Creative Centre for Community Mobilisation's Social Mobilisation Campaign Model

July 15, 2022 Nina Sartor
July 3, 2018 Lucy J Parry, Participedia Team
June 26, 2018 Scott Fletcher Bowlsby
August 14, 2017 Zikhona Sikota

Note: the following entry is incomplete. You can help Participedia by adding to it. 

Problems and Purpose

The Social Mobilisation Campaign (SMC) model is an approach used by the Creative Centre for Community Mobilisation (CRECCOM) to mobilise and empower rural communities to fully own their development. The model uses a combination of participatory methodologies, rights based approaches, results based management, collective action, and policy advocacy tools to enhance individual capabilities (CRECCOM Pamphlet). Central to this model is the STAR Circles (Village Forums), which is aimed at mobilising, gathering and encouraging community members to discuss, deliberate and propose solutions to the collective problems they face.

CRECCOM is a Malawian non-governmental organisation based in the Southern Region of Malawi in the city of Zomba. The organisation aims to establish vibrant communities that help effect change through the effective use of creative approaches in order to sensitise, motivate, mobilise and empower individuals and stakeholders towards participation in development initiatives (see Mobilisation is a core value of this organisation, as it believes in encouraging communities not to be recipients but to actively recognise their needs and propose their own solutions. CRECCOM is known for implementing community mobilisation interventions in areas of HIV/Aids, education, gender and women empowerment and climate change resilience (CRECCOM Pamphlet).

The SMC model forms part of CRECCOM’s overall approach to development. It employs ‘grassroots level methodologies and person-to-person communication at the community level... and then mobilizes communities to accept responsibility and take action to address those issues’ and keep key stakeholders and policy makers informed (Janet Robb, Madalo Samati and Suzgo Mwanza 2001). The model is largely comprised of four key components, namely: research and verification, field worker training, community-based sensitisation and village/community-based initiatives. 

CRECCOM adopted the model because mobilising communities is central to their strategy for development. The organisation does not believe in helping communities as recipients of services but rather aims to empower these communities and encourage ownership in development. The belief is premised on the idea that communities know themselves better than outsiders who go in to implement projects. Therefore, it is essential to involve the community in a meaningful way. The SMC model helps in this regard, as the projects implemented by CRECCOM go through various stages of the model which has built-in participatory mechanisms, not only directed to the project but also in general. This is seen as an important element of the SMC model since Malawi is lagging behind in development and citizen engagement is limited. 

Origins and Development

The SMC model was developed by the Creative Associates International (CAII), which is an American organisation based in Washington. According to the their website, CAII is an international organisation operating around the globe, it focuses ‘...on building inclusive educational systems, transitioning communities from conflict to peace, developing sustainable economic growth, engaging youth, promoting transparent elections and more.’

The development of the SMC model began in Malawi in the 1990s as a strategy that was aimed at grass roots level engagements ‘to increase girls' access to and participation in formal basic education programs’ and ‘ improve community participation in educational quality and yet another to raise community awareness of strategies to combat the proliferation of HIV/AIDS.’(Janet Robb, Madalo Samati and Suzgo Mwanza 2001).

The success of these initiatives influenced the decision to establish CRECCOM as a way to continue making a difference in mobilising and empowering communities in Malawi. The founding of the organisation was facilitated by CAII and the organisation adopted the SMC model. The SMC model has evolved overtime through lessons learned in the context of Malawian communities. 

Participant Recruitment and Selection

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How it Works: Process, Interaction, and Decision-Making

The SMC model is implemented through various projects that CRECCOM is involved in. Each project goes through the various components of the model and the activities involved depend of the nature of the project itself, while still keeping the overall design. The major components of the model are: research and verification, field worker training, community-based sensitisation and village/community-based initiatives and at times these stages run concurrently. In addition to these key components, there are supporting components such as stakeholder involvement, role model initiative, mass communication interventions and monitoring and evaluation at each stage of the process. (CRECCOM Pamphlet).

1. Research and verification

The process begins with research and verification in order find out the needs of the community and how these can be addressed through a specific project. In each community and for each project, CRECCOM starts with conducting research in the community using participatory methodologies such as action research employing a variety of tools including theatre for development and community focus group discussions. CRECCOM does not ‘believe in just extracting knowledge in people, we think it’s not helping us.’ (Madalo Samati, 8 November 2016). This belief is rooted in the model’s commitment in involving beneficiaries of projects, ensuring their contribution and eventually ownership CRECCOM Pamphlet) of development initiatives.

At the beginning of a project, any organisation wishing to implement or do any kind of initiative in any village in Malawi is required to make an appointment with the local chief in order to discuss what that organisations aims to do. This is where the process begins, with asking for the chief’s permission to work in the village. Upon getting permission, the chief then calls a community meeting to introduce the people to the project. It is in this meeting that participants in the project can be selected and/or volunteer to be part of the discussions.

