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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

V. Leaders and external agents: cooperation or conflict?

109. Most low-income housing projects, whether initiated "top-down" or "bottom-up", involve intervention from an external agent in one form or another. Intervention may range from financial, technical or advisory assistance, to supervision and/or control of programme formulation, implementation and management. The nature and potential success of intervention depends on several factors operating both at the level of the agency and the level of the community. Particularly important is the issue of leader-agency interaction, since local leaders may be key mediators between the two. Indeed, because of the likely differences in approach to settlement improvement on behalf of community members, the local elite and the external institution, community development workers are often employed by the implementing agency to harmonize the interests of the sets of actors.(63) In some cases, these workers are trained outside the community; in others they are recruited from within the settlement and trained specifically for their role in negotiation, information dissemination and mobilization.

110. This chapter examines the characteristics of various types of external agency likely to intervene in the field of low-income housing programmes, looking specifically at the way in which different types of outside institution are likely to respond to self-help communities and their leadership. In many respects the type of organization will influence the type of programme adopted and degree to which community participation is an integral and important project component. In some cases, "participation" is restricted to implementation and is equated with the community providing labour for a project which has been devised and structured outside the settlement with little reference to community needs. In these cases the external agency's interest in leadership is likely to be limited to identifying those leaders who are well disposed towards officials and implementation. In other cases, "participation" will have broader significance and embrace the notion of community control over projects, in which case the agency may play a more minor, advisory role.(40,84) Here leaders are key representatives of their communities and, therefore, occupy a critical position in the organization of community development.

111. The chapter then looks at the degree of covergence between the aims of the agency and those of community leaders, especially as they concern the underlying rationale for participation and the methods by which programme objectives are to be achieved. The extent to which the priorities of agencies and leaders, as well as those of the community, accord with each other will be a critical element in determining the extent of cooperation, and thus the outcome of the programme. Finally, the specific operational issues relating to leader-agency interaction which may determine the success of a development project will be examined. These include decisions about whom to approach, in what order, the timing of intervention, where to meet and so on.

A. External agents involved in low-income housing projects

112. In this section the different types of agents likely to be involved in low-income housing projects are examined, particularly the aspects of scale of institutions, the resources at their disposal, their reasons for and modes of intervention, types of projects, and provision for community participation (see table 4). It should be pointed out that in many cases, different types of external agent work in conjunction with one another. For example, university teams often work with city councils or metropolitan corporations as has been the case in Karachi (105) and Bangkok.(24) Moreover, projects devised by central government are often administered through the local administrative machinery, such as the Saemaul Undong Movement in the Republic of Korea,(11) and the Kampung Improvement Programme (KIP) in Indonesia.(84)

113. National government ministries or agencies are frequently involved in the establishment of country-wide housing programmes. They usually have access to considerable financial and technical resources and employ highly-trained personnel (see table 4). Programmes are generally large-scale and implemented "top-down" through specialized agencies and local government, with little direct contact between central government officials and community representatives. The likelihood of widespread popular participation in the establishment of priorities and design of the project is small.(46) This is, in part, a function of the scale of programmes and the bureaucracy surrounding them, leading to inflexibility and administrative bottle-necks.(75) Governments may be more concerned with efficiency and technocratic considerations than with involving the poor in the planning and upgrading of their settlements. However, as was mentioned in the previous chapter, there may be other motives for intervention: covert aims of government upgrading and improvement schemes are often linked to the need for maintaining social and political control. While nominal participation may serve this purpose, it is unlikely that effective participation would achieve these ends, since government may not he able to meet the community's demands. Therefore, the usual mode of intervention is "top-down" and leaders compliant with governmental objectives are likely to be favoured.(75) The reluctance to incorporate community needs into housing programmes may well account for the failures found in many governmental schemes, such as those experienced by KIP.(85)

