A community is the center of all aspects of human necessities including psychological, socio-economic, philosophical, intellectual and cultural. For an individual, the community provides a psychological safety, which is important for the confidence building and intellectual development of the person. The community is also a venue for the development of individual’s ability to interact and observe various processes and activities in social context. Therefore, community empowerment is extremely important not only for the physical and socio-economic development of an individual, but also for the sustainability of the community and the nation.
A community heavily influences the development of its members’ cognitive, behavioural, humanistic, and intellectual faculties. Since higher learning capabilities, positive behavioural development, self-actualization, and full participation of individuals requires positive community environments available to its members. Such environment can induce responsible resource use, problem solving, cultural enhancement, leadership development, socio-economic transformation, and capacity building, which propel sustainable societal development. The importance of community empowerment, therefore, cannot be overemphasized.
Although we hear the words “community empowerment”, its meaning is vaguely understood by most people. And, the governments and communities around the world are unable to take it as an integral part of national development. Many international institutions, governmental machineries, nongovernmental agencies, and other related organizations have given a lot of emphasis on community development, and are involved on the developmental works such as water supply, electricity, road networks, schools, and hospitals. They, therefore, have taken it as means to end poverty and improve living conditions of underprivileged people. However, results on poverty eradication are not sufficiently encouraging. Those developmental works which are imported from outside have not been quite successful in the community empowerment, which was supposed to ensure that a community is capable of developing its own infrastructure for its growth, its own leadership, technical and business skills, innovation and capacity for perpetuating the development. Only when these basic ingredients are in place, a community can move forward on its empowerment and sustainable development.
Also, community empowerment requires an equal representation of its people in their legislative and policy-making bodies. Thus, the type of electoral system under which a community is operating is paramount for community empowerment. Therefore, the goal of the 21st century political system must be a fair representation of ethnicities, minorities, lingual, gender, and social demography in the decision-making bodies. This ensures that concerned people are fairly contributing in policymaking.
An important challenge faced by today’s communities in developing countries in formulating consensual policies has been the practice of confrontational politics largely fed by the commonly practiced First-Past-The-Post electoral system. Such systems have not been able to fulfill the goal of fairly representing various thoughts and segments of societies. Recognizing such shortcomings, many countries around the globe lately are adopting the Proportional Representation (PR) system. Because the PR systems tend to include smaller parties, minorities, independent candidates, ethnic groups in the fold, traditionally privileged people and political parties tend to view PR system with scepticism. However, the PR systemâ€™s core strength lies on enhancing the self-respect, pride, and shared representation among the communities, which are the precursors of peace, progress, and prosperity of a society. Therefore, a PR system is a major step towards community empowerment and sustainable societal development, especially to take the communities from confrontational politics to consensus based politics.
For nation building, people should be mobilized fully to solve their common problems such as food deficiency, poverty, infrastructural underdevelopment, corruption, and social injustice. Yet such mobilization would not be possible to either initiate or to sustain in absence of freedoms, human rights, liberties, rights of self-determination, and people’s ownerships. A community whose voice is never heard at the center or at the regional level would not effectively mobilize either. Therefore, it is extremely important to have a political structure set up in such as way that ethnic, linguistic, cultural, and regional diversities are taken into account. This is because sovereign people are the source of all effective and innovative organizations.
Ensuring public good, such as education, health, recreation, environment, and agriculture, is one of the core contributions an empowered community can offer in building a prosperous society. The chronic problems of almost every developing country worldwide – the eradication of poverty and social inequities – are no doubt best addressed at community levels.
As Nepal seems to be heading towards federal democratic republic and the adoption of fully PR electoral system, communities representing various ethnicities, linguistic groups, castes, minorities, etc. are expected to have their full representations in the legislative body in the near future. Once the policies and programs are developed considering the voices and the concerns of various communities across the nation, community empowerment will emerge as the highest priority work for the government. Through community empowerment, which includes necessary technological assistance, financial support, skills and leadership development, innovation, capacity building, and people mobilization for development, Nepal can effectively move forward quickly on sustainable societal, economic and national development.
(Dr Durga Poudel is a Professor of Soil Sciences at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, USA.)