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The Shams El-Bir Association Community Committee in El-kfoor Village, El-Minia, Upper Egypt
The Shams El-Bir Association Community Committee in El-kfoor Village, El-Minia, Upper Egypt
This case documents the formation, deliberations, and achievements of the Community Committee of El-kfoor village, in El-Minia Governorate, Egypt. Created through the intervention of San Mark, an Egyptian non-governmental organization (NGO), the Community Committee acted as a key communication channel between the El-kfoor Community Development Association (CDA) and community members, thereby improving transparency and accountability. Through a number of awareness-raising and participatory processes, the Community Committee and San Mark supported the CDA and community members in their mutual engagement to solve pressing environmental sanitation and waste management issues.
Problems and Purpose
Community development associations (CDAs), established by the Egyptian NGO Law 84 (2002),are typically founded by at least 10 community members and aim to contribute to development within their geographical area (“Law on Non-Governmental Organizations,” 2002, Article 1).To this end, CDAs lead projects that seek to improve living conditions, including community development activities that engage community members in a participatory and inclusive way.
In El-Minia Governorate, where the community of El-kfoor is located, CDAs were established in 2007. In this village, community members had little trust in their CDA, while CDA members lamented poor civic engagement in development processes. This poor relationship between the CDA and residents created negative conditions for participatory development processes in El-kfoor. At the center of this was a sense from community members that the CDA was not working well and was not acting accountably or transparently with the people of El-kfoor.
During this period, aside from the lack of transparency and accountability within the CDA, El-kfoor also faced issues resulting from poor sanitation infrastructure and poor waste management systems. Village members were unhappy about the presence of rubbish in the streets and the lack of public infrastructure or systems to dispose of waste safely and effectively.
To address these problems, a community committee was established in El-kfoor in 2010 to act as a channel for greater dialogue between the CDA and community members and, ultimately, to improve civic engagement in CDA activities. The ultimate aim was to enhance the role of CDAs in El-Minia Governorate,enabling them to more effectively lead their communities through development processes that are transparent, accountable, and participatory. The Community Committee in El-kfoor achieved this objective in part through engaging community members in participatory discussions about development plans and processes.
El-Minia Governorate rests along the banks of the Nile River in central Egypt and is one of the most highly populated governorates of Upper Egypt as well as an important agricultural and industrial region. El-kfoor is one of over 3,000 villages in the governorate, with a population of roughly 13,000 (“Minya Governorate,” n.d.).
Here, as in the rest of Egypt, the period leading up to the 2011 revolution was difficult. There was an overall feeling in the country that government officials were not taking people’s socio-economic issues seriously. Due to social unrest over a lack of economic opportunities and political exclusion, political upheaval ensued. There was an overall sense of frustration among Egyptians that political accountability and transparency were undermined by corruption, the backdrop of social issues such as poor public infrastructure and sanitation. Also, there was little money for CDAs to carry out community projects effectively, and the lack of communication and transparency between Egyptian citizens and the government was reflected in strained community relations in places like El-kfoor.
The circumstances were ripe for the involvement of San Mark, anon-governmental organization (NGO) committed to achieving strong, dynamic, and sustainable civil society sectors in El-Minia Governorate by helping people to depend upon themselves and work together as a collective community. Between 2010 and 2014, San Mark implemented two projects: Promoting Communal Participation and Active Civil Society in El-Minia Governorate (San Mark NGO for Development [San Mark], 2012). Working with 25 CDAs in the region, these projects were designed to facilitate participatory rural appraisal (PRA) processes and to work with community members to enhance civic engagement in CDA activities. Twelve of these partnerships, including El-kfoor,led to the emergence of comprehensive community committees,made up of a cross-section of community members mandated to work with the local CDA to deepen community engagement and participation in development processes and decision-making.
Originating Entities and Funding
Two organizational entities worked together to facilitate the emergence of the El-kfoor Community Committee, and the participatory community sanitation project that ensued: San Mark NGO for Development (San Mark), founded in 1980 and working with local CDAs for integrated rural development in El-Minia Governorate, and Shams El-Bir Association, El-kfoor CDA (El-kfoor CDA).
A key element of San Mark’s work has focused on promoting transparency and accountability at the local level by strengthening communal participation and enhancing the capacity of CDAs in rural communities. In 2010, it put out a region-wide call to local CDAs to apply to partner with them. The El-kfoor CDA was successful in meeting the project criteria (San Mark, 2012).
