one. We propose it here as way of opening a discussion. In addition, we call for the setting up of a rapid study group to collect together quickly the substantial amount of material which already exists on representative CBOs .and CBDOs. Based on this, it should refine our suggestions or make alternative proposals. The study might also identify common capacity building needs.

Our suggestion is that community groups would get help from the new Community Development Facilitators, NGOs, the new housing bank, or other agencies to form Community Development Forums which are broadly representative of all disadvantaged people in the community. Once approved, they would have a right to government capacity building finance to help them to establish a CBDO, which would then have preferential access to development finance.

Starting out

Nearly all communites have a range of community groups: civics, church groups, clubs, burial societies, stokvels, farmers' groups, etc. Established communities may have more and better organised groups, but even highly mobile communities with many migrants or recent arrivals are likely to have some kind of community groups.

The first step would be for sever-al of these groups to get together and agree to try to create a local development forum. Where there is a strong and representative civic, it could play the leading role. The civic or committee could do this on their own, or might request help from an NGO or another community which has already gone through the process.

Community development facilitators When the corps of Community

Development Facilitators has been established, they would be expected to spend a week or one day a week over several weeks with the initial committee or civic, helping to broaden the base and set up a forum. The CDF would need to be someone who spoke the local language but who did not come directly from the community.

A key task of the CDF would be to have informal interviews with people in the community to try to compile a list of exisiting organisations and of people trusted in the community - at all levels and including at least half women, to ensure that the list does not simply include traditional leaders and established power brokers. These groups and people should be drawn into the process. The CDF should also try to determine if the founding committee represents just one faction in the community, or is broadly representative.

The CDF should have access to small amounts of money, say up to R500, which could be given to the founding committee for its initial expenses. This committee would call the public meetings needed to establish the forum.

CDF's must be facilitators and not gatekeepers or prescribers. A CDF should help the community to articulate its own needs, and should tell the community what funding is avail-able. Communities must be allowed their own way forward even if the CDF does not agree, so long as the outcome is broadly representative. But the line between setting minimum conditions and prescribing ways to do things is sometimes very fine.

Finally, it is essential to separate the roles of facilitator and inspector. In particular, the CDF cannot be used to authorise or refuse grants or land - the development bank or the reconstruction office must send someone separate to assess whether the community satisfies the criteria. There are two reasons for this. First, a facilitator may become too close to a community, and not have a clear view of their suitability for a loan. Second, the primary role of the facilitator must be to assist the community, and therefore they must have the total trust of the community; if the CDF also authorises loans, a community may be less honest with the CDF about its problems. (We exclude the tiny initial R500 grant from this.)

The Local Development Forum

The first step would be for the initial committee to have a series of public meetings or assemblies, held at different times of the day to accommodate people with daytime or evening responsibilities. In larger communities, different meetings would be in different villages or neighbourhoods. These meetings must be well publicised, both orally and in writing, and announced two weeks in advance. They would establish: 1) the need for a forum, 2) who should be on it, and 3) what the development priori-ties for the area are.

The Forum should have a mix of members delegated by community groups and members elected by the community. By law, members should stand for renomination or re-election at least every two years. Also by law, at least half of the members should be women.

Other rules would be set by the community. All interest groups of disadvantaged people should be able to send delegates but the community should decide how this would be done. For example, in an area where the churches are strong, religious groups might elect a joint delegate. In an area of tension between two politial factions or parties, the community may feel that the two parties should be represented on the Forum rather than be outside sniping at it. If a civic is the largest CBO, it might have two or three members on the Forum. Local notables might also be appointed.

Once the structure was agreed and members chosen, the Forum would then present itself for approval at another series of community assemblies. A record should be kept of attendance at the assemblies and of any objections voiced at the meetings.

As well as elections, the Forum would also need to hold regular assemblies - at least annually, as well as whenever there was a controversial decision to be taken.

Registration of the forum

The new local government legislation requires the establishment of a local negotiating forum which covers the entire municipal area and includes local government bodies, civic associations and political par-ties. Such forums are to be registered by the administrator of the Province. Local development forums are very different, because they represent only disadvantaged groups in a small community. But the registration mechanism seems appropriate. Therefore, we call for the creation of a registration system for local development forums, which would certify that they are representative of a given community. This could be done by the Administrator of the Province, as with local negotiating forums, or by a special Registrar of Community

Development Forums.

To register, a Community Development Forum would need to show it was genuinely representative of all interests by satisfying a set of clear and simple rules. In particular, it would need to have satisfied the conditions set out above about public meetings, membership, etc.

If the assemblies approved the Forum and if it submitted the required doumentation, the registrar would give it preliminary approval. Notices would be posted prominently in the community inviting objections. If there were no substantive objections, say within a month, the Forum would be approved as the representative of all disadvantaged interests in the community. But the registrar must be able to investigate objections. We were told of one instance where a civic established a development forum. An individual in the community submitted an impressive looking petition to an NGO saying the forum was not representative and saying that he should be given money to set up a proper one; later investigation showed most of the signatures to be fake.

