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close this bookCommunity Leadership and Self-help Housing (HABITAT, 1988, 50 p.)
View the document(introduction...)
View the documentForeword
View the documentI. Why analyse community leadership
View the documentII. The nature of community leadership and decision making in low-income settlements
View the documentIII. Why do leaders emerge and how do they relate to society at large?
View the documentIV. The impact of leadership upon low-income community development
View the documentV. Leaders and external agents: cooperation or conflict?
View the documentVI. Reaching the poor through community leaders; an agenda of points for consideration
View the documentReferences

VI. Reaching the poor through community leaders; an agenda of points for consideration

142. Potential sources of conflict in leader-agency interaction having been identified in chapter V, the present chapter addresses the issues relating to leadership that institutions involved in housing and upgrading schemes should bear in mind when intervening in low-income settlements, and suggests ways of dealing with the obvious questions and uncertainties that arise in the course of that intervention. These include: methods of identifying leaders and different types of leadership structures; making contact with leaders and on-going liaison; how to make a decision about when to work alongside existing leadership structures or to create new ones; how to respond to changes in the community and leadership structure engendered by intervention and, finally, how to react to overtures made by other outside institutions once the community is opened up to external pressure.

A. Low to identify leaders and different types of leadership

143. As pointed out in the previous chapter, spending sufficient time to identify key leaders in the community is vitally important. Yet it is also difficult to achieve since agencies usually have limited time and finance. However, short-cuts at this stage may result in alienation from leaders, a subsequent lack of cooperation and major obstacles to project implementation.

144. The process of identifying leaders can be difficult for three main reasons. First, agency staff often have preconceived notions as to who are likely to be community leaders. For example, in the Kampung Improvement Programme in Indonesia the implementing agency felt that only those people with an academic education were capable of adopting leadership roles.(85) Rigid preconceptions held by agency personnel may lead them to approach the wrong people in the settlement and to alienate those in power. Secondly, there are considerable difficulties associated with making enquiries within the community. In many cases community members are reluctant to identify their leaders to outsiders, and, further more, leaders may resent the fact that preliminary enquiries have been made without their approval or permission. Thirdly, in some settlements there is more than one leader and the agency may miss the most influential one.

145. Where a project has arisen from a "bottom-up" initiative, it may be slightly easier to identify community leaders since the key personnel of the settlement are usually, though not always, involved in making the overtures to the agency. The way in which the approach is made may provide pointers to the type of leadership it is. For example, if leaders come accompanied by committee members with a formal petition signed by residents then leadership is more likely to be community representational rather than authoritarian. If the leader makes contact through personal introduction from a patron, then he is more likely to be either a positional or cacique-type figure. One must also be wary that the leader of a small or marginal faction may have made the approach.

146. When the approach is "top-down", the process of leader identification is more difficult, except where there is an immediate and obvious contact. On the whole, it is recommended that the agency research into local leadership structures from a distance in order that an inappropriate move is not made at a stage which might jeopardize the programme altogether. Agencies should probably work with a combination of the following methods.

147. Newspaper scans are probably the best method of identifying local leaders without setting foot in the settlement.(103) Coverage of issues relating to local irregular settlements are likely to yield pointers to leaders and other influential people within the community, and their contacts with outside authorities, and to highlight sensitive issues that have been important in the past. The advantage here is that the external agency runs no risk of compromising itself until actual contact is made with relevant personnel.

148. Consultation with other agencies which have been involved with the community in the past may be useful to find out who the leaders are, provided that the discussions do not become public knowledge. This approach is most appropriate where there is easy informal access to an agency, especially if it has had a good relationship with the settlement. However, there is a danger that the external institution will become tainted if it is seen to associate with a body which has had problems with the community in the past. Hence the need for discretion in making this sort of approach.