Table 4. Types of external agents likely to intervene in low-income settlements

114. Local government refers to municipal governments, city councils and metropolitan corporations. Resources vary according to city size and the town's relationship with national government. Where urban areas are relatively wealthy, city-wide programmes may be implemented; where they are not, attention is likely to be focused upon specific settlement improvement projects. The scope for community participation in project design and implementation is likely to vary depending on the size of the programme but, as in national schemes, participation is usually restricted to implementation. For example, the Lusaka urban upgrading project, funded jointly by the Lusaka City Council, the Government of Zambia and the World Bank, avoided involving the community in the initial decision-making for fear of unrest if the programme failed to take off. This decision was also made for the sake of speeding up project implementation, since extensive dialogue with the communities would have been time- consuming.(45,68,72) However, even where the community plays a minor role, settlement leaders often become heavily involved. Local branch representatives of UNIP, for example, were vested with considerable responsibility to mobilize support for the Lusaka project, along with trained community development workers.(78) The overt aims of local government upgrading schemes may be to improve housing conditions in the city, but they will also be concerned with reducing social unrest; therefore contact with, and cooption of, settlement leaders is likely to be a key tactic of local authorities.

115. Political organizations, such as political parties, as well as individual politicians are likely to become involved in low- income housing projects where they have access to government resources or seek to use local settlement issues as a basis for building up support. Political organizations include a wide range of personnel ranging from top-level politicians to local branch leaders and activists. Here, contact with communities is likely to be forged "top-down" either through a politician's personal links with settlement leaders or through the involvement of local parties in community affairs. Rather than implementing programmes across the board, political parties will probably become involved in particular settlements where they see most political advantage to be won - either in votes or in reducing dissent. As such, the leadership structure is likely to be important. If the aim is to coopt, it may be limited to certain leaders vested with considerable responsibility for shaping political opinions within the settlement. Alternatively, radical opposition parties may seek to spread an ideology of popular participation in which case broad-based community involvement and collective leadership may be high.

116. Large-scale international development agencies, such as the World Bank, act similarly to national government organizations (see table 4). They generally have access to considerable financial and technical resources and employ highly-trained specialists from a number of countries. Programmes are likely to be devised not only outside the communities, but also largely outside the countries concerned. Given the large and often inflexible nature of international development flexible nature of international programmes, community participation is likely to be minimal in the formulation stage, but higher during implementation, with widespread self-help and mutual aid being encouraged to reduce costs. However, even implementation is likely to be organized in a "top-down" fashion with large numbers of outside workers and advisers employed to supervise the community. This may then threaten the interests of local leaders.

117. Small/local NGOs, as the term suggests, are likely to have limited resources and to engage in small-scale local projects. They are more able (and probably more willing) to respond to local needs and initiatives than are larger, more bureaucratic institutions.(46) Their rationale for intervention is usually to assist low-income communities to help themselves, although project staff, recruited both locally and from abroad, may sometimes adopt paternalistic attitudes.(75) NGOs usually devise or support projects where the scope for broad-based popular participation is high in all project stages from formulation through to management. Thus the issue of local leadership may be especially problematic if it is not representative of community interests. Owing to the likelihood of NGOs having greater knowledge and sensitivity in dealing with local situations, projects are likely to achieve high success rates, although they may have limited replicability.

118. Academic institutions and their members often become involved in low-income housing and community development projects, either independently or in conjunction with an agency. Reasons for intervention vary and may include a genuine desire to assist in the physical and social improvement of low-income communities, training for their own professional development workers, and research into community-development techniques, as well as student-initiated "action" research which seeks to blend technical assistance with political consciousness-raising of residents. Examples of the latter include student groups from the self-governing school of architecture at Mexico City's National Autonomous University who were closely involved in many locally- initiated upgrading schemes throughout the city during the early 1970s and encouraged residents to identify with, and participate in, wider social struggles. Examples of the former include the African Regional Health Education Centre in Ibadan, Nigeria, which organized groups of students to assist communities with health and upgrading schemes as part of their training as professional health workers.(l2) The Vicos Experiment in Peru was carried out by a team of social anthropologists from Cornell University with the aim of creating local decision-making organizations among 300 Quechua-speaking tenant farmers to enable them to manage a former hacienda (estate).(42) Academic institutions usually work on individual projects which include a strong emphasis on popular participation. Community leaders who are governed by motives of personal gain rather than more altruistic objectives may not be persuaded of the desirability of such external involvement.

