Archives for May 2016

Traditional Communities Hold Keys to Building Resilience to Climate Change

Traditional communities hold keys to building resilience to climate change

2015 was the 3rd hottest year on record, and 2016 promises to keep up with this hot trend. On April 22nd, 175 parties (175 countries and the European Union) signed the Paris Agreement. IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report (2013) notes that the “warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia. The atmosphere and ocean have warmed, the amounts of snow and ice have diminished, sea level has risen, and the concentrations of greenhouse gases have increased”.

Climate change is real. Climate change will certainly impact our everyday life, if it already isn’t doing it. While in big cities and developed countries we have the tools, mechanisms and funds to combat climate change effects to some extent, less developed countries and remote communities are hit harder. How will they cope with climate change impacts? How can they become more resilient?

Many traditional communities around the globe still have a powerful tool that is being recognized, to some extent, as a main ingredient in creating climate change resilience: traditional knowledge. It is a key part of the solution to addressing climate change impacts and traditional and indigenous communities are now recognized as key partners in seeking solutions to a global problem. Including traditional knowledge in projects that focus on building climate change resilience means also building sustainability of our environment and communities.

Traditional communities have always planned their lives according to changes in weather patterns and their environment. Fishing, fruit picking, hunting of certain animals, planting – all are well timed according to the local climate and weather. Because of this, traditional communities were among the first to notice changes in weather patterns. They were also the first affected by these changes.

Because of their flexibility, some communities are already increasing their resilience by changing their planting or hunting schedules, looking for technologies (accessing underground water where water became scarce), diversifying their crops, changing supply storage methods or even moving to a different area.

Two important notions in studying resilience are vulnerability and adaptive capacity.

Vulnerability is the degree to which a system is susceptible to, or unable to cope with, adverse effects of climate change, including climate variability and extremes. Vulnerability is a function of the character, magnitude, and rate of climate change and variation to which a system is exposed, its sensitivity and its adaptive capacity (IPCC).

Adaptive capacity is the ability of a system to adjust to climate change (including climate variability and extremes) to moderate potential damages, to take advantage of opportunities, or to cope with the consequences (IPCC)

These communities and their environment are vulnerable to climate change impacts. The Building Climate Change Resilient Communities course looks at how to determine the adaptive capacity of a community and their environment to cope with climate change impacts. It is very important to understand that all things are connected: climate change resilience means also building sustainability of our environment and communities.

 

Village Earth Global Affiliate Cambodian Rural Development Team Enhancing Access to Clean Water

Training

Here is some point about the CRDT activities at the moment. We are working to help the rural communities to develop themselves and have access to new livelihood activities while reducing their impact on the environment and their consumption of natural resources. One of the challenge for rural communities is also to face the climate change, as we are living the driest season ever in Cambodia.

SHG training center

SHG training center

Water supply 2

Community Water Access Point

  • Water Supply: funded by ‪#‎AusAid through Direct Aid Program, CRDT facilitated the construction of 2 small solar powered pumping and water supply systems which were recently built in Pu Cha village, Sre Preah commune, Keo Seima district, Mondulkiri province.

Now the whole village of 78 households are not worried about water access and they are started to think about improving their livelihoods, health and sanitation with home-connected water.

Water Supply

  • Environmental Education: sensitize workshops and training are on-going in the Mondulkiri area to raise the rural communities’ awareness about protecting the environment, reducing uncontrolled hunting, fishing and logging activities, and improving the agricultural productivity by practicing new agricultural techniques. The goal here is also to help the communities face and adapt themselves to the climate change.
  • Enterprises: CRDT is also encouraging the development of small enterprises with skills and capacities training, and loaning through the creation of Self Help Groups.
Self Help Group training

Self Help Group training

Learn more about/Support CRDT //www.villageearth.org/global-affiliates/cambodian-rural-development-team

Village Earth Global Affiliate: “As We Move Ahead, ICA Nepal for Social Reform”

(Acknowledgement to donors 2) The collected amount being handed to founder of SSDRC, Ms Sabita Upreti(right)by Ms. Ishu Subba, Executive Director (left) of ICA Nepal.

The collected amount being handed to founder of SSDRC, Ms Sabita Upreti(right)by Ms. Ishu Subba, Executive Director (left) of ICA Nepal.

Acknowledgment to Donors!

