Take leadership from those most impacted

Important principles in the development / humanitarian sectors include, “Leave No One Behind”, “accountability to crisis affected people” and “localisation”. To be able to live to these principles, community development workers need to cultivate humility and take direction and leadership from those most affected by an (development / humanitarian) project or issue.

Because people on the receiving end of great injustices have to live with the consequences of development / humanitarian interventions that seek to address those injustices, they have the most to gain from the success of a program or project – and the most to lose if the program / project is unsuccessful or just doesn’t go according to our assumptions. At worst, we can do harm.

These communities are also the best equipped to identify and to articulate, workable solutions to the challenges they face. A project or programme that ignores or minimises their knowledge and voices could easily do more harm than good.

Accepting guidance from another isn’t always easy for those who identify themselves as ‘leaders’ or ‘experts’. Self identified leaders and experts sometimes rush in too quickly, confident they’ve got the answers. Their pre-conceptions and prejudices make them ignorant to the organic answers all around them. We can mitigate this by being intentional about respecting the process and cultivating accountability.

Accountability can be a scary concept for community development practitioners, and even more so for the organisations they work for. But its best to think about it as a proactive process that we walk together, rather than a standard that is either achieved or not.

The booklet, ‘Organising Cools the Planet’ outlines four basic principles for cultivating accountability:

  1. Transparency means being clear about your purpose, goals, power, ways of working, and limitations. The point here is to be as open as possible about your perspectives and motivations.
  2. Participation is about actively and equitably engaging with folks about the decisions that effect them. Especially under-represented groups within the communities we work.
  3. Reflection and deliberation means that we actively open up conversation to re-evaluate where we’re headed. It happens after participation, but once it’s begun, it is a continuous thread that is woven throughout the experience.
  4. Response is the ability to make amendments and adjustments to issues raised by reflection and deliberation.

However, it is important to remember that accountability is not the end goal; collaboration is our goal. Accountability is the pathway we walk. The cycle above moves us towards increasingly successful collaborations. Don’t be discouraged if collaboration is difficult at first. Trust takes time. Be forgiving of yourself and others; we all make mistakes.

Taking leadership from the most impacted / under-represented community groups is a great opportunity to learn from and support under-represented groups to regenerate / activate their communities. It can be one of the most profound and rewarding experiences as a community development worker.

In Sum: Effective community development work requires providing appropriate support to and direction from those are have the most at stake.