Community-led development (CLD) is the active involvement and participation of local members in the decision-making, planning, implementation, maintenance, and monitoring of development projects in their own communities. Within the CLD approach, the communities themselves identify their needs, set priorities, and create solutions to address the most pressing challenges they face. Recognizing that each community is different and has unique priorities is imperative to a successful CLD program.
CLD aims to improve the social, economic, and environmental conditions in impoverished communities by allowing members to take ownership of the development process. It reverses the traditional top-down approach, where outside managers (often from the Global North) dictate programming, to a bottom-up approach emphasizing the strengths and capacity of the community members. Key principles of community-led development include participation and inclusion, leadership and empowerment training, local ownership, capacity building, and collaboration. By amplifying the voices of villagers, CLD fosters self-reliance and self-confidence, strengthens social bonds within the community, and improves the overall well-being of the community members.
Success depends on various factors like the level of community commitment and participation, the level of trust in the partnership, and resources available. It is important to note that CLD is a more gradual process requiring additional time but yielding continuous learning, adaptation, and the emergence of highly effective local leaders. When implemented effectively, community-led development has the potential to bring about significant and sustainable change in extremely poor communities.
Shanta Foundation’s approach allows us to form CLD partnerships with villages in both Myanmar and Zambia, relationships that create permanent change for the members of these communities. From the initial meetings in the villages to review their needs, to forming VDTs (village development teams), community banks, and the various committees that lead the chosen programs, Shanta puts local people in “the driver’s seat,” allowing them to make all decisions and design their path out of poverty.
While we provide some leadership at the beginning of a partnership, we gradually step back to allow more responsibility and independence in our partner villages. Villages graduate with the knowledge needed to maintain their upward progression out of extreme poverty. We do interval check-ins post-graduation to ensure the development is permanent and monitor our programming to finetune our work to best support future village partnerships.