Notes from the Field

What Does Community-Driven Development Deliver? Lessons from a Balinese Village

November 13, 2013

Early this month, I boarded a bus to visit the Balinese village of Sobangan to see in action the impact from a decade of Community-Driven Development (CDD), an approach that delivers public funds directly to the village level and allows citizens to determine priorities for social services and economic development. My visit came on the heels of an international conference in Indonesia, organized by The Asia Foundation, Australian Aid, World Bank, and SMERU, that brought together officials from 11 Asia-Pacific nations to examine sustaining and mainstreaming CDD programs. [Read more about CDD from The Asia Foundation’s William Cole.] The visit offered encouraging evidence of the ability of CDD to build social cohesion, while offering some food for thought on areas for improvement.

When we arrived in Sobangan village, which has a population of around 4,200, residents had pulled out all the stops to showcase their hard work implementing Indonesia’s National Program for Community Empowerment or Program Nasional Pemberdayaan Mandiri (PNPM), a CDD initiative that aims to unlock the potential of marginalized communities. In this village, PNPM supported a preschool, village health post, and a concrete walkway to access a spring that provides drinking water. All were projects requested by villagers themselves as specific priorities for improving social welfare. I watched eager preschoolers learn their colors by choosing flowers from a hand-woven temple offering plate, chatted with mothers of young children who were getting their monthly health checks, and swayed to the traditional gamelan music that accompanied an exercise program for elderly members of the community.

The level of ownership and enthusiasm for the program was evident on the faces of the hundreds of community members we met. Billboards displayed the amount of PNPM funds expended for each project, attesting to the transparency of this inventive form of government assistance. CDD projects include community cost-sharing and maintain a zero tolerance for corruption, positioning them as highly efficient ways of delivering basic services to the poor.

Although World Bank evaluations conducted in multiple countries have shown CDD to have positive socio-economic effects, benefit the poorest families, and increase community access to services, results have typically been mixed in their ability to contribute to social capital outcomes. In Bali – as in most of Indonesia – the CDD approach fits the local culture and context, and appears to be strengthening social cohesion and expanding civic participation. That being said, our group – mostly made up of government officials from countries as diverse as the Solomon Islands, Myanmar, and Afghanistan – were experienced enough implementing CDD in their own host countries to offer critical questions and insight that encouraged reflection and cross-learning.

A colleague from the Philippines with years of experience as a community organizer questioned whether the program could do more to improve economic pathways for the poorest citizens. Volunteers told us that 20 percent of the 976 families in the village are classified as poor (using a community-defined indicator which mirrored Indonesia’s official poverty threshold of around $2/day). According to the people we spoke with, poor families are almost exclusively sharecroppers – farming other people’s land and receiving compensation equivalent to one-third of the market value of their harvest. By comparison, construction workers who participate in PNPM public infrastructure projects – all community members themselves – are paid $5 a day. While this is half the wage that construction workers could expect to earn in the private sector, it is still double the amount that poor sharecroppers earn. My Filipino colleague commented that it might make sense to link job training with PNPM projects, providing sharecroppers with construction skills then giving them the opportunity to practice their new trade through PNPM, putting them on track to a new job that could lift them out of poverty. This was just the first of many great ideas I heard during the field visit.

At the volunteer-managed health post, a participant from Timor-Leste noticed that one of the children looked to be preschool age, but seemingly couldn’t walk. We learned that the three-year-old was indeed disabled. His health card showed he was not underweight, but we could not confirm whether he had been referred for any kind of specialist services. We also wondered why he wasn’t in pre-school with other children of his age. It was a reminder that there is still a way to go to ensure CDD can identify and reach populations that are traditionally invisible, such as people with disabilities.

A child being weighed at the health post – the tables behind him are the traditional “five tables” where families go for nutrition counseling, growth monitoring, immunizations, and health information. Photo/Laurel MacLaren

We then climbed down a steep concrete stairway, which was previously a muddy, slippery footpath, built with PNPM funds, to take a look at access to the spring that provides the village with clean drinking water. On our way down, we passed three elderly women carrying huge buckets of water on their heads. My associate from Vietnam quipped, “Well, she’s certainly in better shape than we are!” Only a few minutes before, we’d seen 25 elderly folks doing tai chi at the health post in a PNPM-sponsored program that we were told targeted the poor, and now we were passing by elderly women of the same generation – presumably poor – getting a grueling work-out hauling water up a hill. This prompted a larger discussion of whether the PNPM programs were really reaching the neediest, poorest members of a community, such as the women hauling the water, who presumably were not participating in the tai chi.

While participants hailed from a diversity of countries, and we were visiting an entirely different culture altogether, we all had in common a deep passion for engaging communities in the design of development programs to truly benefit the people. The commitment to innovate, and to find new ways to improve the next generation of CDD programming, left me feeling optimistic about the future of social assistance in Asia and the Pacific, and the power of communities to engage in decision-making that has traditionally excluded their voices.

Laurel MacLaren is The Asia Foundation’s deputy country representative in Indonesia. She can be reached at laurel.maclaren@asiafound.org. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and not those of The Asia Foundation.

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