The Agenda 2030 identifies communities as co-implementers, not just beneficiaries. If they are to fulfill this role, however, new approaches to development are needed that empower communities and promote their engagement. The Cities Alliance Country Programme approach offers an interesting example of how this could be achieved.
By Desmond Ngochi, Cities Alliance
[28 February 2018] -- With its slogan “Think Global, Act Local,” the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development elevates grassroots engagement in development to a new level of importance. True to this slogan, the Agenda’s goals and indicators have been carefully fashioned to promote a comprehensive, integrated, inclusive outreach. But do they sufficiently cater to the grassroots community level, especially when it comes to implementation?
Clearly, local communities are the ultimate beneficiaries of the 2030 Agenda, which targets them through the composition of the SDGs. The Agenda goes a step further by identifying communities as co-implementers rather than simply beneficiaries.
For example, Goal 17 on Global Partnerships for Sustainable Development – specifically 17.16 and 17.17 on multi-stakeholder partnerships – stipulates the inclusion of communities through partnerships with civil society; Goal 6b directly references the participation of communities in improving water and sanitation; Goal 11.3 promotes civil society participation in urban planning and city management. The Agenda also includes indicators to measure these goals.
Including the grassroots community level in development implementation may appear simplistically attainable, but if the money is anything to go by, this is a long way off. Local NGOs working directly at the grassroots community level receive less than 2 per cent of total development aid.
The larger chunk of development funds goes to bigger international development agencies that often operate at ‘high levels’ . In the eyes of such organisations, local communities are typically beneficiaries of development, not co-implementers.
This attitude is not universal. Some development agencies have cultivated the approach of empowering local communities as co-implementers of development agendas, promoting their voices at local, national and global development dialogues.
The Cities Alliance partnership approach
The Cities Alliance, for one, vividly applies a partnership approach that empowers local communities on the ground and promotes grassroots voices at national and global development dialogues. Through our Country Programmes, we have supported myriad projects that involve a wide range of stakeholders as pertinent partners in development, building ownership and engagement at all levels.
For example, the Cities Alliance Uganda Country Programme (Transforming the Settlements of the Urban Poor in Uganda) has been highly successful at fostering community-level implementation through an approach which involves mobilising the local communities, supporting their neighbourhood management mechanisms, building their capacities in community project management, and negotiating their role in city management with the government. The communities themselves then proceed to identify, implement and sustain their priority projects for community upgrading. Essentially this brings about a shift in how communities are viewed within the development context.
The Mayor of Jinja, the Hon. Majidu Batambuze, noted that as a result of the Country Programme, “We have witnessed a paradigm shift where communities are not being seen as mere beneficiaries, but real stakeholders and champions of change in our city.”
The initiative has also highlighted the economic and social values derived from an inclusive process. Sarah Nandudu, Vice Chairperson of National Slum Dwellers Federation of Uganda (an affiliate of Slum Dwellers International), highlighted the economic and social values derived from the inclusive process. “The Community Upgrading Fund (CUF) projects realised value for money and the process gained the trust and understanding of the communities in the development of cities,” she noted.
The successful approach exemplified by the Cities Alliance Country Programme model could be applied to the context of the SDGs, where genuine localisation will have to go beyond the national and local government levels all the way down to the ultimate beneficiaries actively engaged in implementation. Endearing the implementation of the SDGs to the local communities to get their ownership and engagement is the ideal approach needed to sustainably change lives and improve livelihoods.
While the 2030 Agenda responds to the need for grassroots community-level involvement to a certain extent, it does not fully do justice to the magnitude of the issue and the dire nature of the need. Now that the Goals and Indicators of the Agenda are definitive, it is up to the development community to adopt far-reaching inclusive approaches to support the successful engagement of the grassroots community level in its implementation.