Madhura Sawant-Suryawanshi, Outreach International

From Theory to Action: Witnessing Community-Led Development Unfold in Kulicamp, India

Movement Matters #16 – By Madhura Sawant-Suryawanshi, Field Operations Research and Advocacy Manager  

In June 2023, my journey with Outreach International (OI) began with the idea that people, no matter where they are, have the inherent strength to shape their futures. When I joined OI, I was keen to dive into Participatory Human Development (PHD) and Community-Led Development (CLD). But, honestly, the actual depth of what our program partners facilitate hit me when I found myself in Kulicamp, a small community in Rayagada, Orissa, India. I believed in our community-led approach, in theory, but Kulicamp brought it to life. I went there expecting to see our methods at work, but I witnessed something much more profound — the untapped potential of a community coming to life.

Let me tell you about Kulicamp. It is a small village that is not on many maps. The people here are used to being overlooked. I met some community leaders in Kulicamp. Most of the leaders I met were women. The houses in this community were temporary and close to the highway. The community members wanted to live in a more secure place, so they planned to relocate to an area with permanent houses on higher ground and away from the highway. This was a challenging task! The community members came together for meetings, recognized this need in their community, identified the appropriate resources, and created a concrete plan to mobilize the government to obtain the permissions needed for relocation. And all the hard work in systematically identifying and tackling the issue paid off. Community members have successfully obtained the necessary legal permissions and resources from the local government authorities. Eighteen households would move to this new location. I’ll never forget the pride on the women’s faces as they showed me the plots for their new homes. They had moved from the vulnerability of the highway, temporary houses, and living in a low-lying area to a place of their own choice, safer and with a sense of permanence. These were the same women who used to be silent during meetings and never really looked into affairs outside their households, but now they were leaders who had ideas and visions for their community. This is a significant achievement! This wasn’t just about building houses; it was about building lives. The women had transformed from silent community members to confident leaders and decision-makers. 

What I saw in Kulicamp is a significant testament to the self-sustaining development that CLD can facilitate. Building this kind of self-sufficiency is what truly defines our work at OI and aligns us with the essence of CLD.

After visiting Kulicamp, I realized our work at OI isn’t about giving communities what we think they need. It’s about listening, guiding, and stepping back to watch them thrive. Our Participatory Human Development (PHD) approach isn’t a one-size-fits-all; it’s a living, breathing journey that adapts and grows with every community. Kulicamp is just one example of how faith in people’s abilities can go a long way. Communities like these remind me why I’m here and why the community-led approach of organizations like OI isn’t just important — it’s essential.

OI’s journey with the Movement for Community-Led Development (MCLD) is more than a partnership; it’s a commitment to the fundamental belief that communities hold the key to their development. Our involvement with them helps us foster an environment where community agency leads the charge towards a better world. Community members’ success in Kulicamp reflects how OI’s core values align with MCLD’s global movement that aims to help communities tackle the root causes of poverty. We firmly believe that those who face specific challenges are the best at designing their own solutions. This belief is not just theoretical, but it guides our community-led operations in nine countries worldwide supporting 106 community groups. At OI, we share the MCLD’s ultimate goal of scaling CLD worldwide, and we know that our steps are effective and impactful.

Joining the MCLD was a strategic step that deepened my understanding of CLD and expanded my worldview. The movement serves as a reservoir of knowledge for me, offering a rich amalgamation of global and practical strategies. I was particularly enlightened by the webinars hosted by MCLD, such as the (Un)Learning Labs CoLMEL. I was thrilled when one of our field mentors from the Philippines had the privilege of presenting her work and learnings from the field. Another webinar that impressed me was the recent one on halting gender-based violence. Participants shared their experiences and challenges of working in the sector. These experiences offered a window into the application of CLD across various contexts and cultures, fueling my passion and reaffirming my dedication to the cause of CLD.

About Madhura

Madhura currently works at Outreach International as the Field Operations Research and Advocacy Manager. She has recently completed her second Master’s degree from the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Born and raised in India, Madhura has cultivated a deep passion for participatory movements. She acknowledges the vital role of community involvement in achieving sustainable and equitable development, a realization deeply rooted in her
experiences and origins. This understanding continually drives her dedication to advocating for community-led development.