149. Consultation by means of socio-metric tests among local influential people who are relatively "neutral" such as the local priest, ward chief, municipal delegate, mayor, or public works engineers could prove useful. Sociometric techniques were used in a survey of local power structures in rural communities in Mexico. Groups of people were asked two questions: (a) "Who do you believe are the five most important people in the region/settlement in order of importance'?", and (b) "Of the people whom you know, who is the most capable and respected so that at any given moment they could represent the region/settlement to the general public/city?" Replies were presented in terms of a "sociogram" displaying a series of lines between the respondent and the nominee.(7) Obviously the technique has limitations, not least because of the subjective nature of the responses, but it is probably useful as a first step in identifying potential leaders. As a last resort, sociometric techniques could be used among residents within the community, especially in cases where there is an apparently weak organizational structure - often the case in a recently established sites-and-services scheme for example. However, as mentioned previously, leaders may resent direct contact at this stage between the agency and the community and the other methods should probably be tried first.

B. Making contact with leaders and on-going liaison

150. No two settlements are exactly alike and the final decision about whom to approach, the form in which contact is made, on whose territory and so on can only be taken by the agency bearing in mind local conditions. The following check-list is offered as a guide to the points that should be considered. The "types of leader" refer to those identified earlier in chapter 11 - authoritarian, positional, traditional and community-representational.

151. There are several ways in which to meet local leaders. Making contact is a sensitive issue, however, and none of the methods described below is completely satisfactory. Selection of the most appropriate method will depend on the type of leadership structure in the settlement and local socio-political conditions.

152. One of the least problematic methods is to contact the leader through a locally-respected figure, such as a teacher or settlement priest. This may work best where the leader is community-representational or political, since a "neutral" contact may be the most appropriate starting point for building up honest dialogue and cooperation.

153. Another method is to use an "honest broker" to make the introductions. This might be more suitable where the community has a traditional leadership structure, and someone who has the ability to relate each side's point of view might be desirable, especially where there are marked cultural and ethnic differences between the agency and the residents. The broker method was used in a project to introduce white change agents into Black communities in the southern United States.(67) However, the range of criteria specified for a successful broker, such as acceptability to a wide range of political and social interests, personal integrity, respect, being above individual gain, and compatibility with the aims of the change agents are probably very difficult to fulfil.

154. Finally, another method more applicable for authoritarian leaders where direct access may be very difficult, is to use the leader's patron. Naturally, there will be considerable difficulties with this approach, not least because the agency may also have to justify its objectives to the patron. If the patron happens to follow a particular political ideology which is not compatible with the aims of the agency, then he, too, is likely to present obstacles to the programme.

155. Whichever method of initial contact is used, it is important that it be made personally. Letters, messages or telephone calls are likely to alienate and to threaten. It is important that the initial contact, therefore, be made by someone with authority from the agency, who can satisfy the leader's initial curiosity and who is able to alleviate any disquiet that might become apparent.

156. In cases where there are multiple leaders, it is probably advisable to seek out the strongest first, since he or she will have the greatest capacity to influence community opinion and support for the aims of the programme.(103) However. the aim is to avoid alienating the leaders of minority factions within the settlement since they might represent the feelings of those who are normally excluded from community-level decision-making. If there is discernible tension between rival groups, it may be better to hold individual, and as far as possible, concurrent meetings with the different leaders initially, but to inform them that the others have also been contacted. If factions are not particularly competitive, it may be better to invite all the leaders to meet at one time which could even provide a platform for future cooperation between them.

157. The most appropriate locality for an initial meeting is probably on "neutral" territory within or just outside the settlement. Outside locations, such as a cafe or a local church hall, may be preferable in cases where individual meetings are being held with different leaders; in/M-settlement sites, such as a church, school or social hall may be more appropriate where there is a collective meeting of all leaders or in situations where there is only one leader or committee. Meetings at the external agency's headquarters are better avoided since they might give the impression that the agency is unwilling to recognize that the community already has an adequate organizational structure. Moreover, if the agency takes the trouble to come to the settlement it shows its personnel are willing to make an effort to cooperate and to compromise from the start.

