What a Community Development Program Actually Does

by McDonald
(DWU Madang)

Visitor Question: What is the main function of the community development? And what does community development program actually do to further develop the community?

Editors Reply: We decided to respond to your very general question by trying to help visitors from across the world see that the variety of options for community development programs is nearly endless. We note that you are writing from New Guinea, so we will begin with noting that we do not know about specific community development programs there. Yet we can offer some helpful observations about what a community development program anywhere might entail.

We also won't be referring to permitted activities under the community development block grant program in the U.S. Our U.S. visitors can read those for themselves.

So community development programs in general focus on two types of things: (1) developing "soft skills" and leadership among residents and especially disadvantaged populations so that they can take an active part in decision-making in their own communities, and (2) actual action strategies to allow people to improve their own lives and the collective economic, social, and environmental welfare of the community as a whole.

Community development internationally often emphasizes the leadership and decision-making skills in the belief that empowering ordinary people is the best way to assure that their voice is heard in deciding on economic courses of action, assuring clean drinking water and disease prevention, and forms of government and informal social organization.

Notice that this type of community development "program" only is relevant in a democratic framework where people have some hope of influencing directly their own circumstances.

Also notice that important segments of the society as a whole, and the national or provincial government, must be interested in and supportive of allowing voices that may be under-represented to be heard. If particular social classes or ethnic or religious groups, for example, will not be allowed to improve their lives, a community development program based on principles of meaningful citizen input will not thrive. Perhaps it will not even be allowed to exist.

So the activities for this side of community development concentrate on some type of training, which may involve learning to work effectively in groups and also development of individual leadership, analysis, and political participation skills.

Putting that aside for a moment, let's talk about possible action strategies that might go into a community development program in a specific location. Keep in mind that all of these would be based on the idea of representation and participation of ordinary people able to speak up about their own needs and wants.

Community development action strategies might include:

1. Economic development, meaning in this case finding adequate ways for people to make a living that is sufficient to support basic human needs for nourishing food, shelter and clothing appropriate to both culture and climate, positive social contact, and participation in the dominant culture. This last fancy phrase, participation in the dominant culture, means that a person might need different things to feel positive self-esteem in the United Kingdom as compared to Belize or Ghana or Papua.

2. A physical environment that is conducive to efficiency, beauty, health, and achievement of social goals such as education, human fulfillment, and the ideal family life as defined by a tribe or society. Under this banner, community development action strategies might be directed at drilling wells, paving roads, providing a way for people to reach the internet, creating beautiful crossroads or centers for activity, providing for efficient sewerage disposal, or promoting a variety of transportation strategies that work for the local population.

3. Rough social equity among ethnic, racial, religious, and tribal groups. While differences in both status and economic and physical environment are inevitable when comparing groups, those gaps should not be very large. Further the society should be capable of closing gaps when they are noticed. Now of course we are being very idealistic about human nature here, but you asked about what community development programs actually do, and we would say that most of them aim for this lofty goal.

Under social development, we also often see community development programs concentrate on alleviating economic, educational, and health disparities between elites and the general population, or between most of the population and some ethnic or geographic pocket that lives in a way that is substantially disadvantaged when compared to the societal norm.

So in short, we have to say that what community development programs actually do varies enormously, depending on local needs, resident desires, and the characteristics of the larger society in which one participates.

We hope this is somewhat relevant to your question. You can dig into our website further if you want to look at particular aspects of community development. On most, if not all, of our pages, we try to highlight actual action strategies that would be part of a community development program.

Thanks for the cute photos; we have used one.

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