Role of the forum

The Forum would have four roles. Most importantly, it would speak for the community on development issues. It would be the main contact point for local and regional government. It would help to choose the site for a new primary school or health centre, discuss road plans, and consider proposed new developments. It would also play a key role in setting priorities - is housing more important than a new school? Which vacant site should be developed for housing first? and so on. In areas where there is a community compact, the Forum would represent disadvantaged groups in the compact; it would also be represented on the local negoatiating forum.

Second, it should begin work on a priority development project, such as housing or water. Experience shows that a concrete project is needed to build an organisation. As part of this, it should set up a CBDO.

Third, it should look to other development projects, such as creches or support for local small business. A key function should be to set up a local savings club or credit union, which would be encouraged to give loans to groups in the community. This is a particularly important way of keeping money within the community and supporting local micro enterprise. Also, savings clubs have had some success in becoming a meeting point, particularly for women.

Fourth, the forum must participate in local and regional networks of forums - to share ideas about development, experiences with CDFs and NGOs, etc. Networking is the best way for communities to learn from each other.

In some areas, the community may not feel the need for a Development Forum. For example, the local civic may be representative enough and the community may see no need to create yet another organ-isation. If the Community Development Officer or the registrar agreed that this was the community wish, then a civic or other existing organisation should be able to move directly to form a broadly based CBDO and should get the capacity building finance to do so - without being formally recognised as a development forum.

CBDOs and development trusts

The final step is to establish a legally recognised Community-based Development Organisation (CBDO) which can hold land, be given grants, sign contracts with builders, become a financial intermediary, etc. The form of a Community Development Trust seems simplest, but many other models are available such as housing associations and non-profit companies (Section 21 or otherwise). Whatever form is chosen, members must be accountable to the community. Again there should be delegated and elected members; again there must be elections or renominations every two years; again half must be women. But the mix should be different from the Forum, with fewer political representatives and more people with practical development, construction and business skills. Trustees should not be able to amend the bylaws of the trust except through a people's assembly.

The Forum is a policy-making body; the CBDO is an implementing body. The CBDO reports to the Forum. National regulations must ensure that CBDOs have preferential access to development funds.

A Trust will normally be set up to carry out a specific project, often housing. But once that has started, it probably will want to take on other development initiatives.

On a housing project, the CBDO would collect the subsidies of individual participants. It would hire consultants, architects and others to help it plan the project. It would normally also hire a project manager. The CBDO or its project manager could serve as its own contractor and actually organise the house building - which might be particularly appropriate where there is partial self-building - or it might contract a local or national building firm.

Finally, as well as Forum-based CBDOs, there are also beneficiary-based CBDOs. Often structured as cooperatives, these are groups building something for their own benefit, such as housing co-ops building their own homes, or a group of artisans building shared workshop space. So long as the community considers their activity acceptable and not contradicting its priorities, beneficiary-based CBDOs should also be backed.

Great variability

The speed and ease with which this process takes place will vary hugely from community to community. Some communities already have development forums and community trusts which satisfy the rules. In areas with strong civics or other strong CBOs, it might take six months or less to set up a CBDO.

But other communities may take much more time to establish an appropriate structure. They may require one or two years to reach the stage of a trust. But this cannot be pushed. And it is surely wrong to try to force a community to move faster than it is ready to, or try to dump development on an unprepared community. NGOs and other voluntary agencies should be encouraged to support those communities which are least organised.

The degree of involvement of the community through the Forum and CBDO will also vary considerably. School building will ultimately be the responsibility of the local council. Some Forums may feel their role should be limited to helping choose a site and putting pressure on the council to move faster. Others may feel that the Trust or community company should actually build the school, and may perhaps try to raise additional funds to add adult education facilities or a community hall. Similarly, some communities may wish to build their own roads - perhaps as part of a public works or job creation scheme, while others may feel the council should do it.

Where forums of trusts are inappropriate

This model cannot be the only one. The structure will be too elaborate for some things. Beneficiary-based committees may be more suitable in some instances. For example, rural water committees might be best composed of local water users - mainly local women.

Some communities may feel that they already have too many committees, and will want to work through existing ones even though they do not fit the rules precisely. This must be accepted so long as they are seen locally as representative. Certain kinds of projects, such as large greenfield housing developments, may be too large for a single forum and CBDO, because they affect several communities. In that case, it may be necessary to work through compacts, or for the relevant forums and CBDOs to come together to form a larger community development company.

We must accept that many people are desperately busy simply trying to earn enough to survive. Even an active and militant community may prefer to let a big national contractor build the houses with community monitoring, rather than to take the time to do the project themselves. This is a reasonable choice - if community control is taken seriously.

But it can also be very divisive. A warlord or a private developer may offer to put houses on the ground fast, and this may slit the community.

Several people told the Commission that it is faster (albeit less equitable) to dispense money through NGOs, consultants, universities and other gatekeepers, and communities may wish to do this. But the experience of the IDT drought relief development programme suggests that putting money through gatekeepers is not, in fact, any faster.

Finally, we must return to the insistence that local government provides basic services. This cannot be conditional on any form of community organisation. Rubbish must be collected whether or not there is a forum; schools cannot require that parents form a committee.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.