At the end of this process, the research results are shared with relevant stakeholders, particularly those in government. These include civil servants that work in specific areas that are covered by CRECCOM’s projects such as education, gender empowerment, etc. Through these engagements CRECCOM has established good working relationships with civil servants in relevant departments as well as with local chiefs. This can somewhat be attributed the their overall approach which does not side line already existing structures and rather works in and around them, to revitalise and capacitate them to work for the people as well as the local elite. In this regard CRECCOM Director believes that:

CRECCOM is a darling of government because of the approach that we use. So really we’ve not had any problems. There’s been situation where the teachers were on strike, when we get to their schools, we work with them even though they are on strike... because of the approach, the way we do business,

This is a testament to the trust and good relations build by the organisation particularly with civil servants. Their good working relations are not limited to civil servants as also includes the local elite. The importance of chiefs and traditional leadership in general is widely accepted in Malawi and thus organisations working in development are aware of this and work with them on many occasions. The significance of this stakeholder is central in understanding how mobilisation of communities can happen.

2. Field worker training

Field worker training is the second stage in the SMC model. This stage is directed at training government civil servants after they have been notified of the research findings. The training is usually based on the issues highlighted by the research findings. CRECCOM then targets relevant civil servants as required by the project they aim to implement in a specific village, for example health worker, educators, etc.

The civil servants are trained on participatory methodologies and ways to enlighten communities in order to reach self-realisation about the problems that are facing them and to work together to find solutions. This stage involves the creation of action plans by the relevant civil servants based on the research findings. They also conduct community workshops, while CRECCOM monitors and gives support in these activities. (Madalo Samati, 8 November 2016).

3. Community-based sensitisation

After field worker training, the trained civil servants go the specific communities and target specific stakeholders depending on the project. The target group includes local chiefs, village agents, interested parties and the community at large. The purpose of this stage is to raise community awareness of the issues raised by the research that was conducted.

An important component at this stage is the targeting, training and capacity building of village agents. Village agents are a semi-formal elected position that is recognised and created by government as a way to effect change in local communities. However, these agents do not exist in every village and where they do exist, they are not very active. So, in some cases CRECCOM oversees the elections of these agents for specific projects. These agents become the link between the project and the community.

Each village gets to elect one village agent. The agent is elected in a public meeting after CRECCOM has shared the qualities that an agent should possess. For example, village agents are required to be active in the community, to be ‘someone influential, educated at least to junior certificate level, someone who is fully conversant of the traditional cultural practices of the area, so on’( Geoffrey Kamanga, 8 November 2016). The term for elected village agents is not clear, at times it is linked to specific projects and sometimes it continues beyond a specific project.

Upon the election of the village agent, CRECCOM builds capacity of such an agent. Village agents are trained in facilitating community dialogues, research skills, report writing, etc. These skills are seen as essential since CRECCOM believes that community dialogues should be research based ‘not empty dialogue based on what is happening elsewhere, something they heard on the radio, rather they should focus on things that are happening in their locality’ (Geoffrey Kamanga, 8 November 2016). They are also trained on how to advocate for their community and lobby government officials and policy makers.

This stage is really about raising awareness on communal issues so that relevant stakeholders and community members may deliberate further.

4. Village/Community based Initiatives

The community based initiatives follow after the community has been exposed to a specific project and the issues that arise in the research have been shared with the relevant stakeholders. At this stage the elected village agents or change agents are charged with championing community discussions. The community forums or STAR Circles as CRECCOM calls them, are made up of various community members including cultural customs experts. These forums are established in each village where CRECCOM works. The members of these forums range between 12-25 people who meet on regular basis to discuss issues of concern in the community. In general anyone can join the forums, but they have to be people who are committed to making change in their communities and those who are willing to give up their time to volunteer to be part of the discussions. Members volunteer to be part of the discussion in a public meeting and they become representatives of the community.

These forums deliberate and identify the major problems they are facing regarding a particular issue, identify the causes of the problems, propose solutions and develop work plans. The village agent is key in these deliberations as he/she is in charge of facilitating the discussion, documenting and reporting resolutions that have been proposed at these discussions.

The village agents also work closely with local chiefs. Chiefs have to first buy in into the project and once that happens, then the project can go ahead. The village agents have to report to the chiefs on everything that happens on the forums, they have to report on decisions that are made and they have to explain why those decisions have been taken. The chief then calls a community meeting where the community would discuss its bylaws taking into account what was discussed in the village forums. (Geoffrey Kamanga, 8 November 2016).