158. The agency should avoid dictating the contents and aims of the meeting in advance since detailed issues should only be discussed after opinions about the project have been expressed and some level of trust has been built up. The institution should merely state that it wishes to hold informal discussions with the settlement leaders and committee and to invite their possible participation in a scheme. Some detail must be given, but it should not be presented in such a way as to suggest: (a) a fait accompli; or (b) that proposals are decided and immutable. In cases of multiple leadership a policy of honesty, discretion and confidentiality is probably best. Agency staff should avoid becoming involved in discussions about other leaders where they may accidentally be drawn into making a value judgement or stating an opinion, thereby undermining their image of professional integrity. Neither is there any point in lying.

159. Agencies should consider carefully the issue of selecting personnel to make the approach to the leader, specifically whether to use male or female staff. This will depend on both the local cultural context and the type of leader.

160. This issue will also depend on the sexual division of labour and responsibilities in the agency. A key point is that the person should be someone in authority, so that leaders do not feel slighted. Where the agency wishes to present an "informal" profile, it may be better to use women rather than men, since in many cultures women will be seen as less "threatening" by vested interest groups. This may apply particularly in cases of authoritarian or positional leaders who might have to be approached very cautiously. Traditional leaders, however, may interpret a visit from a woman agency representative as an insult or lack of respect, so it is probably better in this case to use men. As far as community representational leaders are concerned, either men or women could be used, although if the leader is a woman she may achieve a more sympathetic dialogue with a female rather than a male representative.

1. On-going liaison

161. Having established initial contact with leaders, how should on-going liaison be organized? Walton mentions the need to have both formal and informal in-depth meetings with leaders.(102) Indeed, extensive contact is required to build up trust and the possibility of meaningful dialogue over programme aims, especially where the agency decides to work with the existing structure. In this case, it is probably advisable for agency staff to meet with leaders as regularly and as often as possible. This is, first, because the leader will feel he is actively included in the programme and may develop a commitment to it, and secondly, because it will allow the implementing agency to maintain a watch on the leader's activities with regard to the handling of funds, accuracy of announcements to the community, and so on. To a certain extent it is also important to build up some kind of identity with leaders, since the scope for cooperation in certain cultural contexts may be affected by the size of the socio-economic divide between leaders and agency staff.(27) This problem was recognized in the Saemaul Undong Movement in the Republic of Korea, where leaders were given certain privileges such as free postage and the opportunity to travel to Movement conferences and projects in an attempt by the State to indicate their appreciation of leaders' efforts and responsibility in programme implementation.(11) However, there are likely to be problems over balancing the need for the agency to stimulate some kind of identification with leaders and going so far that the leader becomes resented by the community, especially where community members do not feel they have been sufficiently involved. For example, in Ibadan, Nigeria, students from the African Regional Health Education Centre nearly alienated residents from an incinerator project established with the cooperation of the local Parent-Teacher Association. They spent too much time discussing project initiatives with teachers, rather than with ordinary community members.(12)

162. Again, the location of these meetings should normally be on "neutral" territory near or within the settlement. Regular meetings within the agency headquarters or district office will give the appearance of a "summons" from on high and would be counter-productive.

2. Leadership compatibility with project aims

163. It is not always possible at the start of a project to predict the likely outcome of leader involvement, but over time it should become more apparent whether leaders are assisting the community-development process. It is up to the agency to look out for warning signs and to react to them sensitively. Relevant issues here would be to evaluate whether the programme is benefiting all sectors of the community, and whether the agency's objectives are being upheld over and above the personal interests of the leader. It might be useful to set up an on-site project "suggestions" department staffed by lower-level agency personnel where initiatives and grievances can be registered confidentially. If leaders are working to the detriment of programme objectives, the agency should devise means to reduce the impact of that individual's influence on the project. This might, for example, take the form of facilitating greater collective responsibility among ordinary residents by setting up sub-committees for specific branches of the programme.