With the collaboration with Village Earth ICA Nepal was able to support 40 autistic children residing in Special School for Disabled Rehabilitation Center (SSDRC) with hygienic food for two months. SSDRC, which is situated in Bhaktapur District of Nepal admits and provides facilities free of charge for the students receiving education from there.The students there belong to various marginalized communities like indigenous and so-called low caste groups of Nepal. The school gives priority to more needy and vulnerable children who cannot afford to get the better schooling for their children. On the basis of poor economic condition, rural origin and severity of autism, children are admitted in the school.All of the children are autistic and receive special education including various physio-therapies in the school. The school provides them day care facilities with various vocational trainings, therapies and education.

(Acknowledgement to donors 1 )Happy faces of students at (Special School for Disabled Rehabilitation Center) SSDRC

Happy faces of students at (Special School for Disabled Rehabilitation Center) SSDRC

With an aim to improve physical hygiene of the children and support the organization for managing food items for 2 months for 40 children with Autism from age 3-13, ICA Nepal uploaded the project in the website of Village Earth. The amount which was collected after the effort was handed over to founder of SSDRC, Ms Sabita Upreti. The therapy sessions and education as well as vocational trainings are expensive affair and lack of financial support compromises the proper care of the needy children. SSDRC is dedicated to provide optimum support for the development of the children there. ICA Nepal along with SSDRC is very thankful for the generous support of the donors for the noble cause.

In brief: Training and Facilitation for Capacity Building

ICA Nepal is currently working with diverse groups of the society ranging from people living with disabilities, school teachers, development workers, young people, women and Rotarians through social artistry initiatives. International Trainers, Ms. Janet Sanders from USA and Ms. Evelyn Philbrook from Taiwan have been facilitating series of Social Artistry Leadership Trainings this month. Social Artistry Leadership training facilitates the development of skills and potentials in both individuals and groups in ways that enhance their societal awareness, liberate their inventiveness, increase their ability to work cooperatively with others, and raise their levels of self-esteem.

The training aims to tap inherent human capacities for greater imagination, compassion and resolve. This training aims to use multiple styles of thinking and expand the contemporary leadership challenges to manage the complex social and organizational issues.

(In brief training and facilitation) two participants engaging in an activity to enhance deep listening skills at Social Artistry Leadership Training organised for differently abled people

Two participants engaging in an activity to enhance deep listening skills at Social Artistry Leadership Training organised for differently abled people

Community Development Initiatives

In order to empower civil societies and local community, ICA Nepal has initiated community development activities in remote and rural locations of far and mid-western region of Nepal. With the series of intervention, ICA Nepal aims to improve the living standard, social and economic status of the marginalized community of the region and thereby preservation of human rights, actions against discrimination, implementation of rights and laws, restoration of peace and justice.

 

Call for support: Rural Women Struggling with Unsanitary Way of Dish Washing

(call for support) Local woman in Parbat washing dishes outside her house without any sanitary approach

Local woman in Parbat washing dishes outside her house without any sanitary approach

The problematic topography of our country has constrained development. Parbat is one such example of the case. The topography hinders development in many ways but as the fate of most of the hilly districts Parbat faces proper hygiene, water crunch and sanitation issues. The unsanitary way of washing dishes makes the area prone to water borne epidemics and infections, water pollution and promotes unhygienic practices. The people here have no basic awareness about the impact of such unsanitary way of life and moreover they don’t have enough capital to spend for the construction of the basin which would prevent them from many diseases and also make the surrounding beautiful.

The latest project uploaded in Village Earth aims to curb this situation by constructing sanitary dish washing pits in 100 households of the area where proper facility of dish washing is not accessible. The water collected in the pits can also be reused for farming purpose. This project, ‘construction of proper dish washing basin and reuse of grey water in a remote village of Parbat’ is designed to provide the villagers of Parbat district with sanitized dish washing pits with the purpose of maintaining healthy and sanitary practice. Once the fund is collected, project will be implemented within 6 months by ‘Kali lamaya laghu udhyami mahila sahakari’, the women-cooperatives based in Parbat. Therefore, with this project we aim to induce reusing culture in the area, promote hygiene and proper dishwashing system. Therefore through this, ICA Nepal likes to take an opportunity to request support to help the local rural women of Parbat.

