Working with Community Committees | Non Governmental Organization | Oxfam

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   August 2009 Working with Community Committees  _______________________________________________________ 1.Introduction Strong community participation, often channelled through beneficiary groups or committees, is the backbone of Oxfam‟s approach to Public Health programming. It facilitates community-led project design, implementation and monitoring, and encourages participation and accountability. Working with committees also allows us to work effectively with large populations and to continue activities when it is not safe or practical for staff to  be present in the field. The aim of this Briefing Paper is to ensure awareness amongst management and  programme staff of the issues surrounding community committees, and to encourage consistency in the planning, budgeting, implementation and monitoring of activities with committees and volunteers. An evaluation of water and sanitation committees in India highlighted transparency, participation, inclusion and ownership as key committee features associated with project success. Of these, transparency emerged as the single most important feature of the committees. It was found that the more community members who understood the project in terms of finances, committee functioning and selection of committee members, the more chance of success. (WSP, 2001) 2.Key Considerations Consistency An ad hoc or un-coordinated approach to working with committees can lead to damaging inconsistencies between different project sites, or across  programme sectors. For example inconsistencies can emerge if some activities are carried out by paid (casual) labourers and others are undertaken by volunteers. Levels and types of “incentives” (cash, food, clothes or other goods sometimes given to committee members to encourage participation) can also vary considerably between projects. The impact of these inconsistencies is magnified when varying community engagement policies between different  NGOs and UN agencies are considered. Inter-agency discrepancies seriously damage the relationship between communities, local authorities and NGOs, and can potentially create security risks for field staff. The Kenya programme has recognised that although NGOs have been involved in community training and committee development in the country for decades, there was little or no documentation of the  processes followed by different agencies, nor the actual content of training. This made it impossible to know the quality of what had been done, and led to inconsistencies and overlap between  NGOs. To tackle this, the public health team undertook an exercise of consultation with other NGOs and government structures to determine strategies and materials for capacity building of community committees. The output is a common  NGO approach for working with Public Health Briefing Paper  Working with Community Committees August 2009 committees and a training framework / toolkit for use across the sector. Preparation of a standard Livelihood It is well understood that income-generating opportunities for beneficiaries are limited. When committee volunteers dedicate time to public health activities this can impact their ability to earn. It is often assumed (or recommended) by staff that Oxfam activities are for the community‟s benefit; therefore volunteers should be compensated for their efforts by others in their community. However this ideal solution needs to be balanced against the lack of livelihood opportunities; delicate community dynamics (ethnically,  politically etc.) and the urgent need to deliver public health activities to certain groups (e.g. new arrivals). The importance of participation needs to  be emphasised to communities, and from the start of a programme it should be clearly understood that there will always  be activities that beneficiaries must take on themselves: this is much easier if there has been meaningful community input into the programme design. A simplistic solution to the livelihood issue which is sometimes proposed is to include committee volunteers as livelihood  project beneficiaries. This risks missing the most vulnerable in the community and  blurs the focus of the volunteers input to  public health activities. It should only be considered if very clear beneficiary / volunteer criteria are set and agreed with the community. In Beni (DRC) a process of involving livelihood beneficiaries as public health volunteers was developed which allowed for positive involvement of host communities alongside IDPs. To ensure effectiveness the team set objective and transparent vulnerability criteria for volunteer selection, such as people from female-headed households or the presence   of chronically-ill people in the home. Legal Issues  National legislation covering employee rights and employer responsibilities can give considerable rights to volunteers and committees. In some countries “volunteers” are treated as employees in legal terms if they are given any regular remuneration for their work, even if this is  just weekly tea and sugar. Given the numbers of volunteers working with Oxfam, and the crucial need for these volunteer‟s inputs, legal liabilities need to  be treated with the highest priority. Since 2003 the Darfur programme has relied on the work of over 2,000 community volunteers to deliver essential  public health activities. This committee engagement has generally been a positive  process, well received by communities, and has delivered impressive results. However the Sudanese Labour Act gives considerable rights to employees and this has implications for community volunteers. In particular volunteers are treated as employees if they are given regular remuneration for their work. Since 2006 this has led to a plethora of court cases being brought by individuals or groups who have worked with or volunteered for NGOs in Darfur against their „employer‟. There have even been cases where the provision of  fatur   (communal breakfast) has been interpreted  by the courts as employee remuneration. To address this potential risk, the HR team in Sudan worked closely with programme staff to develop procedures for remuneration and committee working, including a standard Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that describes levels of volunteer involvement. Furthermore some staff who were being treated as volunteers, but were effectively doing a full time job (e.g. water pump attendants),  Working with Community Committees August 2009 were transferred onto Oxfam contracts through the standard recruitment process. Gender and Vulnerable Groups Women are the principal beneficiaries, managers and users of water. They may  be