Participation: how and for whose benefit?
In reviewing the case studies described in the previous chapter,
it becomes clear that there is no one effective strategy which can be
formulated, nor is it possible to develop a universally applicable "pack
age" for addressing the wide variety of concerns among low-income
groups in the urban sector. Every local situation has its own particular
characteristics, and interventions must be tailored accordingly. There are,
however, certain conditions for success, an essential component of which is the
identification of needs and the setting of priorities by the community itself.
Well-versed in their own problems and needs and well- endowed with existing
forms of organisation the impetus for development initiatives is more genuine,
appropriate and sustainable if it comes from within communities, rather than
from an outsider attempting to act on their behalf.
Community participation is seen as an end in itself as well as a
means: in other words, not just as a way of extending the government's limited
resources and increasing project efficiency by sharing responsibility, but as an
empowerment goal - a way to increase the community's control over resources and
over the direction in which it develops. It is a continuous process which
extends beyond the life of any particular project or programme.
As far as VSAs are concerned, it follows that support ought to be
given to groups, rather than individuals, with a view to evoking a continuous
process of participation. This support could be for production, through credit,
raw material provision, training, or marketing groups; for services, through
neighbourhood or sectoral or specialised organisations or for other activities
as required. Activities for which the impetus has come from the community itself
qualify for support, especially in areas of health, education, water/sanitation,
infrastructure, etc. Issues of prioritization and choice arise most with housing
construction, production and employment concerns: here, most initiatives are
taken by individuals or families for their own benefit or profit.
When focusing on community participation as an avenue in
"targeting" low-income urban communities for development initiatives, it is
particularly important that VSAs recognise and include the concerns of youth and
women, and take into account how far these groups have organised themselves.
Attempts to ensure participation must allow for an understanding of functions
and decision-making roles at the household