Community development with communities living in deep poverty

There is no recipe on how to work with the communities, settlements and parts of the settlements. In each case, local conditions have to be considered as the basis and the adequate method or methods have to be developed with due consideration to these conditions. In order to enable the development expert, and then the core people and the wider group of people around the expert to do so, the first and foremost step is to get to know the community we work with. We should do this mapping exercise, on the one hand, by collecting and studying the available documents, data, and the publications on local history. On the other hand, we should ask the local institutions, the people living there, and reveal their memories, feelings and conditions. The community development expert and the community activists can prepare the plan they will follow during their work based on the above information and this plan will help them to identify the adequate methods as well.

The community development flow-plan is never a final plan. Only the objective is constant – changes should take place through the activities of the local people and other actors. The road to reach this objective and the methods always change in the function of the will and choice of the community. That is the reason why the community developer has to be flexible, should not insist on his/her ideas and should respond to the upcoming needs with no delay.

Addressing, inclusion, activation

‘Everybody is intelligent enough to control himself in the issues that are his business.’ (Tocqueville)

We can hear a lot about the significance of participation every day. It is important that people take part in their own life, in other words, they have to create the conditions under which they have a say in the issues affecting them and should be active participants and shapers and not only passive observers and subjects. We create the possibility for participation through the process of involvement.

‘Belonging to somewhere also means participation: I take part in the life of the community where I belong. Participation is a form of expression and way of living covering all fields and the complexity of life. In general, participation manifests itself at the level of the individual and the community.

At individual level it means that the individual takes part in controlling his/her life, namely is responsible for him-, or herself. Instead of being drifted, the individual ventures to act, actually creates his or her life, formulates his/her own values and defines objectives accordingly and fights for the realisation of these objectives by choosing partners.

At community level, participation in fact means knowing each other and the community and the relations inside the community. Furthermore, it also means confidence in each other, mutual support and solidarity, common norms and mutuality. We can also talk about participation at the level of the society, when participation is realised in the interactive and institutional processes of the society. In political terms, participation means participation at the different levels of decision-making. ”[1]

Participation can only be realised if there are partners, information and mutual activities.

It matters what our intention is when we try to involve people. Whether we only pretend to do it or we are serious about it and count on people, or we do not even want to maintain the pretence? We should also decide whether we involve the locals only in the brainstorming and/or planning process, or we involve them also in the implementation, and what space and regularity we provide for all this.

However, in order to assure that local people actually join the community processes and the life of the local institutions, it is very important to do everything before the public in the widest meaning of the term. This requirement applies not only to the programmes and services, but also to the planning meetings. Regularity is a must, because it is easier to involve the local people if the meetings are regular.

According to the quality of participation, we can talk about active and passive involvement.

Involvement is active, if we integrate the people into the whole process and count on their participation from planning to implementation and evaluation. We do not only assess the needs, but also involve them into the activities so that each of them has a task.

The other form of involvement is passive involvement. In this case, people go to the programmes, benefit from the services offered by the institutions, but stay away from the additional life of the institution. They are not interested in the development and the different relations of the institution. Only one thing is important: the institution should provide the highest quality of services, and the rest remains the task of the staff.

Several professional arguments support that we have to use different methods and tools to address and activate people living in deep poverty than other strata of the society. According to community development, confidence building and establishment of dialogue based on partnership without any kind of sub-or super ordination shall be in the focus of community development. At the regular community discussions, they jointly plan the actions, then they act jointly, even if they work with people living in deep poverty. We have to do the same things in order to reach people living in deep poverty and create their commitment. The emphasis is on the quality of the process through which we involve the affected parties and how much we consider them partners.

There are different ways to reach people and families living in deep poverty. We can gather information from those institutions that have contacts with these people, can also look for finalised projects on social development and can identify persons who worked on these projects. We can initiate direct conversations in the selected areas with the affected parties, but another option is to offer these people the possibility to join the community events.

The first and foremost step is to build confidence and self-confidence. The initial step to build confidence is to start personal conversations with these people. We can identify them via the different institutions or based on recommendations, but we cannot skip the first step, namely to contact them. We can gain their confidence and reach their commitment with attention, remembering their families and their problems. In some cases, it is enough to meet only once, because we succeed not only to establish contact with them, but cooperation is also developed. In other cases, we have to meet them several times in person to reach this point. We can organise the first community discussion when we already have a team whose members are willing to sit down with the others and think together with them.

We can also activate people by organising clubs around the different fields of interest and knowledge of the people. At these occasions it often turns out that some of the people are excellent in crafts, others are great in making certain products. It is a good idea to organise exhibitions of these products and show the final ‘products’ of their talent to the inhabitants of the settlement. These events increase self-esteem, people can be proud of themselves, and their self-confidence reaches a higher level because they could show to the others what they know.

We should pay attention to develop and strengthen community identity in addition to self-confidence. If we only prepare the people and we do not increase the whole cause or issue to community level, then people who are good friends will continue to live next to each other but will not be able to think in terms of the community.


[1] Vercseg Ilona: Közösség és részvétel, – a közösségfejlesztés és a közösségi munka gyakorlati elmélete. Hilscher Rezső Szociálpolitikai Egyesület és az ELTE Szociális Munka és Szociálpolitikai Tanszék könyvsorozata. Budapest, 2011. 33. p

This article based on the following document: Esélyegyenlőségi módszertani útmutató