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Working with Community Committees

Working with Community Committees

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Published by: Oxfam on Aug 17, 2013
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 August 2009 
Working with Community Committees
Strong community participation, oftenchannelled 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, andencourages participation andaccountability. Working with committeesalso allows us to work effectively withlarge populations and to continue activitieswhen it is not safe or practical for staff to be present in the field.The aim of this Briefing Paper is to ensureawareness amongst management and programme staff of the issues surroundingcommunity committees, and to encourageconsistency in the planning, budgeting,implementation and monitoring of activities with committees and volunteers.An evaluation of water and sanitationcommittees in India highlightedtransparency, participation, inclusion andownership as key committee featuresassociated with project success. Of these,transparency emerged as the single mostimportant feature of the committees. Itwas found that the more communitymembers who understood the project interms of finances, committee functioningand selection of committee members, themore chance of success. (WSP, 2001)
2.Key Considerations
An ad hoc or un-coordinated approach toworking with committees can lead todamaging inconsistencies betweendifferent project sites, or across programme sectors. For exampleinconsistencies can emerge if someactivities are carried out by paid (casual)labourers and others are undertaken byvolunteers. Levels and types of 
“incentives” (cash, food, clothes or other 
goods sometimes given to committeemembers to encourage participation) canalso vary considerably between projects.The impact of these inconsistencies ismagnified when varying communityengagement policies between different NGOs and UN agencies are considered.Inter-agency discrepancies seriouslydamage the relationship betweencommunities, local authorities and NGOs,and can potentially create security risks for field staff.The Kenya programme has recognised thatalthough NGOs have been involved incommunity training and committeedevelopment in the country for decades,there was little or no documentation of the processes followed by different agencies,nor the actual content of training. Thismade it impossible to know the quality of what had been done, and led toinconsistencies and overlap between NGOs.To tackle this, the public health teamundertook an exercise of consultation withother NGOs and government structures todetermine strategies and materials for capacity building of communitycommittees. The output is a common NGO approach for working with
Public HealthBriefing Paper 
Working with Community Committees August 2009 
committees and a training framework /toolkit for use across the sector. Preparation of a standard
It is well understood that income-generating opportunities for beneficiariesare limited. When committee volunteersdedicate time to public health activitiesthis can impact their ability to earn.It is often assumed (or recommended) bystaff that Oxfam activities are for the
community‟s benefit;
therefore volunteersshould be compensated for their efforts byothers in their community. However thisideal solution needs to be balanced againstthe lack of livelihood opportunities;delicate community dynamics (ethnically, politically etc.) and the urgent need todeliver public health activities to certaingroups (e.g. new arrivals).The importance of participation needs to be emphasised to communities, and fromthe start of a programme it should beclearly understood that there will always be activities that beneficiaries must takeon themselves: this is much easier if therehas been meaningful community input intothe programme design.A simplistic solution to the livelihoodissue which is sometimes proposed is toinclude committee volunteers as livelihood project beneficiaries. This risks missingthe most vulnerable in the community and blurs the focus of the volunteers input to public health activities. It should only beconsidered if very clear beneficiary /volunteer criteria are set and agreed withthe community.In Beni (DRC) a process of involvinglivelihood beneficiaries as public healthvolunteers was developed which allowedfor positive involvement of hostcommunities alongside IDPs. To ensureeffectiveness the team set objective andtransparent vulnerability criteria for volunteer selection, such as people fromfemale-headed households or the presence
of chronically-ill people in the home.
Legal Issues
 National legislation covering employeerights and employer responsibilities cangive considerable rights to volunteers andcommittees. 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 workingwith 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 hasrelied on the work of over 2,000community volunteers to deliver essential public health activities. This committeeengagement has generally been a positive process, well received by communities,and has delivered impressive results.However the Sudanese Labour Act givesconsiderable rights to employees and thishas implications for communityvolunteers. In particular volunteers aretreated as employees if they are givenregular remuneration for their work.Since 2006 this has led to a plethora of court cases being brought by individualsor groups who have worked with or volunteered for NGOs in Darfur against
their „employer‟. There have even been
cases where the provision of 
 (communal breakfast) has been interpreted by the courts as employee remuneration.To address this potential risk, the HR teamin Sudan worked closely with programmestaff to develop procedures for remuneration and committee working,including a standard Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that describes levelsof volunteer involvement. Furthermoresome staff who were being treated asvolunteers, but were effectively doing afull time job (e.g. water pump attendants),
Working with Community CommitteesAugust 2009 
were transferred onto Oxfam contractsthrough 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 adifferent perspective on how best toachieve things. It cannot be assumed thatthe interests of the whole family will beoptimised if the committee only consistsof men. Yet when committee roles andresponsibilities are devised, it is commonfor communities to allocate unpaid dutiesto women, whilst the men are given paidcasual 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, itis vital to look beyond this basicqualitative indicator. Otherwise we mightmiss, for example, that 8 women on thecommittee are doing 3 days of unpaidsolid waste clean-ups a week, whilst 8men are digging pipelines for $10 a day.Differences in committee participation bygender extend further than activitysegregation; it is important to monitor thedegree of influence females have incommittee decisions. This is somethingwhich needs consideration and discussionwith different groups (women, youth, menetc.) when the committee is establishedand after a review period.Experience from around the worldindicates that where women are activelyinvolved in decision making the quality of a project is enhanced: In Somalia - astrongly male-dominated society - onecriteria for Oxfam-supported healthcommittees is that women occupy at least30% of the decision-making positions.
The 2002 Water Act in Kenya alsorequires 30% of decision-making posts inWater User Associations (WUAs) to bewomen.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 arecrucial for identifying this.Vulnerable groups in the community, for example older people and the disabled canalso be active members of a committeeeven if they are not able to do physicalwork such as operation and maintenance.For example they can play an importantrole in other areas such as finance or registration. If any committee member does not have a meaningful job they risk  becoming a token presence.
A common argument against givingincentives to committee volunteers is thatthey merely encourage involvement whenthey are being handed-out. Participationfades when incentives are stopped(whether because of changes inimplementation strategies, or after the NGO exits) because the volunteers do notunderstand 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 onthe long-term importance of the activity,and on developing community-basedmanagement committees
for examplewater point operation and maintenancecommittees who collect fees and do notrely on Oxfam incentives.This is a valid consideration for many of our programmes, and for a proportion of our activities (e.g. household-levelhygiene activities). However, in someacute emergencies we are not aiming for 
„sustainability‟; the emergency situationitself is unsustainable. Oxfam‟s
immediate priority is to ensure thatessential public health activities take
 place, not whether we can „hand

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