119. Church groups and voluntary sector organizations have traditionally been a rallying point for low-income communities in many areas of the world. The organizations are either locally-based, such as Co-Clube in Recife, Brazil,(88) or part of a national organization such as the National Christian Council of Kenya,(88) or the Christian Family Movement in the Philippines.(7) Like NGOs and academic institutions, they are likely to become involved in local projects and to respond to "bottom-up" initiatives with a strong measure of popular participation. The rationale for intervention, especially with religious charities, is often to facilitate an improvement in the social and moral welfare of low-income groups, although they may be guilty of paternalism in their aims and methods. These groups usually enter settlements where there is a leadership "vacuum", but one could foresee difficulties in those situations where existing local leaders do not share the ideology or religion of the external group.

B. Aims and priorities. convergence or divergence

120. Having identified the main types of external agents involved in housing and upgrading projects, it is now possible to pinpoint the range of issues which are likely to prove conflictive in pursuing their goals. Project success depends to a large degree on whether there is convergence or divergence between both the aims of external agencies and those of local leaders, and in the methods adopted to fulfill objectives. In some cases, the objectives of the external agency may be totally alien to the needs and priorities of the community it wants to "assist"; in others the aims of both sets of actors might converge, but the methods may not. For example, the agency might see its role as an initiator, and regard the community's contribution primarily as one of providing labour with which their schemes can be implemented, yet residents might feel resentment at contributing unpaid labour when project staff are salaried.(42) In considering convergence and divergence of aims, one should attempt to examine the relevant issues from the perspective of ordinary community members as well, given that certain leaders may not be particularly representative of their followers and have personal interests uppermost.

1. Possible sources of conflict over aim


121. The scope and nature of popular participation in a development project is likely to be a major source of tension between the community, local leaders and the external agency. In addition to the often cited fundamental disagreement over the extent of community participation in decision-making and formulation as well as implementation, there may also be disagreement over who "controls" participation in the project. This latter point is less widely documented. Specifically, local leaders may not wish to see their basis of legitimacy eroded through the agency deciding to supervise the community directly. The aims of the external agency may be to develop consciousness and solidarity which might run counter to the aims of local leaders who wish to maintain the community's "need" for a hierarchical organizational structure. There may also be disagreement over the spill-over effect of participation into other non-community development areas such as party political demonstrations. While leaders and residents may regard the project as a vehicle for achieving greater political autonomy and strength, the external agent may wish to do precisely the opposite. Sometimes it works the other way of course. Agencies may wish to use community development as a pretext for party political mobilization about which leaders are at best cynical but tolerant, and at worst hostile and in opposition.


122. The timing of a project may also result in conflict. For example, while the external agency generally wants to get a programme underway as soon as possible, this may not be appropriate for leaders or residents. The actual process of identifying and approaching local leaders is very time-consuming but if an agency blunders at the outset, initiatives may be killed before they have had a change to get off the ground. The length of time needed was one main reason why project formulation in Lusaka was kept almost entirely out of residents' hands and led to failure to mobilize effective support and participation in later stages of the programme.(45,68) The timing of implementation may also cause conflicts. If agencies have borrowed money to finance the project, and require the community to work solidly over a period of a few months, residents may object if it means they have to take time off work and lose income. Leaders may also wish to drag out discussion, negotiation and implementation in order to extend their indispensability. Another issue is whether staff, either external or community-trained, and leaders, should be full- or part-time. In this instance, much depends on previous experience of the development agency and which approach has worked best in the past, whether local leaders have full-time jobs, and pragmatic considerations such as cost.