At this stage the communities really take ownership of their development and implement diverse strategies in dealing with particular matters depending on the nature of the project.

Other supporting components of the model

In addition to the core components of this model, there are other supporting components, including stakeholder involvement, role model initiative, mass communication interventions and monitoring and evaluation. These components also form part of the SMC model, but are secondary to the core activities, which involve more direct contact with targeted communities. Largely, these components are about involving the society at large and also reflecting on the model itself. 

Influence, Outcomes, and Effects

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Analysis and Lessons Learned

Generally, CRECCOM believes that the SMC model is beneficial to the communities in which they implement their projects. Of particular note are the village level initiatives, which are supposed to institute a bottom-up approach to development. However, it is not clear how influential these initiatives are in overall development of the areas since there are various structures at village level, at traditional authority level, at District level and so on, which are tasked with development, such as the Village Development Committees and Area Development Committees. The Area Development Committee for instance ‘facilitates planning and development at the TA [Traditional Authority] level. Specifically, the committee sets priorities, identify and prepare project proposals addressing community needs, which cover more than one VDC [Village Development Committee]’ (Bokho, 2014:34). In principle, initiatives that result from using the SMC model are supposed to be escalated and presented in these structures.

However, these structures are established for purposes beyond one specific project and have to take into account various views from different communities and their reach may be limited, which means that some of the decisions made through the model may not necessarily result in influencing planning initiatives for development. In this regard, Chirwa (2014:21-22) points out that decentralisation laws in Malawi ‘do not provide any policy, planning or budgeting role for lower local government and decentralisation structures.’ In essence, the grassroots mobilisation achieved through the SMC model and the decisions that are made concerning development in specific localities may be subject to structural constraints regarding budgeting and planning that is not done at the local level. This demonstrates that decentralisation efforts here may only provide partial space for meaningful grassroots involvement.

Furthermore, CRECCOM acknowledges that whatever progress they make in specific communities, that progress is limited due to lack of continuity when the organisation moves on from a specific project. ‘The biggest challenge we have is to follow on those projects...and that’s one of the reasons why our change has been slow. We’ll start the process and stop it somewhere’ (Madalo Samati, 8 November 2016). Thus, limited continuity has a negative effect not only on specific projects, but also on the model itself since it aims to mobilise and empower communities. The lack of sustainability here further limits the impact and progress achieved through the SMC model.

Even so, there are cases where villages have continued with the STAR Circle dialogues beyond a CRECCOM project, though this is not widespread. Since this is a voluntary process, people tend to lose interest when it is not linked to a specific project. Also, related is the lack of male participants in these forums as they would rather spend more time doing activities that will earn an income rather than volunteer to be part of village forums. Beyond this though, the question of why people ‘lose interest’ in being part of the village forums that afford them a voice is an important one as this could be useful for practitioners. 

Similarly of note for practitioners is the relationship between existing structures of authority such as traditional leadership (chiefs) and the organising entity. As highlighted here, CRECCOM has a good working relationship with traditional leaders. In practice chiefs are an important power broker in Malawi’s ‘hybrid system’ even though by law their powers might not be very clear. ‘The status of traditional leaders is partially recognised in the constitution and in the legislation and policy framework establishing local government authorities. Though the constitution does not specifically define the office, powers, functions and position of chiefs in the country...’ (Chirwa, 2014:24). The chiefs are central in rural life, in many ways they influential in gaining access to communities. As one NGO leader puts it ‘When you enter into the village, how you communicate and talk to the chief will determine your success tomorrow, you have to humble yourself... (Interview, 3 November 2016). This highlights the level of power the chiefs have in their jurisdictions. Thus, any grass root mobilisation that aims to influence policy has to go through the chiefs, though this is not necessarily a democratic structure, it certainly is a structure that is most visible in local communities

See Also


Geoffrey Kamanga, Senior Programme Officer, Creative Centre for Community Mobilisation. Personal Communication. 8 November 2016, CRECCOM Offices in Zomba, Malawi

Madalo Samati, Executive Director, Creative Centre for Community Mobilisation. Personal Communication. 8 November 2016, CRECCOM Offices in Zomba, Malawi

External Links

Bokho, C. 2014. Assessment of the effectiveness of Area Development Committees (ADCs) in decentralisation. A case study pf Ntchisi District in Malawi. UNISA. From:

Chirwa, W C. 2014. ‘Malawi Democracy and Political Participation.’ Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa. From: [23.06.2016].

Janet Robb, Madalo Samati and Suzgo Mwanza. 2001. ‘Social Mobilization Campaigns: An Affirmative Strategy for Involving Communities.’ 2001 Comparative and International Education Society, 45th Annual Meeting. Washington Hilton and Towers, Washington, DC. From: