At Action on Poverty, we often describe our work as being driven by the communities we operate in—this is more than just a phrase. We bake this commitment into our projects through a unique model of development which leverages the power of communities, the exceptional people that constitute them and their desire for change.
Action Poverty’s community-based model is an approach for creating, supporting and, eventually, exiting from community groups after they have achieved self-reliance and are able to carry out the work we started for themselves. With our amazing partners MAPCO, the approach has been tried and tested over the last 20 years in the post-conflict context of Sierra Leone. These groups provide sustainable, community-led development, as opposed to interventionist, top-down approaches.
Since we implemented this approach in 2004, 91 groups have been reached and together with our partners we have developed and refined the group model for sustainable community development. Recently, we reviewed the current status of 27 Sierra Leonean groups supported between 2014 and 2021. This is what we found.
The groups we strengthened and set up in Sierra Leone had a high rate of survival. Of the 27 studied, 19 (70%) are still in operation and many of them showed signs of strong, democratic leadership and well-managed revolving loan schemes, helping community members to set up and expand their businesses.
Given the challenges faced by communities in recent years, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the rising cost of living, this rate of survival is a good achievement. It means people who may have otherwise been left behind now have the support in place to better weather challenges and continue to put food on the table.
What’s more, community groups have a deep understanding of local challenges and aspirations. By working closely with community members, they can identify needs, develop tailored solutions, and implement initiatives that are relevant and effective.
Hawa is a testament to the power of community groups. At just 28 years old, she serves as the Financial Secretary of her group, as well as being a facilitator for adult literacy lessons.
We sat down with Hawa to learn more about the benefits she has experienced through our project, ‘Empowering Local Communities in Pujehun, which used the community group model. When asked about the biggest benefit she has felt, she shared, ‘Our rights. The project has made me feel more aware of the rights I have.’
‘Because of the loan,’ she continued, ‘it’s made my household have peace, since we have money to play with. The project has stopped me and my husband quarrelling over money. The men now know their responsibilities towards their wives and the women know their rights.’
She also spoke of improved confidence—’I am now recognised by my community, they will consult me on decisions,’ she told us.
As well as looking after the finances of the group, Hawa has also benefitted from the loan scheme, taking her children to buy clothing and medicine. She is also now able to send her oldest to school.
Shifting the Power
Action on Poverty’s grassroots approach empowers communities by involving individuals like Hawa directly in the decision-making processes. They foster a sense of ownership, encouraging active participation and inclusivity, with high levels of inclusion for women, people with disabilities and young
people within CBO membership and leadership structures.
As an international development charity, we’re acutely aware of the power dynamics at play within the development sector. As Bond’s #ShiftThePower movement highlights, in order to overcome poverty, we need to recognise the expertise, knowledge, and resilience reside within communities most affected by poverty. By implementing the community group model is one way that we’re shifting power to marginalised groups and making practical strides in the here and now towards a future of global equity.