aware of problems earlier or have a different perspective on how best to achieve things. It cannot be assumed that the interests of the whole family will be optimised if the committee only consists of men. Yet when committee roles and responsibilities are devised, it is common for communities to allocate unpaid duties to women, whilst the men are given paid casual work. A familiar solution to this problem is for our proposals or logframes to target 50% of committee members to be women. Whilst equal representation is important, it is vital to look beyond this basic qualitative indicator. Otherwise we might miss, for example, that 8 women on the committee are doing 3 days of unpaid solid waste clean-ups a week, whilst 8 men are digging pipelines for $10 a day. Differences in committee participation by gender extend further than activity segregation; it is important to monitor the degree of influence females have in committee decisions. This is something which needs consideration and discussion with different groups (women, youth, men etc.) when the committee is established and after a review period. Experience from around the world indicates that where women are actively involved in decision making the quality of a project is enhanced: In Somalia - a strongly male-dominated society - one criteria for Oxfam-supported health committees is that women occupy at least 30% of the decision-making positions.   The 2002 Water Act in Kenya also requires 30% of decision-making posts in Water User Associations (WUAs) to be women. In some cases it is beneficial to establish separate women‟s committees, to ensure that the female voice is heard, however this can lead to further marginalisation if all key decisions are taken in the separate “men‟s” or “leaders” committee. Strong monitoring and feedback mechanisms are crucial for identifying this. Vulnerable groups in the community, for example older people and the disabled can also be active members of a committee even if they are not able to do physical work such as operation and maintenance. For example they can play an important role in other areas such as finance or registration. If any committee member does not have a meaningful job they risk  becoming a token presence. Sustainability A common argument against giving incentives to committee volunteers is that they merely encourage involvement when they are being handed-out. Participation fades when incentives are stopped (whether because of changes in implementation strategies, or after the  NGO exits) because the volunteers do not understand the real importance of their involvement, and have not developed their own mechanisms to ensure sustainability. The argument suggests that effort should  be focussed on educating beneficiaries on the long-term importance of the activity, and on developing community-based management committees  –   for example water point operation and maintenance committees who collect fees and do not rely on Oxfam incentives. This is a valid consideration for many of our programmes, and for a proportion of our activities (e.g. household-level hygiene activities). However, in some acute emergencies we are not aiming for „sustainability‟; the emergency situation itself is unsustainable. Oxfam‟s immediate priority is to ensure that essential public health activities take  place, not whether we can „hand - over‟  Working with Community Committees August 2009 activities to communities in the short- or long-term. This is closely linked to the above livelihoods issue; and must be  judged on a case-by-case basis, balancing the opportunities for developing sustainable activities which provide communities with long-term benefits, with the reality of the dynamic, acute emergencies. Motivation As is to be expected, the individuals and committee groups we work with have different motivations for dedicating their time and effort to community activities. Possible motivations for involvement can include altruism; community spirit; the opportunity to improve social standing within the community; the desire to learn; the importance of clan or tribal representation; and the expectation to receive financial or gift incentives. Whilst our understanding of the range of  personal motivating factors is often limited, it is well worth the effort to discuss this amongst the team and informally with volunteers: understanding their motivations will help in the design of a more sustainable, appropriate and transparent committee structure. Budget Issues Concerns over budget availability can limit opportunities for sustained committee involvement in chronic emergencies. It is clear that not every Oxfam volunteer can receive compensation every day. However, paying employees for priority activities (for example pump operators) or at specific times (e.g. a cholera outbreak) is an option that can encourage rapid  programme implementation. The budget implications of this need not  be excessive, however it is important to consider the need for this contingency at the time of preliminary / annual budgeting to ensure that there is no delay when casual labour is required. 3.Common Principles Every Oxfam programme is different; so we should not necessarily apply identical structures or ways of working to committees and volunteers in different countries or contexts. However there are certain principles which should be applied to community committees (or at minimum, considered) regardless of the situation. Co-ordination Planning and implementation of work with committees should be clearly co-ordinated across the Oxfam programme (e.g. with livelihoods), and with other NGOs, to avoid over-burdening certain individuals and to ensure consistency. This should include common agreement on committee selection, composition and incentives. Added value can also be gained from sharing training and resources (e.g. community meeting places) between groups, and from learning lessons on legal issues and traditional community volunteering practices from other NGOs. To address problems of inconsistent approaches to health workers and WASH committees during the 2008-09 Zimbabwe Cholera Epidemic the WASH Cluster formed a Technical Working Group on „Working with WASH Facilitators‟ and was able to quickly draft and agree a set of guidelines for the Cluster. Whilst these recommendations had no legal standing, they encouraged NGOs to work with volunteers in a co-ordinated manner, and had the support of the major WASH donors. Link to Existing Structures It is important to understand local practice of volunteering and community organisation before establishing Oxfam committees. We should respect and where  possible work with established local structures, suggesting minor adaptations
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