San Mark and the El-kfoor CDA facilitated a participatory rural appraisal (PRA) process, whereby community members were able to discuss local issues of concern and prioritize areas for development. Through the process, people identified solid and liquid waste management and sanitation as top priorities:the mixing of sewage with irrigation water was damaging crops, posing challenges to local livelihoods in animal husbandry and agriculture, as well as to a healthy community environment. To address this problem, the CDA designed a project and accessed a sub-grant from San Mark, which was financed by a German funder, to work with community members to find solutions. At this stage, the Community Committee was formed to work with the CDA to engage community members in this development process.
Candidates for membership to the Community Committee were identified during the PRA process and subsequently elected as members during a general assembly of the El-kfoor CDA,where votes were cast at a public meeting. The committee has averaged between 7 and 11 volunteer members, including board members of the El-kfoor CDA, religious leaders, women and youth representatives, as well as a project accountant. The Community Committee’s mandate was oversight and accountability of CDA activities, as well as being a liaison between the CDA and community members to ensure development processes were participatory and transparent.
In selecting members of the Community Committee, consideration was given for a balanced representation of men, women, and youth. In many rural communities in Egypt, the importance of women’s contribution in civic engagement is often ignored. To ensure women’s equal representation, San Mark has a gender-balance policy, whereby women must be included in decision-making and represent at least 25% of Community Committee members. As a project policy, this was met with little to no resistance from community members.
Deliberation, Decisions, and Public Interaction
Once the Community Committee was established, San Mark facilitated training courses and capacity-building workshops for the CDA and the Community Committee on topics including leadership, teamwork, volunteerism, internal governance structures, strategic planning and budgeting, and monitoring and evaluation. These workshops contributed greater community participation in decision-making around the sanitation project and to more transparent project planning.
During the project (2010–2012), the Community Committee met almost monthly with employees of San Mark as partners. It conducted periodical and continuous field visits to monitor activities determine whether the project implementation was effective.
The Community Committee also played a leading role in communicating with the local village council and in raising awareness among village members. Because of the ongoing engagement between the Community Committee and village members, a strong communication channel was opened between the local CDA and the people, and the community started vocalizing their needs and participating in the development process.
From the first meeting, the Community Committee discussed the importance of raising awareness in the community about the community sanitation project, trying to reach an agreement with tractor drivers who would work on waste removal and on how to best monitor the project performance.
The Community Committee, with fieldworkers from the El-kfoor CDA held monthly public seminars and weekly focus group discussions open to community members. This enabled them to channel the needs and voices of the constituency back to the CDA on topics such as environmental sanitation, including the sources and causes of pollution, the detrimental effects of human behaviour on the environment, and harmful human diseases that emerge from poor environmental sanitation. Other focus groups discussed protecting the environment by reusing and recycling old materials to minimize the creation of waste and creating innovative accessories and decorations from repurposed materials.
Approximately 500 families participated regularly in the awareness-raising seminars and focus group discussions. Inspired by these focus group discussions,100 families became active participants in the garbage collection initiatives that the CDA coordinated monthly until 2012.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
The El-kfoor Community Committee played a key relationship-building role that contributed to achieving greater accountability and transparency within the CDA. When liaising between community members and the association, the Community Committee was engaged directly with the CDA and extended their engagement outwards to the community at large. This stronger relationship led to a number of outcomes.
Increased environmental awareness
Public outreach and engagement led to a notable increase in people’s awareness of the importance of maintaining a clean environment. Resulting from these awareness-building seminars and focus group discussions, village members gained greater knowledge and became more conscious of the impact their behaviours have on the environment around them.
Increased citizen voice
Village members felt they were included in the development process and that they had a clear line of communication with the CDA. Therefore, they were able to communicate their ideas and needs to the CDA and have their voices included in decision-making processes.
Greater civic engagement
Village members developed a stronger sense of volunteerism and civic engagement in their communities;as a result, they weremore inclined to get involved and participate in CDA activities. Moreover, this civic engagement was a means of bringing people together across religious and political beliefs. Young people who didnot talk to each other before the project were organizing events together and working together in community engagement. The following anecdote illustrates how this type of engagement for problem solving is linked to a greater awareness of shared problems:
Following the awareness-raising seminars and focus group discussions, a group of citizens decided to help the CDA in their sanitation project work by organizing a communal collection of funds, as an Islamic form of loan, to purchase a tractor and trailer for the project. The tractor and trailer were seen as useful technology to collect refuse in the community and contribute to the cleanliness of the village. Prior to the awareness-raising seminars, community members didnot take up this kind of active engagement. This suggests that through the awareness-raising process, community members felt inclined to take greater ownership over community issues engage with the CDA to find solutions.