Learn more about/Contribute to ICA Nepal //www.villageearth.org/global-affiliates/institute-of-cultural-affairs-ica-nepal

Village Earth Global Affiliate Human and Hope Association Providing Cambodians with ‘Sew Many Opportunities’

Sewing project siem riep cambodia

Recruiting villagers to study in the sewing program at Human and Hope Association (HHA) is no easy feat. The staff at this grassroots organisation based in Siem Reap, Cambodia, have to spend weeks on end driving around dozens of villages, promoting the benefits of training and conducting assessments. Well, usually, that is. Over the past few weeks TEN villagers have approached Human and Hope Association to be part of their seventh generation of sewing students due to the increasing popularity of the program. People are seeing the advantages of the ten-month sewing program at HHA, and they want to be a part of it.

Sewing project siem riep cambodia

The sewing program at HHA has developed substantially over the past three years, and now they retain 100% of their students who study with them. These students learn for three hours a day, five days a week. They take care of a garden at HHA and receive rice and vegetables as a stipend for studying to ensure their families are well-fed. On Fridays they study life skills and learn about topics such as domestic violence, marriage laws, anger management, job skills and hygiene.

Sewing project siem riep cambodia

Over the course of ten months they learn everything from how to use a sewing machine, to making school uniforms, to designing their own traditional ceremony tops.

Sewing project siem riep cambodia

After studying in the program for three months the students have the opportunity to take out a microfinance loan with HHA. They purchase a machine to practice their lessons at home and begin fixing and making clothes for their neighbours. They begin repayments six months after first receiving the machine so that they are confident in their ability and are not pressured to pay back their loans straight away. This microfinance program has maintained a 100% repayment rate over the past three years.

Sewing project siem riep cambodia

Upon graduating, armed with a diverse set of skills, HHA’s students seek employment in sewing shops, run sewing businesses from their homes or are hired by HHA to make products for a fair wage. Just last week HHA introduced refresher workshops, with students participating in monthly workshops for five months after they graduate, to ensure they continue to develop their skills in Cambodia.

Sewing project siem riep cambodia

Around 95% of the students in HHA’s sewing program are female. Women in Cambodia face many issues, particularly with gender equality and roles. This program is incredibly empowering for the women who study as they learn that they have the ability to stand on their own two feet, and a voice to stand up for their rights. This program not only allows women to learn a skill and earn a wage, but it also gives the students confidence, and promotes independence.

Sewing project siem riep cambodia

Take for example, Chomrong, a third generation sewing student. A mother of three children, Chomrong was only able to study until grade seven because of poverty in her family. She began working as a builder, earning just 88 cents a day. She eventually got married and moved to Siem Reap. Her husband was also a builder, but they didn’t earn enough money to feed their family properly. As a result, their children would fall sick often and they would be pushed further into poverty because of the hospital fees.

Sewing project siem riep cambodia

In 2014 Chomrong began studying sewing at HHA. Not only did she learn how to sew, she also studied life skills and was more confident to stand up to her husband. Her son began studying in HHA’s preschool program and he learnt Khmer, hygiene and good habits while her daughter studied English.

Sewing project siem riep cambodia

Chomrong took a loan to buy a sewing machine through HHA’s microfinance program and set up her own business at her home. She began to be well-known in her village for her high quality work. For that reason, HHA also hired Chomrong to be their seamstress, giving her an extra source of income.

Sewing project siem riep cambodia

In 2015 Chomrong graduated from HHA’s sewing program. She paid off her first loan and took out a second loan to buy a hemming machine. Business is going so well that Chomrong and her husband are currently building a new house, replacing the wooden/bamboo structure they have lived in for so long.

Sewing project siem riep cambodia

Chomrong regularly speaks at HHA’s events to promote their programs to the community and show them how her life was transformed with commitment and hard work.

IMG_0567

 

“My future is brighter than before, and I am so happy that now I can provide for my kids.”

It costs $800USD to place one marginalised villager in the ten-month sewing program at Human and Hope Association and the subsequent workshops.

Human and Hope Association need your support to fund 12 villagers in the seventh and eighth generations of their sewing program, so please make a tax deductible donation today! //www.villageearth.org/global-affiliates/human-and-hope-association

 

 

Learning to Create Resilient Communities

All of Village Earth’s Sustainable Community Development Certificate courses ultimately focus on building resilient communities.  We often hear of climate change resilience, and we have a whole class that focuses on Building Climate Change Resilient Communities, but what does it mean beyond the all-encompassing threat of climate change?