C. Working with existing structures or creating new ones

164. In sites-and-services schemes, when residents have had no previous contact with one another, external agencies have to encourage the creation of a community organizational structure. However, in most upgrading schemes where leadership patterns already exist, the agency has to decide whether to work with, or independently of, the existing structure. This section identifies the principal problems and advantages of different approaches and recommends appropriate steps for implementing agencies to take in various contexts. The point is that it is not the role of the agency to deform existing leadership, but it is reasonable for them to facilitate a more community representation/collective style of leadership if existing leadership poses serious obstacles to programme success. Indeed, it has been argued that formal leadership patterns are perhaps more easily changed than most other aspects of the local social structure.(27)

165. On balance, working with existing leaders is recommended except where they are: (a) highly exploitative; (b) where the majority of residents desire a change in leadership; or (c) where leadership may abuse project resources to the extent that certain groups within the community are excluded from programme benefits. How the agency reaches a decision will depend on its evaluation of leadership which itself requires close observation and analysis.

1. Working with existing leaders

166. The previous chapter drew attention to the pitfalls and advantages of working with existing leadership. Drawbacks of working with self-interested authoritarian, traditional or political leaders include delays in programme implementation, subjugation of the community in favour of personal priorities, and/or limited representation of minority groups within the community.(76,102,108) When the agency works with these kinds of leaders it is in effect legitimizing and reinforcing traditional patterns of inequality. However, despite these difficulties, several authors advocate working with and through existing leaders.(76,89, 109) Not only are existing leaders often popular, but they may also be highly motivated for communal activity.(109) In many respects, strong, representative leaders make the job of the external agency easier since responsibility for stimulating interest and encouraging support and commitment amongst residents will lie with someone who can draw upon trust and loyalty built up over a number of years.(106) However, where leaders abuse the trust and responsibility vested in them by the agency, staff should act as quickly and decisively as possible in order to save the programme from further deterioration.

167. One response aimed at reducing leader monopoly is to encourage leaders to accept other forms of representation within the community.(41) The agency should try to promote a shift towards more collective responsibility for the project without initially arousing the suspicion of leaders. For example, it might ask the leader's approval for a training programme in management and administration for community residents. A move like this would indicate that the agency still respects the leader since it requests his or her permission to go ahead with it, but at the same time it will initiate a process whereby other residents could gain a foothold in programme management. This would have to be played down to an extent that existing leaders would not feel they were being betrayed or ousted. Another way is to introduce development staff from outside the community. Professional community development workers were introduced successfully into the Lusaka project.(45) In Botswana, a woman agency worker was placed in a rural community development project and had a fairly harmonious relationship with the existing council of elders.(106)

168. However, if introducing more collective forms of leadership or outside control proves very difficult in certain settlements, other methods of reaching those residents excluded from the project should be devised. For example, to cope with the fact that women were normally excluded from community decision-making in Oke Foko, Ibadan, students from the African Regional Health Education Centre visited women in their homes to find out their opinions about the project.(12) If traditional leadership patterns are markedly hierarchical and/or exploitative, the agency should also carefully consider whether the project itself in its existing form is likely to modify those structures or reinforce them. If the latter is true, it might he hefter to change the project radically, if not abandon it altogether and start again with an alternative structure.

169. Another, if rather extreme, action would he to shift agency support firmly behind a rival leader and to encourage residents to support him or her. Once again, full reasons for the move should be given publicly and openly by the agency in order to minimize unfounded rumour and speculation. This approach represents a considerable risk for the agency and should usually only be employed as a last resort.

