The importance of community participation in global development

Community participation builds development which is sustainable, long lasting and less susceptible to corruption and mismanagement. In fact, it forms a key aspect of our unique approach to development which is centred around 3 main principles: set precedence to, raise expectations for, and promote participation in the management of resources.

At African Development Choices, we believe this approach empowers communities to make informed choices about how their public resources are managed. More importantly, it enables communities to independently meet their needs for essential services. And building independence enables real, lasting change.

The World Bank’s Economic Development Institute (EDI) have found that active community participation in project planning and implementation can:

“improve project design through the use of local knowledge; increase project acceptability; produce a more equitable distribution of benefits; promote local resource mobilization; and help ensure project sustainability1”

With first hand experience, communities are far more attune to what is needed for their development. Their participation not only provides valuable local insight, but also instils a level of accountability. If community members are actively involved in and informed of the processes of development they are more likely to hold accountable the organisation providing services and resources. With this information it becomes easier for the community to detect instances of resource mismanagement and corruption.

Of particular interest is the idea proposed by EDI that community participation produces a fairer distribution of benefits. Problems over equitable development are most clearly highlighted by gender issues. Women’s voices are underrepresented in decision-making processes on a global scale. By engaging women in community participation, resources can be managed in a way that builds support for women and girls, enabling them to be a part of their development. If not, we are helping to sustain a cycle where resources are managed by men for the primary interest of men.

As the EDI have said:

“Women are not able to make their full contribution or receive their full share of benefits unless projects are designed to take into account the special needs and potentials of women.2”

By taking a closer look at Rwandan politics, we can see how increased engagement of women in decision making leads to advancements for gender equality. Rwandan politics is often cited as a model of gender inclusiveness. Women hold 64% of the seats in the lower house of the country’s national legislature, the largest share of any nation3. The higher representation of female politicians and lawmakers in government has resulted in the passage of important legislation built to benefit women. In 1999, Rwandan women were officially allowed to inherit property in the absence of a will. Other reforms enabled women to use their land as security to obtain loans. Female financial independence was encouraged through legislation which granted women the right to open bank accounts without their husband’s permission. Girls’ education was prioritized through efforts to increase female college attendance. Rwandan women in parliament also lobbied for laws against gender-based violence that outlawed marital rape, and amended the succession law in 2016 to enable childless widows to inherit a spouse’s property4.

By taking a closer look at Rwandan politics, it becomes clear how female representation helps create legislation which promotes the needs and interests of women. Similarly, we can take this logic and apply it to community participation, where the participation of women in development projects and resource management better serve the interests of local women in the community. In order to achieve sustainable development for both sexes women need to have a voice.

Community participation in global development encourages the use of local knowledge and resources, promotes a more sustainable approach to development and local independence, and instills a sense of accountability. This approach also helps to promote gender equality through the participation of women who are all too often left out of decision-making processes.

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