Resilience can be generally defined as the capacity for a community to absorb stresses and maintain function in the face of external stresses imposed upon it and adapt, reorganize, and evolve into more desirable configurations that improve the sustainability of the system, leaving it better prepared for future impacts.  Through our various courses we address ways that we as community members and outside allies/external activators can help communities become more resilient.  For example, community mapping can be an important tool to both visualize external stresses and evolve their way of thinking spatially.  Dispute Resolution is another important tool to mitigate conflicts and learn to adapt through conflict resolution methods.  And learning about different approaches to community development gives us a theoretical understanding of how things came to be as well as practical tools we can use in our work.

To learn more, check out our Sustainable Community Development Certificate courses now enrolling through June 7.

The Economic Logic of Resource-Scarce Communities: A Guide for Western Community Workers

Social Safety Net

For western community workers (whether they be expatriates from a western country, locals raised in relatively affluent western educated families or settlers on colonized lands) the economic logic of resource-scarce communities can seem confusing, irrational and even counter to their own best interests.

If this profile fits you, you’ve probably asked yourself:

  • Why do people seem so unwilling to save a little bit of money or contribute to the operation and maintenance of a well, pump or irrigation scheme?
  • Why do people seem hesitant to improve their situation?
  • And of course; Why does the community seem be causing problems for this person or family now that they are achieving some success?

In this post I will attempt to provide some answers to these questions and in the process, explain some of the logic of resource-scarce communities. To do this I will draw on concepts from the field of substantivist economics and economic anthropology but I will also do my best to ground these concepts in examples from my own experience working in resource-scarce and indigenous communities around the world. My hope is that readers will take away with them a more nuanced understanding of and respect for culturally embedded economic systems.

To begin this discussion I would like to define what I mean by “resource scarce-communities”. When I use this term I am generally referring to communities that do not have access to the resources and institutions available in the wealthier advanced capitalist states say in North America and Europe. I am purposely trying to avoid using terms that directly or indirectly cast judgement by using a word such as “poor” or “developing” because I don’t want to imply that moving in the direction of an advanced capitalist economy is by any means the “correct” path and certainly not the sustainable path. In many ways these communities demonstrate some of the most efficient and sustainable use of resources anywhere on the globe (a phenomena related to what will be discussed in this article). Furthermore, while often cash-poor, that does not necessarily mean they are poor in natural resources just that instead of producing for the market a larger percentage of production is for direct consumption or exchange. Furthermore, compared to their economically “richer” neighbors, these communities often demonstrate much greater social equality and may even rank higher in many standards of human well being. However, I should also point out that many communities that fit this category are not doing well, struggling against one form or another of social or economic exclusion. In fact, it has been argued that such communities, rather than being anomalies in an increasingly global capitalist system, are in fact promoted by capitalists because they offer the “lowest possible wage” (Wallerstein 1995) and the exploitation of “producers who work without wages” (Werholf 1984). 

Social Safety Nets

 

Social Safety Nets

To begin understanding the economic logic of resource scarce communities we need to first understand how people in resource-scarce communities manage risk. Everyone, regardless of where they live is exposed to varying levels of risk whether it be a broken leg, an automobile accident, sickness, losing a job, failure of a crop, fire, flood or any countless ways our livelihood can be adversely affected. In wealthier countries, there exist various institutions (public, private and nonprofit) that help us reduce risk including health and life insurance, national welfare and food-stamp programs, unemployment insurance, home insurance, flood insurance, fire insurance, savings accounts, pawn shops, even credit cards and your AAA membership can be seen as tools to manage risk. Nonprofit institutions such as food pantries, soup kitchens, and shelters, housing and job training and placement programs also help us reduce risk by ensuring that people have the necessities for survival and can even help us get back on our feet. Along with institutional safety nets, there are also informal channels where the community steps-in and helps people  in times of need by giving or lending money, food, clothes, shelter from friends and family or possibly by giving us a job or referral.

Combined these institutional and communal responses make up the social safety net. As you might expect, social safety nets vary from country to country and community to community. As described above, they can be grouped into two broad categories; institutional safety nets and communal safety nets, defined below.