Priorities/selection of development goals

123. A critical issue here is "who decides?" Planners may feel they know what is best for a community, which often leads to conflict with the community itself over the establishment of priorities.(44) Leaders will know best what their followers need, but their needs may be impracticable in technical or financial terms. Planners will tend to go for expediency and residents may lose interest if their demands are not met. Leaders for their part may have different priorities from those of community members. For example, in Baldia Township, Karachi, both government officials and local leaders prioritized regularization, while residents prioritized services. Government wanted regularization for the purposes of generating income to provide services. Leaders, who often owned several plots within their settlements, wanted legalization to increase land values and to raise rents. Residents felt that if services arrived, then legalization would be a fait so they preferred to receive services rather than commit themselves to paying higher rates for land.(108) Another conflictive issue is how priorities are assessed: how much weight should be given to the views of planners, leaders and residents, respectively?

Cost recovery

124. Cost recovery is usually one of the most problematic areas of housing projects: loans commit residents for several years and there is often a high default rate on repayments.(3,59) Conflicts of aims and interests may arise over the following issues. First, the amount the community is supposed to provide relative to that of the external agency (i.e., the level of subsidy and the opportunities for subsidy). Secondly, the issue of repayment terms. The agency may have borrowed money to finance the project and so needs to recover it rapidly. Leaders, however, may wish to extend repayment terms, not only for personal financial reasons, but also to maintain their key negotiating role in the community. Residents may find it difficult to repay over a short period of time. Another problem is actually setting repayment terms which fit the payment capacity of all groups within the community. This will depend very much on the occupational structure of the settlement. Problems might arise over whether rates should be fixed as an absolute value or as a percentage of mean monthly income, and over what should be done about those groups in the settlement who are unable to pay on the same terms as the majority. A particular source of strain is where the agency explicitly or implicitly expects leaders to exercise pressure on recalcitrant non-payers. Not surprisingly, leaders resent a rent collector role.


125. Finally, administration of the project is likely to be controversial, especially in terms of local leadership. For example, who should staff the project? It may be more expedient for the agency to employ its own community-development workers, rather than use valuable time to train local residents. However, if the agency's aims are to increase the skills and managerial capacity of low-income communities, local leaders may resent the training of ordinary residents to positions alongside their own. What should be the existing leader's role? The aims of local leaders and project staff may differ widely depending on their respective motives and expectations for control of project administration. How should staff liaison be established? Should the agency report to the local community organization's headquarters or vice versa? Should contracting for specialized labour be done on an individual household or community-wide basis? Finally, who should supervise on-going and future maintenance of the project?

C. Sensitive issues in agency involvement with community leadership

126. Given the examples of converging and diverging aims cited in the previous section, one cannot make the assumption that development agencies will be successful in their interventions in low-income communities. Obviously the success of a development programme depends on a number of different factors. Rifkin has identified these factors as falling into two main groups termed "passive" and "active", respectively.(76) The first group refers to certain structural elements in a society which are likely to play a major role in the relative success of development programmes, but which cannot effectively be changed - for example, the political and cultural background against which the project takes place. The second group refers to more specific, lower-level issues over which some influence can be exerted by the key actors. These "active", or dynamic, factors include such issues as community organization and programme management and form the basis of the following discussion.

127. Given a high degree of cultural specificity and the wide range of socio-economic and political situations in which development programmes take place, one should not over-generalize about appropriate or inappropriate behaviour on behalf derstand why the issues identified are sensitive and how different types of agency have responded to the challenge in different cultural contexts.

1. Initiation

128. A critical issue in leader-agency interaction is who precipitates intervention, since to a large degree the actor making the approach will probably have the clearest idea about what the project should entail. Initiators may have a great deal of influence on the subsequent progress of the project, since they are usually the most committed to its success. Certainly, there seems to be a clear correlation between the source of initiation and control over project decision-making. For example, in a "bottom-up" housing project in Managua, Nicaragua, the Housing Ministry played a low-key role throughout the project and agreed with most of the leaders' suggestions regarding formulation and implementation. This was also a response to the ideological background against which the project took place, where much emphasis was being laid on grass-roots involvement in building post-revolutionary Nicaraguan society.(99) Conversely, the Lusaka project which was initiated "top-down" by various external agencies, deliberately avoided consulting community members in the early stages of project formulation. This resulted in inappropriately planned plot arrangements and a lack of enthusiasm and commitment on the part of residents.(45, 68, 72)

