Monday, March 31, 2008

The Community and Social Benefit Accountancy

Dear Colleagues

I was recently asked what is Community Centric Sustainable Development (CCSD) by an Internet network friend. He was concerned that these are fashionable words, with perhaps little meaning. This was my response.
Dear Friend (name supressed)

Good question.

As you are well aware "Community Centric" has become fashionable, together with a lot of other phrases like "Bottom of the Pyramid" ... and ideas like microcredit, social business, corporate social reponsibility, sustainability ... and so on.

I watched a community in West Africa get transformed by a small FAO project years ago ... a small amount of money that created value that was "priceless". I tried to write this up under the theme "The dynamic of development" in the late 1980s, and though the essay, went nowhere, the idea has stayed with me. I saw other variants around the world in Africa, Latin America, South and Central Asia ... and then a few years back now, an Indian colleague reminded me that it was only a community centric approach to development that would ever be sustainable ... development starts with the community, and the actors are located in concentric circles around the community center.

But he went on that talking about community centric is not enough ... there has to be understanding and commitment to the community ... something that only comes over time and with the building of trust.

My contribution to modern community centric sustainable development (CCSD) with Tr-Ac-Net is the development of a framework for social benefit accountancy that builds on regular GAAP accounting but does not stop at the limits of the entity but reaches out into society at large ... or perhaps, better put, it is public accounting that helps provide data that helps to hold the GAAP accounting organization accountable for its performance from a societal perspective.

The community is central to this framework ... because it is the community that either benefits or is damaged by profit oriented investment, trade and operations.

This is a big subject ... but I hope you get a flavor of where this is going.

All the best, and thanks

Peter Burgess
This does not tell the whole story, but I hope it opens the door to dialog.

What seems to becoming clear is that there is a lot of discussion about what things are called. I would argue that there is a huge need to have data about what things are ... and when there are data about what things are, then it becomes quite clear what they can be called. A wolf is a wolf, even when it is in sheep's clothing.


Peter Burgess
(Also in the Tr-Ac-Net on Social Benefit Accountancy blog)

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Communicating with the Community

Dear Colleagues

Community Centric Sustainable Development (CCSD) is easier said than done ... and having real communication capability is one of the key elements needed to make CCSD successful.

Good communication requires trust ... and trust must be earned. Building trust takes time.

Outsiders need to listen more than they talk ... and they need to learn from listening.

And learning should get reflected in how outsiders become engaged with community programs.

For its part, a community needs to communicate in an honest manner. Nothing is going to be gained from telling outsiders what they want to hear, when this does not reflect reality. It may be a polite and nice thing to do ... but it confuses and will usually get the wrong result.

Many thematic initiatives of the international relief and development community reflect priorities defined in Washington, London, Paris and the other bases for bilateral and multilateral organizations. These priorities may or may not be congruent with the priorities of any particular community ... and the results will never be optimized in these circumstances.

Communication can be enhanced when there is a way for important data to be put "on the record" and the progress tracked using these data. A community centric system of social benefit accountancy can provide this framework, and its use can provide valuable feedback to donors so that they see how appropriate assistance generates substantial social value ... while inappropriate assistance is merely a value destruction exercise.

It should also be observed that easy communications are not always the best communications ... it takes time and it takes experience to be able to find all the people who should be involved with communication. In some cases the community may be very open ... in other places communication is much more quiet and more private.

But communication is critical.


Peter Burgess

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

What holds communities back?

Dear Colleagues

What is it that holds communities back? People like Dr. Muhammad Yunus argue that the reason that communities remain in poverty is not because the people are not working hard, but because the economic environment is an incomplete system that gives them no opportunity.

My own experience has been that communities can make rapid progress when the conditions are right ... and usually this means that some modest amount of external resources is deployed in a way that removes a critical constraint.

The sad thing is that these critical constraints are very hard to address using the development paradigm favored by the donors such as the World Bank, USAID and others.

Community centric development holds good promise ... but most organizations do not have the Yunus mindset, and do not see people in the community as one of the biggest assets on the planet, but rather the constraint.

With much better understanding of the dynamic of the community, it should be possible to be of much greater help, and facilitate development progress at much less cost than any alternative approach.

My favorite UN funded project with an FAO Fisheries Community Project in Shenge, Sierra Leone. Rather small resources in the project were able to make a huge difference in the quality of life in the village.

This is something of the driver of the Millennium Villages Project (MVP) except that it would appear that the MVP initiative is driven more by a research agenda than a development agenda, and I don't see any way that the MVP can be economically replicated. Maybe I am wrong ... but it seems that much of what is being discovered is already quite well known, but never applied. Maybe the research question should be why well known knowledge is rarely used to the best possible effect in development situations ... is it perhaps the "silo" effect where people are very expert in their own area, but know little of anything else.

Community development requires many different dimensions of knowledge and understanding ... why ... why is it so difficult to make progess?


Peter Burgess