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< prev - next > Social and economic development Social Development learning_from_practice (Printable PDF)
Learning from Practice
Empowering community organizations:
A ‘light touch’ approach for
long-term impact
Robbie Blake and Katherine Pasteur
Across the scope of Practical Action’s programmes – from urban to rural contexts, farms to
markets, and social to technological innovations – our work with community organizations is
crucial. The process of communities coming together to understand their problems and take
action, is empowering and can deliver pro-poor transformation. However, there are also many
pitfalls. In working with community organizations, NGOs like Practical Action must proceed with
This paper draws on Practical Action’s experience of working with community organizations, to
derive lessons for success in catalysing sustainable change. Three key principles are important:
facilitating empowerment and self-reliance; including and representing the poor; and meeting
practical and strategic needs. To enact these principles, the paper highlights a number of
processes and tools: foremost among these is ‘light touch’ facilitation that empowers community
organizations to realize their own aims. But to be able truly to internalize these lessons, NGOs and
donors must challenge their current ways of working. The paper ends with a call for dialogue.
Working with community organizations is
central to achieving Practical Action’s aim to
improve the livelihoods of poor and vulnerable
populations. Over more than 40 years, we have
amassed a wealth of knowledge and practice of
engaging local communities and organizations
of the poor. This document attempts to
summarise some of the lessons learned from
our accumulated experience – both successes
and failures – and articulate our approach to
this vital part of our work.
Given the complexities of different social
and development contexts, there can be no
rigid rules; each pointer expressed below will
unavoidably simplify. However, insights from
experience allow us to draw out principles,
highlight useful tools, and raise some
important questions for consideration, to
drive how we set about collaborating with
community organizations, and how we can
increase the chances of success in future
work. The document is intended for NGO
field, management, and policy staff, and other
partner organizations.
difficult to delimit and define. Broadly, we
might say they are organized groups or entities
through which people in a defined ‘community’
(admittedly, an imprecise and contested
concept) can come together to work for their
common good, by pooling resources, time,
skills, and knowledge. They are forums for
collective action and decision, often oriented
to enabling their members to overcome
What do we mean by ‘community organizations’?
Community organizations come in such
a variety of forms and functions, they are
Facilitation in a community organization in
Banke District, Nepal