Community-Led Development in the face of COVID19?
The emergence of COVID-19 in 2020 posed an existential threat to thousands of international development programs. Organizations stopped operations as local staff self-isolated and expatriates left the country. How could a modest rural village-led development partnership program stand up to such a tremendous challenge? Precisely because it is village-led.
Almost all of the village development work done in our village partnerships is done by the villagers themselves. Shanta and Muditar (our implementing arm in Myanmar) are advisors, trainers, facilitators, and cheerleaders. As a result, our Village Development Teams (VDT) don’t need us to tell them what to do. Why? They have been trained to lead the work in their own villages. So, when disasters strike and other development models pause or fail, community-led development projects continue serving the people who need it the most.
How does this look in practice? Before the true scope of COVID impacts were fully understood, our villages, led by the VDTs and project committees we trained, were already self-isolating, setting up quarantine centers, adapting project activities, and engaging Muditar to begin planning for how projects could best be supported remotely. Our VDTs also looked ahead to the economic impacts of lockdowns. Many of our partner villages adjusted how their community banks operated–interest rates were decreased, repayment terms were made more flexible, or smaller loans were made available to meet the needs of a more cautious clientele.
These are just a couple of examples of how well-trained local leaders can adapt development projects to respond to and overcome difficult circumstances. By the end of 2020, we were able to see that far from being a year of lost progress for our partnerships and projects, we had achieved as much as almost any other year in Shanta’s history. Why? The villagers lead the work.