Community programmes involve direct transfers to local bodies and thus, in principle, they can navigate intermediate bureaucratic diversions and risks of capture by either national or sanctioned elites or political partisans. There is no evidence that community-based assistance increases legitimacy for national authorities. For example, popular support for the Afghan national solidarity programme run by village councils from 2002 neither mitigated local anger about rising levels of violence and corruption nor led to increased support for the national government. Because community programmes depend on local committees, committee design can be nudged towards inclusion of marginalized people such as women and young people, including them in helping to inform and monitor the targeting of humanitarian aid. And, because such programmes involve some degree of community monitoring, they potentially provide a means to verify the quantity and quality of aid delivered to communities – a challenge for donors in unsettled or inaccessible environments.
Donors supporting community programmes must anticipate the risk that community members or facilitators are targeted by opposing parties. This means establishing in advance with community partners agreed procedures to navigate interference or threats, including the potential suspension of activities and arrangements for protections. Care is also required in selecting appropriate partners to implement the many small grants and support facilitation needed, which can help communities maintain their independence. This includes establishing appropriate sanctions-related vetting procedures that local networks, international NGOs and UN agencies can support.
Community-driven approaches can be a good long-term instrument for development, as their use at massive scale over more than 20 years in Indonesia, progressively via government financing, shows. They are not, however, a substitute for state-based institution-building in the long term. Care should be taken to ensure that community-driven approaches do not hollow out other forms of capacity. In some contexts, community modalities can be used in conjunction with others, such as the payment of ring-fenced salaries or expenditures to local authorities. It is also important that the design of such modalities be adaptive from the beginning. In Timor-Leste, for example, community structures were extremely successful in the early period of transition. But they adapted too slowly to the existence of democratically elected local authorities.
Semi-autonomous and independent public agencies
Provided certain conditions are in place, semi-autonomous agencies can offer an important means of maintaining the provision of basic services and localized development support in politically estranged situations. Their use can be adapted to different levels of estrangement and risk: for example, in higher-risk cases, they can be combined with oversight mechanisms, as was the case with the central bank in Bosnia and Herzegovina (Box 20). Semi-autonomous agencies may have been in place before relations with national authorities deteriorated or may be established as a consequence.
The example of Yemen illustrates the importance of early and sustained investment in pre-existing delivery agencies where appropriate, and in combination with oversight and risk-mitigation measures.
Case studies point to two types of semi-autonomous institution used in politically estranged situations: national delivery agencies and development coordination bodies, which may incorporate an implementation role. For instance, in Yemen, the UN, World Bank and donor partners agreed early in the country’s conflict to channel significant portions of their support through Yemen’s pre-existing development infrastructure – namely the Social Fund for Development (SFD) and Public Works Project (PWP). The purpose was ‘to provide short-term employment and access to selected basic services to the most vulnerable; and preserve implementation capacity of two service delivery programs’.
Factors that encouraged donors to adopt such an approach included a long-standing relationship of trust between Yemen’s donor community and the SFD and PWP; the political and financial independence of these institutions; their ability to operate on both sides of the conflict; and the existence of sufficient delivery and fiduciary controls. The SFD and PWP’s countrywide presence allowed services to be delivered at scale and through conflict-sensitive targeted criteria, helping achieve community buy-in.
These distinct features, to some extent, make Yemeni semi-autonomous agencies unique. However, the example of Yemen illustrates the importance of early and sustained investment in pre-existing delivery agencies where appropriate, and in combination with oversight and risk-mitigation measures. Where political conditions do not permit direct support to a national development agency, or where an existing agency lacks management capacity, interim ‘shadow alignment’ arrangements may help mitigate risks.
In some instances, the establishment of new agencies may be considered. This was the case for Lebanon’s Council for Development and Reconstruction (CDR), established in 1977 during the country’s civil war. The CDR was initially created to serve as a planning, coordination and resource-mobilization body but over time took on a more operational role. The establishment of semi-autonomous coordination bodies can provide an important risk-mitigation measure for donors that avoids the creation of an entirely internationally run operation. The Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction (PECDAR) is another example. Established in 1993, it gave Palestinians a stake in rebuilding their territories while resolving capacity constraints and filling an institutional void at that time. PECDAR helped donors mitigate financial and reputational risks during repeated crises. However, its success created additional challenges, as it became too powerful, absorbing and channelling resources for other ministries and parties – i.e. the ‘honeypot’ effect.
Regional aid programmes involve two or more neighbouring countries, and usually focus on cross-border issues that cannot be addressed at national level. These issues include, among others, climate change, natural resource management, displacement, migration, connectivity, infectious diseases and pastoralism. Engagement with several countries means that such programmes tend to be more insulated from national politics in any one country than community-based or national organizations.
Regional projects offer an important risk-pooling and/or mitigation mechanism for donors, focused on cross-country issues and global public goods. Regional programmes offer a built-in incentive to continue delivery, even when one participant undergoes upheaval. Incentives against disengagement may be stronger, as removing one country from a regional programme due to its domestic circumstances can mean that populations in other countries suffer. Regional projects can also offer an opportunity for dialogue on issues of relevance for donor and regional stakeholders, such as on human trafficking in Myanmar under the previous military regime. In situations that are very high-risk and where there is low willingness to compromise – and where conditions may not exist for regional programmes – some form of limited regional dialogue may still be possible.