The Challenge Emerges

The history of community development is as old as human civilization. As an international political priority it dates back to Mahatma Gandhi’s vision of an India without a central government, but as an “Ocean of Village Republics.” (See the History of CLD page here).

(Featured photo above: formal launch of the Movement, September 2015)

In the Post-World-War-II effort to fight poverty worldwide, international aid flowed into many projects that today could be described as “community-led.” During the 1970s, for example, USAID provided more funding to the CLD programs in South Korea than to all of Africa. However, from the mid-1980s, these were largely pushed off the agenda by competing priorities:

  • Structural adjustment, which reined in spending of low-income countries
  • Global health campaigns, such as Child Survival and work to halt HIV/AIDS, which seemed to demand a more “top-down” approach
  • Complex humanitarian emergencies following the end of the Cold War, which again appeared to require top-down action

Organizations which saw the importance of human-centered, bottom-up and holistic approaches held high hopes that the multisectoral goals set forth at the 1990 World Summit for Children and then the 2000 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) would turn the tide were disappointed to see the continuing trend towards single-sector, top-down projects.

Bottom-up champions continued their work, but found they needed to “sneak” participatory activities into sectoral projects. Since their was no funding window for these activities, each organization developed its own in house jargon for these approaches. With no major funding windows, there was no community of practice, no share best practices, no evidence base for demanding policy change. Groups felt isolated and alone.

Getting Serious about Transformation

Beginning with the 2010 review of the MDGs, a number of civil society groups began coordinating advocacy efforts with a view towards the upcoming Post-2015 Agenda.

In 2011, The Hunger Project won a grant from the UN Democracy Fund to create a community of practice on Participatory Local Democracy – a theme which seemed to express what was missing. A Washington DC advocacy office was established to drive the project. Regional conferences were held in Asia, Africa and Latin America and two annual “State of Participatory Democracy” Reports were published, and a multi-dimensional Participatory Democracy Index was created and mapped across 90 countries, and were launched during the 2013 and 2014 UN General Assembly side events, and presented at international development conferences worldwide.

Lack of traction: By 2014, two lessons were learned: (a)

  1. the theme of “Participatory Local Democracy” — which attractive to its adherents – was gaining no traction with policy makers.
  2. Meanwhile, the new literature under the banner of Community-led Development was clearly a better “umbrella” term for what we stood for. CLD seemed to embrace both the growing successes of Community-Driven Development funded by the World Bank and others, as well as the non-donor-funded self-reliant social movements.

In 2014, a number of conferences were held to design a Movement for Community-led Development in the run up to the formation of the Post-2015 Agenda.

Launching in 2015:

There were three major milestones as the world launched the Sustainable Development Goals (2015), all under the banner of Localizing the SDGs.

  • Conferences at the Mandela Foundation in South Africa, and the launching of the first MCLD National Chapter in Malawi – nationally televised, involving high-level government participation.
  • Addis Agenda for Action: MCLD (not yet formally launched) held a side event on devolution and celebrated the inclusion of paragraph 34 of the Financing for Development, at which donors committed to scale-up funding for local development.
  • Formal Launch: On September 25, the day the SDGs were signed, the Movement was announced during the Plenary on Poverty and Hunger. A side event was held September 30, hosted by the Government of the Philippines, showcasing their successful CLD program. Unbeknownst to us, South Korea also held a side event on their commitment modernize and spread their CLD approach, and the UCLG held a side event. Our initial membership comprised 18 well-known International Non-governmental Organizations.

2016 – Getting to Work

Building on the network of relations established during the Participatory Democracy work, the Movement began to organize and hold monthly meetings, and organized policy seminars.

  • Events were held at the World Bank, the International Food Policy Research Institute, and during the UN Commission on Social Development, Commission on the Status of Women, the High-level Political Forum and the UN General Assembly.
  • Chapters were launched in the UK, Netherlands, Uganda and Senegal.
  • A Shared Analytic Framework was established, to overcome the lack of a shared language and ways to compare interventions to facilitate CLD.

2017 – Global Expansion

The global Membership expanded to more than 50 INGOs, and chapters were launched in Benin and Burkina Faso.

2018 – The Quest for Scale

Zambia: As the Movement grew momentum internally, the proof would be in the pudding: could we work together to seek and establish larger scale demonstrations of CLD? The first opportunity arose in Zambia. Funding was available for a program there, and a consortium was formed by The Hunger Project, Heifer International and Restless Development.

Mexico: The first Latin American chapter was launched and – two weeks later Mexico was high by an Earthquake. It quickly expanded into an 80-organization Movement for Community-led Earthquake Recovery, to address the often inappropriate top-down disaster response by the central government particularly in indigenous rural communities.

Regional Strategy: To better support the new chapters in Africa, three staff were assigned as Regional Coordinators for West, East and Southern Africa.

Merger with Locus: As the CLD banner was raised higher, we kept discovering other like-minded groups and networks. Locus – a more research-focused group facilitated by PACT and FHI360 – was focusing on many of the same issues and – like MCLD – discovered it really needed to begin establishing activities in low-income countries. As we began tripping over each other, we realized it would be smart to merge, and so we did. This brought us a Research Working Group which could help us address one of our key goals – to assemble a body of evidence for policy makers considering the kinds of profound policy changes required.

2019 – Supporting Greater Action

The Hunger Project expanded its financial support for the Movement by hiring two experienced senior advisors – one to support the regional coordinators and one to coordinate a collaborative research. Other milestones during the year included:

  • Zambia: launching the MCLD Chapter and the first Consortium project.
  • Togo: launching the MCLD Chapter, particularly with local youth groups.
  • Nigeria: holding exploratory meetings with various civil society networks.

2020 Pandemic as a Portal

As many experts have pointed out, the Covid-19 Pandemic presented both a human and economic disaster, and an opportunity for long-needed transformation. As development professionals were pulled out of rural communities, organizations that had established partnerships with committed community leaders discovered that these leaders had immediately stepped forward.

To support organizations struggling to adapt programming during Covid-19, MCLD began holding specialized Zoom calls, and providing reflection papers and sharing materials among hundreds of local organizations.