Community Development Associations

February 20, 2021 Jaskiran Gakhal, Participedia Team
September 6, 2018 Scott Fletcher Bowlsby
July 16, 2018 Scott Fletcher Bowlsby

Community Development Associations or 'Corporations' are voluntary long-term standing bodies who assist in the upkeep and development of residential areas. Most CDAs operate in communities with limited resources or access to public services.

Problems and Purpose

Community development associations (CDAs) or corporations (CDCs) exist to ‘develop’ or ‘improve’ an area and its residents by providing basic services such as health care, education and other forms of social development. In most cases, CDAs are officially designated as ‘private voluntary’ or ‘non-governmental’ associations; however, these labels should be applied with some skepticism especially in non-democratic or under-developed countries. In these contexts, these associations are often dominated by members of the political elite or are otherwise controlled by government officials. Egypt is one such case where CDAs are officially recognized by the government but, as Denis Sullivan notes, “virtually all participants in and observers of PVO/NGO activity...recognize that these organizations are far from being independent of the government, and many, in fact, are creations of that government.”[1] Nevertheless, CDAs play an important role in the life of locals, especially in 'weak' states where official government structures or bodies are non-existent, unwilling, or unable to provide assistance or basic social services. CDAs also give a voice to the community as, depending on their internal structure, local residents are generally members or else engage with the organization on a closer or more regular basis than they do with elected representatives or public administrators.  

Origins and Development

Community development associations – in the most general use of the term – have no set beginning since they can be formal or informal, large or small, publicly or privately funded, etc. There is no official record of the ‘first’ CDA and often few publicly-available records on existing groups since, more often than not, they are informal groups of residents dedicating their time to the betterment of their community through a variety of means.

CDAs are found in most democratic states as they are born out of the right to freely associate and to pursue one’s own goals as long as they do not infringe on the rights of others. Crucial is the fact that democratic states do not prohibit (although they may regulate) the private provision of certain services. According to Fola Adelisi, community development is defined by the United Nations as “a process where community members come together to take collective action and generate solutions to common problems.” The outcome of this process is not only prevalent but necessary in democracy since it often involves “a set of values and practices which play a special role in overcoming poverty and disadvantage, knitting society together at the grass roots and deepening democracy.”[2]

While the broad definition of CDAs means their history is as varied as their structure and purposes, there are certain countries who have established such groups under national law. For example, the history of community development associations in Egypt is tied to state politics. Since the 1960s, the Egyptian government has played an increased role in welfare provision through so-called ‘wihda’. CDAs were established in 1964 and were also included in a new Egyptian NGO Law (84, 2002). Since their establishment, many of the CDAs have merged with the wihda and, while much of the leadership carried over from one to the other, Robert Latowsky notes that some are genuinely citizen-led. Indeed, while their Board of Directors or General Assemblies may include many of those employed in the civil service, their overall nature is more ‘middle-class’ than ‘government controlled’ – a common characteristic of such groups especially in less developed countries.[3]

Participant Recruitment and Selection

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

Internal Processes

In general, community development associations are non-profit and voluntary. The structure of CDAs varies depending on numerous factors including the scope of their operations, the types of activities they engage in, and their source(s) of funding. There is generally no requirement that CDAs be accountable to those they provide for or service although some countries have strict laws and regulations around their activity.

In Egypt, CDAs are officially recognized public service providers and, according to the NGO law of 2002, “compris[e] natural or judicial persons or both of them with a total of at least ten persons in all cases, and oriented to a purpose other than material profit.”[4] As well, a statute must be drawn up which includes such items as “representative bodies of the association, terms of reference for each, method of re-electing, discharging and annuling or suspending membership as well as the quorum necessary for valid meetings and valid resolutions.”[5] The form these elements take is, however, not dictated by a higher authority, so each Egyptian CDA follows its own process of internal management. While Latowsky was quoted earlier on the grass-roots or citizen-led nature of many of these associations, the trust between citizens and members can sometimes be strained if the organization is not structured representatively or it is not transparent in its dealings. This is the subject of this case study on the Shams El-Bir CDA in El-kfoor. Sullivan, writing in 1994, observed that most CDAs were administered by “public officials, retired government employees, and [Ministry of Social Affairs] MOSA representatives.”[6] While CDAs were also included in the 2002 NGO law, it is unlikely that their composition or structure has altered significantly and, at the very least, the middle-class appears to be overrepresented in their membership.[7]

Another example of group dynamics comes from Nigeria where CDAs provide many – and in some cases, all – public services. Since they are so heavily relied on, associations have in some cases begun coercing residents into service. As well, Adelisi notes that, similar to those in Egypt, Nigerian CDAs tend to be dominated by the middle and upper classes – in this case, landowners and their representatives.[8] In general, funding for these organizations come from membership dues and levies.

External & Community Engagement

Again, speaking in the most general of terms, CDAs are engaged in the betterment of their communities. What form this takes and how it comes about depends on the goals of its members and the association’s access to resources. Common methods, tools and techniques CDAs use to engage constituents and perform their work are: community committees, peoples’ parleys, participatory rural appraisal, community organizing, asset-based community development, community auditing, community health care, Local-to-Local Dialogues, participatory arts, and civic education. In Nigeria, CDAs are often the only organization capable of providing services on the community level. For example, Adelisi lists security, electricity, road construction and urbanization as just some of the activities he has observed CDAs undertaking.[9] The New Horizon Association for Social Development working in Egypt similarly notes that CDAs – especially those in poor or marginalized communities – “play a major role in supporting and representing community members’ interests and problems regarding basic concerns such as access to health, education, housing, work.”[10] 

Influence, Outcomes, and Effects

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Analysis and Lessons Learned

The democratic accountability of these association is, however, often left wanting. One CDA, the El-Shams El-Bir Association in El-kfoor, worked with NGO San Mark Development to increase their responsiveness to resident needs through a process of participatory rural appraisal and the establishment of a community committee. Sullivan notes that, while CDAs retained the wihda’s goals of rural development and urbanization, their establishment in 1964 meant that their work was “no longer seen as top-down, urban-to-rural, centre-to-periphery responsibility...but as a self-generated development process.”[11]

See Also

El-Shams El Bir CDA (case)  

Community Committees (method) 


[1] Dennis Joseph Sullivan, Private Voluntary Organizations in Egypt: Islamic Development, Private Initiative, and State Control (Gainsville, FL: University Press of Florida, 1994), 15.

[2] Fola Daniel Adelesi, "The role of Community Development Associations in a Democratic Rule," 2014 seminar of Ikorodu North Community Development Committee,

[3] Sullivan, Private Voluntary Organizations in Egypt, 16.

[4] Law on Non-Governmental Organizations, Article 1,

[5] Law on Non-Governmental Organizations, Article 3,

[6] Sullivan, Private Voluntary Organizations in Egypt, 37.

[7] Sullivan, Private Voluntary Organizations in Egypt, 38.

[8] Adelesi, "The role of Community Development Associations," 2014 seminar of Ikorodu North Community Development Committee.

[9] Adelesi, "The role of Community Development Associations."


[11] Sullivan, Private Voluntary Organizations in Egypt, 38.  

External Links

Community Development Corporations (United States) 

Canadian Community Development Corporation Manual 2017 

International Association for Community Development (IACD)