Institutional safety nets are social programs run by local and national government bureaucracies including social welfare (guaranteed income), food distribution, subsidized housing, health insurance, etc. But it also includes non-governmental actors such as church programs or non-governmental organizations, local food banks and shelters.

Communal safety nets are informal or culturally mediated responses to a crisis that occurs within communities, families, and between individuals and friends. Communal safety net responses might include giving or lending money/ food/ shelter/ land/ livestock/ childcare/ etc.

Both of these types of safety nets exist more or less simultaneously. As one might expect, the less developed a country’s institutional safety net, the more its citizens must rely on their communal safety net. In fact, according to the World Bank less than ⅓ of the world’s poor have access to some sort of institutional safety net. And on the other end of the spectrum, the more developed a country’s institutional safety net, the less its citizens must rely on communal responses and so they have a tendency to atrophy over time (read Robert Putnam’s “Bowling Alone” for a good discussion on this trend). And because of this, we in western countries have little appreciation for or understanding of communal safety nets.

 

Leveling Mechanisms

Leveling mechanisms are socio-cultural institutions and norms (a standard or pattern of social behavior that is typical or expected of a group) that function to distribute scarce resources among members of a community. Just like social safety nets, these mechanisms exist in both western industrialized economies as well as mixed and subsistence-level communities. Again, the primary difference is that in advanced capitalist economies, these mechanisms tend to be more integrated into the institutions of the state where in subsistence-level communities they tend to be more ritualized or normative. An example of a leveling mechanisms can be cultural or ritualized obligations such as the potlatch, a gift giving feast common among tribes in the Northwest North America or among the Shipibo people in Peru’s Amazon basin who would traditionally host feasts for the entire community whenever a large Paiche fish was caught.

In the India sub-continent there is a long tradition of community work days known as Shramadana. Organizations like the Sarvodaya Shramadana movement in Sri Lanka have incorporated this as a sort of philosophical foundation of their work.

 

 

On the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota Lakota families and communities will host elaborate pow-wows, memorials and other gatherings where they give away hundreds and even thousands of dollars worth of new blankets, home and kitchen wares, etc. to anyone in attendance. The entire family is expected to help out either with time and/or money. Plus, they not only feed everyone at these public events, it’s also perfectly acceptable for attendees to bring tupperware to take food home to family members who couldn’t attend. Anthropologists refer to this as generalized reciprocity – which is a general community norm of giving without the expectation of direct return.

A "giveaway" is a type of Generalized Reciprocity

A giveaway on the Pine Ridge Reservation. The items in the picture are distributed to anyone who attends.

 

Leveling mechanisms can also be more normative, where there are a community expectations that those with more wealth are expected to share, this could be by hosting a feast or party, or paying for work done on the community well, or sharing extra food with their neighbor, or buying commodities from others in the community (even if they don’t necessarily need them).

 

A person I have worked with for many years on the Pine Ridge Reservation rarely turns down beadwork or other items when people approach him on the street. Once I asked him why he bought it when I knew he had plenty already and he said “I’m doing well right now and he probably needs the cash right now more than I do.” he probably also knows that if he ever gets in a tight spot and needed cash he could turn around and sell those items to someone else.

 

Leveling mechanisms are especially important in mixed economies where a greater percentage of exchanges are non-market (non-cash based). In such communities there is often a scarcity of cash yet there are certain vital commodities and services that require cash like gasoline, bus tickets, medicines, fertilizers & pesticides, motorcycle parts, radios, Coca-Cola, TVs, etc. The fact is, modern amenities are largely cash-based and the increasing desire for these things creates a greater demand for cash. When cash is scarce in a community, leveling mechanisms and norms can help spread out the available cash preventing it from being hoarded by any one person or business.

Alternative currencies are a powerful tool in cash-scarce communities that make it possible for people to convert their surplus labor into a relatively durable and exchangeable commodity. In the example above, my friend knew the person selling the beadwork needed the cash more than he did so he exchanged it for the beadwork – not for his own selfish need but for the benefit of the other person. In this case, the beadwork served as a form of alternative currency on the Reservation. Commodities like this can then be exchange for cash from the people who possess a surplus of it. On Pine Ridge, everyone knows the value of these alternative currencies and virtually everyone participates in this important informal economy because they too one day may be in a similar predicament and need to rely on others. By helping others out when you can you strengthen your status and reputation in the community. Another way to think about status and reputation is as a form of “social capital” which is a form of wealth that is interchangeable with economic capital. For example, by helping people in the community, it is possible to bank-away social capital to be expended at a later time, either in a time of crisis, lack of cash, or to buy influence in the community.