2. Approach and communication

129. The approach of the agency in terms of protocol, attitudes and timing is also an important operational issue in leader-agency interaction, since through insensitive behaviour, external institutions often alienate community leaders from the goals they wish to achieve. Agencies often enter communities without respecting traditional channels of communication, or paying due attention to the process of identifying leaders.(83) Their attitudes are frequently patronizing, paternalistic, authoritarian or sexist. Residents in a "top-down" community development project in Valle de la Esperanza, El Salvador, for example, felt they were being treated as "social inferiors" rather than as responsible citizens, and their resentment was reflected in very low rates of community participation.(42) Similarly in Santo Domingo de los Reyes, Mexico City, the failure of one agency to discuss its proposals with all the important leaders led to that agency losing credibility with large sections of the settlement.(103)

130. Major benefits can result from the agency making an overt display of less arrogant, more sensitive opinions. For example, in Bangkok, the National Housing Authority and Mahidol University team genuinely felt that their upgrading programme would be better if the residents were actively involved - an attitude which ultimately gained the active support and cooperation of the community in that project.(24)

131. With regard to protocol, in Ibadan, Nigeria, students from the African Regional Health Educatation Centre (ARHEC) made a potentially disastrous mistake by trying to set up a local improvement scheme without the consent or approval of the traditional council of elders. Fortunately, however, they rectified this by contacting the elders and discussing their ideas at length with them as soon as they realized their error.(12)

132. As far as timing is concerned, agencies often forgo the need to spend a lengthy period trying to identify local leadership structures, or they may withdraw from the project before enough momentum has been established within the community to sustain improvement efforts. The problems associated with this have been recognized by certain institutions. For example, a recent policy recommendation for United Nations Children's Fund projects has suggested that the normal three-year cycle of agency involvement and evaluation should be raised to 10 years; otherwise there is insufficient time to build up loyalty, trust and commitment within the community.(91) The team of specialists from Cornell University, who spent several years closely working in the Vicos experiment in community development in Peru, demonstrated that a sensitive, gradualist approach was the only effective method to gain acceptance and to be able to hand over managerial skills to the community.(42)

3. Response to community structure

133. Related to the above, how have agencies proceeded in setting up local organizations for the implementation of projects? This is a very problematic issue and perhaps the single most important in determining whether a project is successful. The key question here is whether agencies have achieved higher success rates working in conjunction with, or independently of, traditional community structures. It is a critical question, since bypassing these structures may lead not only to failure of the agency in teens of achieving its objectives, but also even prevent the implementation of a project altogether by arousing opposition from existing leaders. In addition, they frequently exclude certain groups from participation and decision-making (sometimes disadvantaged minorities whom the agency may most want to reach). Therefore, if the agency chooses to work with existing leaders, it must recognize that it is to some degree legitimizing and reinforced traditional patterns of inequality.(27) Yet newly- created structures, especially if they are imposed from outside via community development workers, may not be respected by local communities who have traditional patterns of leadership selection. Both approaches have pitfalls: one may threaten the interests of the community elite thereby jeopardizing the programme; the other may further their interests, thereby perverting the agency's original objectives to the extent of misrepresentation of institutional aims and alienation by the community.(42,72,76) As is demonstrated below. the wholesale adoption of either approach is potentially conflictive depending on the local political, cultural and economic background. Ideally, responses to the community organizational structure should be drawn up only after a thorough appraisal and evaluation of the existing settlement situation.

