Thoughts on Community Development

It’s been 1 year since I boarded a plane to visit two African countries and a community development organization in each one. Since that time, I’ve really let the ideas and realities of what is happening in these successful enterprises percolate. Here are the thoughts that have persisted.

My first stop was Bhekulwandle, Malagazi*, South Africa. I blogged about Seed of Hope when I returned from Africa and the things they are focusing on and the leadership they have in Carl Waldron – a very good friend of mine. What remains with me is slow going. I think of the hospice like service they have in providing supportive care for those dying of AIDS and those coping with HIV. Much of their clientele in this field is not in a position to respond and begin doing in the place of those that do in the present – not exactly a sustainable program – necessary and life giving, but not self-sustaining.

But, let’s discuss something that does have the possibility of self-sustainability: Equipping Young Leaders. Seed of Hope has several programs targeting kids of all ages with support in areas of health, spiritual growth, educational tutoring, sports programs, and community building. Let’s imagine that 50% of these kids who are equipped remain in the community long term. Then, let’s imagine that half of those actually use the skills and support they have received for the betterment of their community. This is probably optimistic, but it is simply to underscore two points:

  • The harvest of this investment is largely expected to emerge 10-20 years from now (of course there are immediate results, but they will likely pale in comparison with future results). So, all of the resources spent today are done with a view for a couple decades down the road. 
  • The other point is the relational aspect of the initiative. With the long view in mind, less is made of current results than is made of strengthening relationships between the staff and the young people coming by Seed of Hope. I think this is a clear indicator of success.


Kamanzi, Malawi was my second stop. My church has been in partnership with the communities in Kamanzi, a rural collection of 5 dominant villages. World Renew has been applying principals of community development on our behalf for the past 4 years and just over a year ago, Peter Timmerman took the helm. I was really struck by Peter’s dissatisfaction. From the perspective of me and my fellow church member, some real progress had been made through seed loans, ecosan latrines and goat/pig husbandry. But Peter could see the relatively low economic and probably low espousing of real change by the greater community of some of the principals. His questions: Will what we are doing have a lasting and real impact on food security in these communities? Do the dollars (or kwacha in this case) and sweat equity in these projects really pay off?

His dissatisfaction helped me see the value of the big picture view, the years of experience and training he brought to the organization. In many ways, I’m stuck in the camp of “if I can take a picture of a result, be it great or small, we have succeeded!” [I shudder as I write this, but I’m being honest.] The admission that we can do better is probably the most humble thing we can do and ultimately better for working with a community who already has a hard time dreaming of a bright, less hungry future.

Shortly after we left, Peter blogged about the second thing that has stuck with me: This is a slow, slow process. And that is a good thing. Africans understand this. Sadly, westerners have a difficult time learning the value of slowing down. Ultimately, the slower, the better long term and the more buy in from the community.

*Just realized that this community is in a different province than neighbouring Amanzimtoti and Durban which are in KwaZulu-Natal. You can see the difference on either side of the road running between the two communities.

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