2. Creating, new structures where other structures already exist

170. The drawbacks of creating new structures alongside existing ones are mainly that they usually arouse opposition from existing leaders.(103,108) Furthermore, where leadership patterns are determined by cultural and historical influences, residents may not recognize or respect new leaders.(76) In Awgu, East-Central Nigeria, for example, local people only respected project workers who were "sons of the soil".(64) When leaders come from outside the settlement and have attachments elsewhere, the programme may collapse when they leave the project (76) - although this can also happen when charismatic leaders come from within the community.(80) However, the main advantage of setting up a new structure for the specific purposes of the project is that it may facilitate a more equitable distribution of benefits to the rest of the community.

171. In order to ensure that resistance from existing leadership structures is not too intense, a low-key role should be adopted when setting up an alternative structure. It is also perhaps wise to establish a collective or committee-based leadership structure rather than using individuals, so existing leaders do not feel they are being personally slighted or replaced by other people.

172. One "discreet" tactic for introducing new project-specific community structures is to work through those groups in the settlement which normally have only a limited role in local decision-making, and therefore do not greatly undermine existing leaders. For example, in some cases, women could be used to implement agency objectives without stimulating an undue amount of hostility from existing (male) leaders. In many traditional communities, there is a custom of separate but complementary men's and women's organizations.(55,65) Not only are women "closer to the community" than men and thus probably better- equipped for involvement in local development projects, but involvement also provides them with skills that can be used elsewhere, for example, in income generation. Over time, the experience derived from women's active inclusion in specific project-related activities can develop their willingness and capacity to occupy leadership positions, as has been the case with the katiwalas (primary health care workers) of the Philippines,(7) and in an integrated community development programme in Guayaquil, Ecuador.(90) The key point here is that, at the outset, existing leaders do not feel threatened since they will not perceive any competition from what are regarded as weaker groups.

3. Creating community organizational structures where none exist

173. Creating community organizational structures in sites-and-services projects is often problematic since there is little "community spirit" among beneficiaries and "natural" leaders will not have had a chance to come to the fore. The three main issues that agencies have to confront in this instance are:

(a) What are the optimum leadership structures in the project context?
(b) How should one identify potential leaders?
(c) How should community organization and leadership for the project become operational?

174. With regard to deciding which kind of leadership structure would be most appropriate for the project, agency staff must draw on both previous experience and the opinions of community members. People will have different needs and expectations of leadership in different cultural contexts and it is the job of the agency to find out what kind of structure would be most effective in that situation. On the whole, agencies should opt for creating a collective and/or rotational leadership structure whereby responsibility is shared between many members of the community and particularly by key representatives of minority factions. While a collective, committee-based style of leadership may have drawbacks in terms of either slowing down the decision-making process (in order to account for extensive discussion and reconciliation of a wider number of opinions), or reducing the positive impact of individual psychological factors, such as charisma and dynamism, at least the excesses of a monopoly by an individual leader, such as personal financial gain and unrepresentiveness, may be minimized. Sociometric techniques, such as those described in the section on identifying leaders, could be used to single out local people who might make a success of leadership or committee work.

175. The actual establishment of a community organizational structure should probably be largely left to the residents themselves; otherwise it may seem that the structure is being imposed from outside and therefore not be a good basis for future community participation. However, the agency should provide some kind of building which could be used as headquarters and also oversee elections to ensure fair play and prevent the emergence of self-imposed leaders.

D. How to respond to changes in leadership resulting from intervention

176. How should agencies respond to the side-effects of project intervention on leadership structures? Several difficulties can arise from leader involvement in community development projects, but probably the two most important are: (a) the reinforcement of socio-economic differences between leaders and the majority of residents; and (b) progressive alienation of the leader from the rest of the community, which is in part related to the above. The example of Mathare Village 2 in Nairobi is an illustration of the first point. Here leaders ended up with considerable financial benefits by using the support of the agency effectively to exploit the rest of community.(88) With regard to the second, leaders may become distanced from other residents because of a psychological divide created by their position itself. Individual leaders are a priori in some sense different from other residents. The leadership position demands a code of conduct that is possibly paternalistic, disciplinary or authoritarian.