Increased accountability and transparency
Because of the PRA and other participatory processes, community members felt they were consulted as stakeholders. Through being engaged in dialogue around community development issues and having their ideas included in decisionmaking and project implementation, village members felt there was greater transparency and accountability in the CDA’s work and in local development. Community members were, therefore, more inclined to participate and work with the CDA, contributing to a growing momentum in El-kfoor towards a culture of participation in local development.
Following the initial two-year engagement with the Community Committee and the monthly community waste removal teams, village members felt that streets of El-kfoor were visibly cleaner than prior to the intervention.
A model for other CDAs
The engagement facilitated by the Community Committee in El-kfoor was seen as a success, so much that CDA members from other localities in El-Minia Governorate came to El-kfoor to learn how they had implemented the project.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
While the community engagement of the Community Committee was highly effective in creating a transparent channel for dialogue between the local CDA and community members, there were several challenges that needed to be overcome throughout the process.
Scheduling meetings. Some members of the Community Committee initially were unable to attend the scheduled monthly meeting times with San Mark. In response to this, San Mark offered alternative meeting times to enable participation of all members. This demonstrates the importance of flexibility in creating and sustaining community-NGO relations.
Issues of safety. The social unrest brought on by the 2011 revolution created a sense of unease, and community members felt unsafe to move freely throughout their communities. Political and religious factions were under constant stress and had the potential to exacerbate divisions or disagreements in the community. Without a doubt, these tensions carried over into the project, as some people tried to bring their own political and religious beliefs into the process. For example, some people used the awareness-raising seminars and focus group discussions as spaces to discuss their religious and political beliefs. But the Community Committee members were able to diffuse the situations and maintain the meeting spaces as politically and religiously neutral spaces.
Focusing on the collective benefits of a community project as a unifying force, the sanitation project brought people together around a common cause. The fact that the Community Committee and CDA positioned the sanitation project in this way further minimized tensions in the community and brought people together.
Ensuring gender-balanced representation. Ensuring the continuous participation of women in awareness-raising seminars and focus group discussions was challenging. Women were reluctant to participate in the seminars, as the CDA was located far from their homes, and they didnot feel safe travelling away from their neighborhoods. As a response, some of the women taking part in the seminars offered to use their homes as a neighborhood hub for further seminars. This enabled greater participation from women in the activities.
There are lessons from this experience that can be applied to other community committees within the El-Minia Governorate, relating to women’s participation, partnership and cooperation within community stakeholders, and flexibility of NGO involvement in community change processes.
First, women’s participation must be integrated into project development. Women’s participation holds the power to transform a community perception of women from passive recipients to active agents of social change. Also, women’s voices can deepen a gender-based analysis to project design and implementation, thus increasing the likelihood that project outcomes positively impact all community members, not just those in positions of power.
Second, the impacts of NGO interventions are likely to be stronger and more positive where they create space for dialogue amongst different community entities and interests. As promoters of inclusion, NGOs are able to encourage and forge partnerships with local government, civil society organizations, and community members. In El-kfoor, by creating an intermediary community committee, San Mark was able to support spaces for relationships of trust to develop and be strengthened between the local CDA and village members.
Finally, another important facet of the role of NGOs in community development processes is to know when to lead and when not to. Every project and situation warrants a different kind of leadership, and NGOs must be able to discern when to play a more hands-on role and when to step back. In this case, seeing the youth and CDA members take charge of the sanitation project was the signal to San Mark that they were ready to continue on their own.
There is increasing recognition of the importance of civil society accountability, and strengthening organizational transparency and accountability (see Chene, 2013; Lawrence & Nezhad, 2009).For the El-kfoor CDA, the creation of a community committee to liaise between with the community and to open a space for dialogue was a central contributor to this process. Partnering with an external NGO to facilitate this process is useful where community tensions exist, as entities perceived to be neutral can bring together opposing sides or ideas to reach a collective decision.
While CDAs hold the potential to facilitate positive social change and community development processes in Egypt, its unlikely to happen without accountable and transparent relationships with its constituencies that are established through continued civic engagement and participation from community members. By engaging village members in awareness-raising seminars and focus group discussions, the Community Committee of El-kfoor was able to increase public consciousness of CDA activities and best practices in environmental sanitation, foster civic engagement in CDA development processes, and improve relationships between the CDA and village members.
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*This case was produced and submitted by a graduate of the Coady International Institute at St. Francis Xavier University.