Community-Led Development and Its Rationale


Patriarchy and ‘’top-down’’ development approaches have resulted in little or no change to the poor in the bottom. Instead of focusing on what strengths, assets, and capacities the communities possess, the approach solely has been trying to address the gaps and vulnerabilities without working to utilize or build upon the strengths. As a result, the existing indigenous skills and knowledge that are appropriate to the context were often ignored and less valued. Since the design, planning, and implementation of these projects didn’t consider the needs and wishes of the communities it usually becomes impossible to ensure sustainability upon their phase-out. As a result, dependency, lack of ownership and little or no impact have been the common features of many short-term, ‘’top-down’’, quick-fix development programs.

The most important issue with international development is delivering required resources to the right place at the right time and ensuring those resources are being integrated in a sustainable manner. The greatest failure of international development to this day is the wasting of resources due to lack of proper understanding of the contextual factors and its realities. It is this lack of accountability and meaningful investment—“the tragedy of aid”—that William Easterly criticizes in his book The White Man’s Burden (Easterly, 2006). He argues that while a significant amount of resource was allocated for the projects in developing countries, there is “shockingly little” growth to show for it. This can occur when bureaucratic interventions by governments, non-governmental organizations, or transnational conglomerates impose “top-down” solutions that fail to take into account both the needs and wishes of the bottom. Conversely, if solutions to community issues are identified and rectified by community-developed remedies—ones that better understand the delicate intricacies of local issues—success and sustainability are much more likely.

According to the Voices of the Poor study (Narayan and others 2000), based on interviews with 60,000 poor people in 60 countries, poor people demand a development process driven by their communities. When the poor were asked to indicate what might make the greatest difference in their lives, they responded: (a) organizations of their own so they can negotiate with government, traders, and NGOs; (b) direct assistance through community-driven programs so they can shape their own destinies; and (c) local ownership of funds, so they can end corruption. They want NGOs and governments to be accountable to them (Gillespie, 2004).

Based on this evidence and lessons from its many years of working with developing countries, the World Bank initiated community-driven development (CDD) and currently supports approximately 400 projects in 94 countries valued at almost $30 billion (Wong, 2012). CDD programs operate on the principles of ‘’transparency, participation, demand-responsiveness, greater downward accountability, and enhanced local capacity’’. The World Bank recognizes that CDD approaches and actions are important elements of an effective poverty-reduction and sustainable development strategy (World Bank, 2017).

The CDD and community-led development (CLD) have enormous overlaps, commonalities and share similar principles however the former approach is mainly project focused whereas the community-led development focuses on improving systems by changing mindsets, building capacity, ensuring self-reliance to achieve sustainable development.

What is Community-led Development?

The Hunger Project and many other organizations came together and have initiated a movement of 32 like-minded organizations committed to the success of the SDGs-called ‘’the movement for community-led development.’’ Calling for enhanced power and capacity of communities to take charge of their own development.  The movement has its own conceptual framework with each member organizations having developed their methodologies based on its principles. But what’s community-led development?

Researchers and organizations have defined community-led development in various ways however they all agree in the principles and that the approach puts the communities on the driving seat as agents of their own development with some external support from CSOs or government. Inspiring Communities which is an organization that catalyzes locally-led change in New Zealand defined the movement for community-led development (CLD) as ‘’the process of working together to create and achieve locally owned visions and goals. It is a planning and development approach that’s based on a set of core principles that (at a minimum) set vision and priorities by the people who live in that geographic community, put local voices in the lead, build on local strengths (rather than focus on problems), collaborate across sectors, is intentional and adaptable, and works to achieve systemic change rather than short-term projects (Inspiring Communities, 2013).’’

Torjman & Makhoul (2012) defined ‘’CLD as a unique approach to tackling local problems and building on local strengths which are guided by several core principles.’’ Some of the guiding principles are it ensures the voice and views of citizens, seeks to empower community members, co-creates a governance process, sets aspirational goals or visions. Despite their differences, community-led development approaches are bound together by a set of guiding principles, assumes that all communities and their members have strengths, skills, and resources on which to build, frameworks for change and translation of aspirational goals into specific steps. Community-led development is not a straight pathway. It is a process of continual learning and checking of progress against objectives (Torjman & Makhoul, 2012).

Community-led development focuses on step by step process of empowering communities to take charge of their own development. Evidence shows that community building, capacity building, ownership building, creating impact and ensuring self-reliance to bring sustainable development can best be addressed through community-led development. The community-led development allows people to participate in and feel ownership for their own development, gives an opportunity to the communities to prioritize urgent needs specific to their own community and builds trusting relationships, positively impacting perceptions regarding the capability of actors and the impact of their efforts (Mercy Corps, 2010).

John Coonrod (2015) says ‘’Community-led development is more than participatory projects. It requires a long-term process that empowers citizens and local authorities to transform entrenched patriarchal mindsets and take effective action.’’ The movement is inspired by SDG #16 calls for building participatory, effective, accountable institutions “at all levels” – which must start at the level closest to the people.

CLD is a social innovation as it intends to address the development related social issues of the society in a new bottom-up approach which is a gender-focused and transformative process. Community-led development has strong relevance to good governance, peace and security, and humanitarian response, as well as to urban and rural social and economic development. As a result, it’s crucial to allocate funding and other resources for long-term development programs that are integrated and focus on empowering the local communities through community-led initiatives. The external forces such as CSOs and central government should acknowledge the capacities and strengths of the indigenous people. Thus, they should focus on supporting the processes by listening to the needs and wishes of the communities until and after the communities ensure their local self-governance, resilience, and self-reliance.



Coonrod, J. Development (2015) 58: 333.

Narayan-Parker, D., & Patel, R. (2000). Voices of the poor: can anyone hear us? (Vol. 1). World Bank Publications.

Mercy Corps. (2010, June). The Benefits of Community-Led Development Programming in Insecure Environments: Findings from Iraq and Afghanistan. LEAPP

Gillespie, S. (2004). Scaling up community-driven development: A synthesis of experience. International Food Policy Research Institute, Food Consumption and Nutrition Division, FCND Discussion Papers, (181).

Inspiring Communities. (2013). Learning by Doing: community-led change in Aotearoa NZ. Publisher: Inspiring Communities Trust, New Zealand.

Torjman, S., & Makhoul, A. (2012). Community-led development. Caledon Institute of Social Policy.

The World Bank. (2017, Sept 22). Community-Driven Development. Retrieved from

Wong, S. (2012). What have been the impacts of World Bank Community-Driven Development Programs? CDD impact evaluation review and operational and research implications. World Bank, Washington, DC.