177. Over time, residents' attitudes towards the leader can become distorted by their perception of what the leadership role means rather than who the person occupying that role is. This latter problem is very difficult for agencies to deal with directly, although if they deliberately seek to gain leader identification with themselves rather than the community, they must recognize that they are likely to intensify what is perhaps anyway an inevitable process of alienation. One way of combating this tendency may he to institute a system of rotational leadership, whereby responsibilities are shared by different individuals over time. However, this may have equally unfavourahle repercussions in teens of continuity. With regard to direct abuses of leadership positions. such as financial gain, internal "checks" may have to be established to prevent this leading to project failure and the alienation of the community from the institution. The agency must not play a formal disciplinary or watchdog role, but it could try to help the local community members to supervise leadership themselves. To an extent the dual system of traditional and New Community leaders achieved a degree of balance and control "from below" in the Saemaul Undong Movement in the Republic of Korea.(11) In Mexico, areas of communally-farmed agrarian land, known as ejidos, consist of two committees: one, an executive committee (Comisariato Ejidal) which is charged with overall management and decision-making on the ejido, and a second watchdog committee (Comite Vigilancia), whose job it is to oversee the former. This is a quite commonly accepted dual structure of organization in Latin America.

E. How to respond to other external institutions which try to contact leaders

178. Finally, there are severe risks involved in the process of opening up communities to intervention in the sense that other external institutions may try to take advantage of the opening created by the agency. For example, a political party or rival agency might try to foster support within the settlement through the leader, resulting in confusion for residents. Sometimes this may be solved by direetor-director negotiations, but it is difficult where institution heads represent different power groups. Other, more practicable alternatives include the agency following a policy of honesty and widespread dissemination of information from the outset. If people are kept informed of what the external institution is, or is not, doing, at least there is a chance of minimizing the risks associated with misinformation. Furthermore, if the agency adopts a policy of contracting staff from within the community then it is more likely that ordinary members will believe reports from them rather than feeling they have to rely on less than fully trusted agency personnel or leaders. Of course. in some instances, a leader may be coopted by another institution to the extent that the project is unworkable. In this case, agency staff should make sure that they have kept channels open for approaching leaders of other factions who may be more willing to cooperate on behalf of the community.

F. Some concluding remarks

179. It is important to note that the issues of agency-leadership interaction which have been raised in this report are points for consideration rather than policy prescriptions. Institutions involved in community development should take into account the issues addressed in chapters II to VI, attempt to understand the structure and function of leadership in different cultural contexts, and make informed decisions about how to proceed on the basis of chapters V and VI. and decision-making in low- income communities. One of the main problems in preparing this document was that there was little specific information about leadership in the literature, and even less analysis and interpretation of leadership functions, or accounts of past experiences. Therefore, UNCHS (Habitat) would benefit from, and appreciate, feed-back to this report.

181. The hope is that a wide range of agencies will give greater consideration to the question of the nature of leadership structures in different cities in terms of its emergence, its links to the wider governmental and political apparatus, its basis for legitimacy - in short, the various issues that have been discussed in this report. UNCHS (Habitat) would also welcome written evaluations of how agency staff have fared in their interaction with leaders; of techniques that worked well; and, equally important, of the failures and errors that were made; the outcomes of those failures; attempts to rectify them; and again, success or failure. UNCHS (Habitat) will not divulge information that will allow identification of these agencies, unless specifically authorized to do so.

182. The DANIDA/UNCHS Training Programme for Community Participation in the Improvement of Human Settlements is engaged in establishing courses and training activities for project staff, managers, community leaders and residents of upgrading settlements and sites-and-services schemes. In order to carry this out effectively a clear understanding of the communities and the role of their leadership is essential. This report is part of a more general attempt to reach such an understanding. The feedback which is sought can only make this attempt more successful.

Contact address:

DANIDA/UNCHS Training Programme for Community Participation,
United Nations Centre for Human Settlements (Habitat),
P. O. Box 30030,NAIROBI,Kenya