 

Managing Free Riders

Here’s where things get particularly interesting. For both safety nets and leveling mechanisms to function there has to be a way to mitigate the problem of free riders. Free riders are actors who derive benefits from a common property resource, in this case the safety net and the leveling mechanisms are the common property resources, without giving their fair share in return. With institutional safety nets, the problem is ensuring that everyone pays a fair share of the taxes and does not draw on benefits unless they truly meet the pre-defined criteria and enforcement is usually handled by the State social workers or tax collection agencies. For communal safety nets, the problem is ensuring that each person helps others when in need and draws benefits more or less to the same extent as other members of the community.

 

A few years back while working on a community project in Peru’s Amazon basin, we were invited to be part of a minga (a community work day) where a large part of the community came-out to help rebuild the thatched home for one of the community members. The otherwise labor intensive project took no time at all and at at zero cash expense with 10-20 men doing the labor and the women cooking and making chicha to keep the group happy and hydrated. We figured out later that our wise host used the event as an opportunity for the community to get to know us and dispel some of the rumors swirling around the community about the strange gringos in the community.

Community "minga" - Amazon Basin Peru

Community “minga” – Amazon Basin Peru

●     But how does a community enforce this normative expectation so the problem of free riders doesn’t compromise people’s faith in the community and their own willingness to help others?

●     What would happen if someone didn’t participate in the minga?

Well, I’m certain missing one minga wouldn’t dramatically affect your status and reputation in the community but missing multiple ones without an excuse might. And when it came time for you to rebuild your house, you might find it pretty difficult to get anyone to help.

 

As you might imagine these normative incentives and pressures can be a powerful mechanism of social control within resource-scarce communities. This is also how these mechanisms protect against the over-exploitation of natural resources. While there is a lot to be gained by maintaining a positive balance of social capital, there are also numerous ways these systems can restrict behavior – behaviors that a western community worker might feel are positive or necessary. For example, micro-entrepreneurs might find it difficult to save sufficient capital to start or grow a business because they’re torn between saving cash or maintaining their good standing in the community. Those who do find some success without sharing the wealth can expect a negative lash-back from the community in form of dirty looks, slanderous rumors, a strained ability to engage in social or economic transactions, unwillingness of community to allow you access to communally managed resources like land, water, hunting rights, etc. or in the worst case even outright attacks on your person and property.

 

 

When I started working on the Pine Ridge Reservation as a graduate student in Anthropology, one of the first assignments my academic advisor gave me was to review and code transcripts of interviews with recipients of a newly established microfinance program. One of the most common observations I made was the frequency with which people would describe the challenge of dealing with the expectations that friends and family had for money, products, or discounts after they started to get their business off the ground. This created a lot of pressure for people because they feared getting labeled as “stingy” or more serious forms of ostracism. This is not surprising since one of the foundations Lakota culture is generosity or in the Lakota language Wacantognaka – one of the four sacred virtues. Many of those same participants stated how they felt Lakota culture was incompatible with capitalism. Possibly it is greed with which Lakota culture is incompatible? If you think about it, In western culture, there are very few normative limits on the accumulation of wealth and the expectation for sharing wealth rarely extends beyond the immediate family. For the Lakota, the expectation to share wealth extends to the entire community but especially to one’s extended family known as the Tiospaye and most certainly to your Tiwahe (immediate family).

 

The video clips below captured by Village Earth show residents of the Reservation describing these normative pressures.

 

 

Principles for Understanding the Economics of Resource-Poor Communities

So, with all this in mind, let’s return to our opening questions.

Why do people seem hesitant towards improving their situation relative to others?

If you’ve been frustrated by what you can only interpret as a “lack of motivation or drive for success” then maybe you should consider more carefully the pressures that “success” creates for people in communities with high normative expectations for sharing and steep penalties for “free riders”. This might seem harsh or even “backwards” until you consider the extreme risk that people are exposed to in these communities. Their family and community might be their only assurance that they will not one-day fall into dire poverty and will be cared for into old age. Your project may be here for a few years but they will have to contend with their community for the rest of their lives. Placing too much emphasis on improving the situation for individuals or isolated families may be too narrowly focused and contain an inherent western bias. Notwithstanding, we should engage in a dialogue with communities to explore what degree the community safety net is a response to the failures, absence of, or exclusion from institutional safety nets and whether our energy would be better focused on making these institutions more comprehensive and/or inclusive.

