Global Peace Foundation Forum Highlights Community-Driven Approaches to Development

Eric Olsen
January 12, 2010

Over the last 20 years new technologies, advances in engineering, and breakthroughs in medical treatments have raised hopes for meeting urgent development needs around the globe. The problem has been implementing these advances in places where they are needed most.  This is the central issue for sustainable development.

“Development involves change, and bringing change to a community with different values and interests is a complex process,” said Dr. Charles Phillips, president of Service For Peace, at a forum, “Community Driven Development: Empowerment, Efficiency and Effective Local Governance,” hosted at the Global Peace Convention in Nairobi, Kenya, in November 2010. Global Peace Convention is the annual meeting of the Global Peace Foundation whose founder is Dr. Hyun Jin Moon.

“People interpret change in different ways; what is positive for some is negative for others.” Phillips contrasted the old paradigm of development—driven by experts and well-funded agencies with a top-down approach and designed without input from beneficiaries—with a new paradigm in which local community groups gain control over the decisions and resources and are encouraged to act as informed participants in the development process. With planning decisions and investment resources based locally, he said, community driven development ensures sustainability, creates ownership, and preserves communal dignity. It also involves young people in activities that benefit community and, by bringing diverse community members together for common cause, fosters understanding and tolerance.

‘Connecting the dots’

Omene Charles reached close to 100,000 people to encourage vaccinations after the catastrophic Haitian earthquake in 2010.

Dr. Phillips stressed the importance of social organizers, entrepreneurs who can “connect the dots” to link people with existing resources. For example, following the massive earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010, Omene Charles, a mother of three, visited churches, schools and homes, and used a megaphone in public places to spread the word about vaccines. Phillips said more than 100,000 people were immunized, just with a megaphone and a strong desire to help.

Service For Peace regional trainer Diana Vaptzarova emphasized that youth and women were often an underutilized resource. “We don’t need to look far to find women doing great things,” she said. “Wangarai Maathai, the founder of the Greenbelt Movement, was one of the first to recognize the connection between environmental degradation and poverty and conflict. Over the last 30 years the Greenbelt Movement has planted more than 35 million trees in Kenya.” Maathai won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004.

Dr. Charles Phillips with a team of volunteers in Kenya.

Vaptzarova also discussed the Transition Town movement, a “radically hopeful” community driven initiative to produce and consume locally that was started by a single young man, Rob Hopkins. Developed in response of threat of climate change and economic shock, notably the risk of oil shortage, Transition Town builds resilience in communities to withstand shock. “When your money goes to outside producers or global corporations the money leaks out of the community,” Vaptzarova said; “when you buy locally the wealth stays in the community.” More than 300 communities around the world have now been designated as Transition Towns.

Ambrose Ongwen, a board member of Seeds of Peace Africa, talked about his experience growing up in Kenya. “I happen to come from one of the poorest communities in Kenya, and it is still poor even after NGOs have come with initiatives to develop the region. Why? Because it is a 3 year project or a 5 year project. It is like having a baby and expecting the child to walk.”  Citing government plans to transform slums into flats with electricity and running water, he cautioned that residents may not be prepared in their minds to make a radical transition and that community-based approaches can be more incremental, effective, and sustainable. “Too often we are wasting expectations on things that are not going to happen,” he said.

The panel urged delegates to the Convention to involve themselves in their communities and to explore ways of networking people and existing resources to build a sustainable infrastructure for peace and development.

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