More than 90 development experts on community-driven development (CDD) from 14 countries across the Asia and the Pacific regions gathered in the mountainous town of Sapa in Vietnam in June for a third regional conference on CDD to exchange experiences and deepen learning about how CDD can be used to empower communities—including vulnerable ethnic minorities and women—and improve development impacts.
“Empowering women, especially ethnic minority women, is one of the achievements of the project that I feel most proud of,” said Nguyen Thi Minh Nghia, Deputy Director of the Northern Mountainous Poverty Reduction Project (NMPRP II) management unit.
Nghia shared the story of Lo Thi Me, a 31-year-old H’Mong woman, who traveled to Hanoi to join in a discussion with World Bank President Jim Yong Kim. Me told President Kim about her life and her village in the remote province of Lao Cai, about the brocade embroidery club that gave her a job and helped increase her income. Nghia explained that only a few years ago, Lo Thi Me was not even allowed by her husband to venture outside of their commune or to have any say at all in family matters. Me’s life and the lives of many other ethnic minority women in the province have been transformed due to the CDD approach used in NMPRP II, which is supported by the World Bank.
“CDD is a bottom-up approach where a great deal of responsibility and authority is given to the local community and communes to analyze their problems and decide how best to use the resources given to them,” said Sean Bradley, the World Bank’s Lead Social Development Specialist. “CDD allows villagers and ethnic minority groups themselves to decide and manage their own development activities.”
Around 1.5 million villagers have benefited from NMPRP II since it began implementation in 2011. Women make up approximately 50 percent of the members of the estimated 12,000 Common Interest Groups (CIG) supported under the project, and of these, around 5,000 CIGs are led by women. Overall, these project beneficiaries reported an improvement of 16 percent in per capita income.
The World Bank and development partners have increasingly focused on lending to CDD programs in recent years. The CDD approach has been used across a range of low to middle income, as well as conflict-affected, countries to address a variety of urgent needs, including water supply and sanitation, education and healthcare, post-conflict reconstruction, nutrition programs for mothers and infants, rural access roads, and support for micro-enterprises.
The World Bank has 60 active projects worth approximately $9.8 billion in 15 countries in South Asia, East Asia, and the Pacific. Many of the CDD programs began as small stand-alone operations that have gradually expanded to national coverage and have become part of formal national decentralization strategies.
While CDD has brought encouraging results, it also requires a lot of effort and time to ensure that changes on the ground and livelihood improvements can be sustained.
“There are several challenges that we have been faced with, including issues on the mobilization of investment, decentralization and accountability and management capacity,” said Dang Xuan Phong, Chairman of Lao Cai Provincial Peoples Committee. Lao Cai is one of six provinces that have benefited from the Northern Mountains project, and the chair of the People’s Committee was speaking at the third regional conference on CDD, which was organized by the World Bank in partnership with the Government of Vietnam and the Government of Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT).
At the conference, experts, practitioners, and government officials exchanged experiences, shared lessons, and explored the intersections between CDD and livelihoods and rural jobs, disaster risk management, and the inclusion of ethnic minorities in operations. Participants also discussed how to advance the concept of a regional CDD community of practice.
“We knew the theory of CDD,” said one participant. “But it’s important to meet and learn from those with intensive and practical experience in CDD.”
According to Nghia, who has been working on the implementation of the NMPRP II and its predecessor project for more than 10 years, three key ingredients to a successful CDD project are to engage people throughout the whole process from planning through implementation and supervision; ensure everyone, including different agencies from national down to district authorities, are on board; and guide and support villagers and the implementing team throughout the CDD process.
While CDD has proven successful in several regional countries, the Northern Mountains project shows that it takes time and commitment to the process for results to be achieved. “You need to give CDD enough time,” Sean Bradley said. “It’s a new approach that requires both government and villagers to work differently.”
CDD also needs multi-sectoral collaboration, and government at all levels have to do all they can to ensure integration and coordination. Partnerships with the private sector, non-government organizations, and especially with other development partners are crucial.
“The World Bank is Australia’s key partner in community-driven development. We jointly support governments around the Asia-Pacific region with this important poverty reduction strategy that empowers communities to take charge of their own development,” said Francesca Lawe-Davies, Assistant Director for Poverty and Social Transfers at DFAT. “The regional conference was an excellent opportunity for governments to share experiences and work through common challenges.”