Every now and then, the country is treated to dramatic scenes when communities clash with project implementers over resources. These standoffs threaten to negatively impact operations or derail the start of the projects all together.
The clashes, which have over the years become more intense, point to the importance of meaningful community engagement as a tool for such projects’ success and indicate that public engagement and outreach is core to the successful implementation of a project.
For sustainable projects that have tangible social impact, a two-way relationship that is based on an all-inclusive communities’ active participation, transparency and mutual trust, must be in place.
While the adoption of such an approach is not easy to implement due to the complexities around different stakeholders and the unique community issues in a region, it is nonetheless doable.
The Kenya Informal Settlement Improvement Project (KISIP) under the State Department for Housing and Urban Development which works towards improving the living conditions of people in informal settlements in 14 counties, has proved that it is possible to involve host communities in the project cycle right from the inception stage, through planning and implementation.
This ensures that the project execution is done in a way that respects their rights and delivers value to them.
KISIP, which is a partnership between the Kenyan Government, the World Bank fund IDA and development partners Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) and France’s AFD has successfully adopted a robust, well-functioning bottoms-up model in community engagement that ensures that the host communities where works are undertaken, are actively and deliberately involved in projects’ planning and execution.
Unlike most programs, KISIP, which majorly focuses on improved infrastructure and security of tenure, engages the identified and potential beneficiary communities before the projects commence. This is done through intensive community organization and mobilization consultative meetings, formal and informal meetings, engagement of existing local leadership, including the “gatekeepers” monthly progress community meetings where members are sensitized about the intended project and the potential benefits to be accrued from it. In addition, all the proposed projects are screened for potential social and environmental impacts well before implementation. A decision to proceed with the projects is only made once it is determined that there are no environmental impacts or if any, the negative impact is at acceptable levels that can be mitigated.
Once the ‘go decision’ has been made and there’s buy-in, the communities get to choose, from a KISIP prepared infrastructure project menu, which works are critical for them and therefore what should be prioritized. The infrastructure menu includes access roads, footpaths, high mast security flood lights and streetlights, water supply systems, trunk sewage and sanitation facilities (ablution blocks). In areas that meet the set intervention criteria, the Project under the tenure regularization component, works hand in glove with the communities in the planning, surveying and the development of the local physical development plans (LPDPs) and the resultant maps.
Upon the conclusion of the complex exercise, land ownership documents are handed out thus giving a sense of ownership and pride to the beneficiaries who otherwise lack a sense of belonging and live in fear of eviction and loss of their property.
After the identification of projects to be prioritised, there’s an element of community mobilization where members get an opportunity to pick their representatives to the Settlement Executive Committees (SECs) which acts as a link between the community and KISIP. The selection is done through an election and must have representation of all interest groups in the society ranging from the women, youth, religious groups, physically challenged people, local professionals, Community based organizations, MCAs etc. Comprising of 18 volunteers per settlement, this team, which undergoes leadership project management training, ensures effective community participation in all aspects of the planning and implementation processes.
It is inevitable that in some cases, there will be concerns and complaints from project affected persons. For such cases, KISIP in collaboration with the communities, has supported the setting up of Grievance Redress Committees (GRCs) that are very active in all the settlements. The committees undergo strengthening and training which have in turn enabled them to adequately resolve most of the grievances presented to them with very few complains being escalated to the next level.
From this KISIP experience, it is clear that deliberate community involvement not only builds trust which gives projects a social license to operate but ensure better, tangible and sustainable development outcomes which improves the quality of life for the affected persons. Further, such an approach makes operations and maintenance of the projects very easy and should be therefore be replicated by those looking to leave a mark in the social sector.
Gladys Juma is in charge of Social Development/Community engagement at KISIP