Why does the community seem be causing problems for this person or family now that they are achieving some success?

A metaphor that is commonly used to describe this situation common in resource-scarce communities is “the bucket of crabs” which refers to when crabs are in a bucket and one tries to climb out the others immediately climb on its back trying to get out as well making them all fall back into the bucket. However, I would argue that this metaphor is only focused on the negative side of this. I would argue what is happening here is that this negative community response, while seemingly irrational and spiteful, is actually a very rational communal response to mitigate the problem of free riders and to ensure that limited resources are spread out. We have the same mechanisms in the west they just seem more rational because they are built into our judicial and tax system and not by community members taking things into their own hands. Discussing this openly in communities may help everyone understand the social and economic utility of these pressures and allow them to possibly create more constructive responses. Part of that discussion should explore the relationship between these responses and macro-level institutions. For example, the imposition of western state-level structures (e.g. laws, land tenure systems, political organization, etc) on indigenous cultures around the world did not simply replace what was there before, but instead, they created overlapping systems, one enforced by the institutions of the State and one enforced by cultural institutions and norms. As you might expect, this overlapping of cultural and western institutions can create a lot of tensions. For example, a person wanting to use some land to raise livestock or build a house, according to cultural norms that person might be required to ask permission from an elder. However, say another person who wants to use that same land might undermine that decision by gaining approval from the State. The responses to such cultural transgressions can be swift and brutal and can tear apart the seams of a community. An open discussion about these tensions should be approached with care but if successful, could be the start of a journey towards reconciliation and the forging of solutions.

Why do people seem so unwilling to save a little bit of money or contribute to the operation and maintenance of a well/pump/ or irrigation scheme?

As we discussed above, in resource poor communities it is common for there to be a scarcity of cash. In such situations, it makes little sense to hoard cash away when there exist other options such as saving an alternative currency that can be exchanged at a later time for cash OR simply relying on the community’s existing social safety net which is likely experienced in raising cash in a short period of time for things that have a high priority. If the community is unwilling to raise funds for the repair of a pump or tractor, it probably means they have more pressing needs for that cash. A clear reason why community workers must prevent themselves from imposing their own analysis and priorities on communities.

What steps can we take to design programs and policies that support and build upon these vital community systems?

  1. Seek to understand how the social safety net and leveling mechanisms work in the community you are working in. Ask questions like:
    1. What would happen if someone broke their leg or if someone’s crop failed – how would they make ends meet?
    2. What the responsibilities do people have to care for their immediate family, extended family, band/tribe/clan, neighborhood, community?
    3. What happens if people don’t meet that responsibility?
    4. How are the elderly cared for?
    5. How do you know if someone is “poor” in this community?
    6. How do you know if someone is “wealthy” in this community?
    7. What happens when people are wealthy but they don’t help-out others?
  2. Seek to understand how your programs might positively or negatively affect a person’s standing in the community (social capital)?
    1. How can we design this program so that other people/families/communities don’t become jealous or resentful.
    2. If you are successful at starting this business/farm/etc, how do you think people in your family or community will react?
    3. How can we ensure that other people don’t become jealous or resentful of your participation in this project?
  3. If this pump/tractor/latrine needed a new part that cost $50, $200, or $500 how would you get that money?
    1. If you don’t think you need to save that money, are there other things we can make or collect that can be exchanged for cash in an emergency?
  4. Build dialogue around the historical interaction between the local safety net and state structures.
    1. When does conflict emerge and how might this be mitigated?
    2. What institutional safety-nets do you have access to and how might you be better served by them?
    3. What actions can we take to make these institutions more comprehensive and inclusive?
  5. Above all, instead of working against these important and deeply embedded cultural systems, find ways to make them an integral part of your strategy and programs.

 

For more on this topic check out the following online courses part of our Online Certificate Program in Sustainable Community Development: Community MobilizationMicro-finance & the Role of WomenSocial Entrepreneurship and Enterprise DevelopmentTechnology and Community Development, and Community Participation and Dispute Resolution.