134. Experiments in creating new structures have frequently proved unsuccessful. In India, for example, where trained workers from outside the community were brought in to run a health project, the resentment felt by the community elite was so intense that a paramedic was murdered.(76) However, a similar method had a positive outcome in an Iranian project, where the introduction of outside community-development workers successfully reduced the control exercised over a health project by existing male-dominated leadership.(76) In certain cases, existing leadership has been imaginatively incorporated into new forms of community-development organization. For example, in the Republic of Korea respect was paid to traditional leaders who were invited and encouraged, by means of incentives and privileges, to work alongside younger, more dynamic leaders from the Saemaul Undong Movement.(11) In Bangkok, existing leaders, who were culturally obliged to protect and represent their communities, became key promoters of a housing and community improvement programme jointly set up by the National Housing Authority and a team of specialists from Mahidol University.(24)

135. Even where leaders are sympathetic and compliant with agency aims, too much overt cooperation with them to the exclusion of direct dialogue and contact with the rest of the community may alienate residents from the outside institution.(12) It can also work to the detriment of disadvantaged groups within the settlement. For example, in the Nairobi Mathare Valley project cited earlier, a "bottom-up" initiative assisted by the National Christian Council of Kenya, a great deal of freedom was given to existing leaders. The endproduct of relative community autonomy was that better-off groups benefited to the extent that they intensified socio-economic divisions within the settlement.(88)

4. Decision-making and control over resources

136. The degree to which different sets of actors are empowered to make decisions over the type of project needed by the community and appropriate methods of project implementation is also a critical issue in leader-agency interaction. If community leaders and their followers are excluded from certain aspects of project execution (particularly key phases such as formulation and design), then high participation by the community in implementation, maintenance and cost recovery phases is unlikely.(84) Neither is the project likely to sustain itself once the external agency has withdrawn.

137. A classic example of conflict around this issue is the Lusaka project, where key decisions on project design were taken outside the community in Washington, D.C., and the Zambian Government headquarters. The outcome was low rates of resident commitment and participation.(45,72) With regard to control over skills, in the community of Oke Foko in Ibadan, Nigeria, ARHEC students had neither the time nor forethought to pass on crucial negotiating and lobbying techniques to traditional leaders. This had severe repercussions since local leaders were unable to make overtures to the relevant authorities by themselves.(l2) It has been argued that the greater the degree of community involvement in local decision-making, the better the fit between community needs and upgrading programmes.(40) However, since most development agencies do not work under such ideal conditions, there are bound to be problems. This will obviously depend to a large extent on the local political factors. In repressive regimes, community residents are unlikely to be able to exercise effective power and influence over the relevant authorities. However, in more progressive regimes, the community may be positively encouraged to take responsibility in local decision- making. For example, in Managua, the Housing Ministry played a very low-key role in housing project implementation, and transferred substantial responsibility for resource allocation to the community.(99)

5. Programme organization, management, staffing and training

138. This issue was raised briefly in the section on aims. Here concentration is focused on the operational aspects of leader- agency interaction with regard to programme management. Decisions over project administration in some respects links in with the discussion of agency responses to community organizational and leadership structures. The degree to which community administration is controlled by the outside institution will also reflect the latter's attitude towards the beneficiaries.

139. An important determinant of the success of the Guayaquil project in Ecuador was that the women were salaried. A major obstacle to successful community-agency relations is often posed by the fact that external bodies assume local residents will donate their labour free-of-charge. Cooperation is far more likely to be achieved if they are paid. For example, the Co-Clube project in Coque, Brazil, assisted by a French NGO, The Brothers of Men, and the municipal government through the Ministry of Health, recognized the importance of involving the community closely in project activities and from the outset employed local recruits to work alongside professional staff.(90)

140. A final point to note is that, despite the resentment existing elders might feel at the active involvement of other community members in the programme and direct contact between them and the external agency through training, there are often positive effects for groups within the settlement who do not normally have the opportunity to become involved in local affairs. The katiwalas (locally-trained women health workers) in the Philippines often come to assume a broader role in their communities through the skills and experience derived from their involvement in health programmes.(7) Similarly, female involvement in a pre-school feeding programme in Guayaquil led to increased participation of women as leaders.(91)

141. Having examined a range of problems faced by external agents in their interaction with leaders, it is now possible to discuss ways in which certain of the conflicts arising from intervention may be circumvented or overcome.