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Community level participation in governance and development planning : building capacity for sustainable livelihoods in the Maldives Farina, Sarah Megan

Abstract

Sustainable livelihoods depend on a strong local capacity to maintain access to economic opportunities, health and other essential services, and the attendant infrastructure and institutional capacity necessary to support these activities. Capacity building to support increased community level participation in governance and development planning is one approach to building sustainable livelihoods. My research focuses on the impacts of participatory programs and projects at the local level, and the key elements that facilitate community level participation and help projects meet their objectives and gain the support of both local and state actors. The case study I employ is a UNDP-supported poverty alleviation and atoll development project in the Maldives which sought to build capacity at the community level in order to create opportunities for sustainable livelihoods. The Project supported institutional and economic development in outlying areas as a means to mobilize and build the capacity of local communities to participate in development planning and implementation. I base my research on personal observations and fifty interviews with community members, island leaders, and project staff that I conducted while working with the Project for four months in 2001, as well as a review of project documents, consultant reports, and literature related to community participation, governance, the Maldives, and Small Island Developing States. Project outputs included the establishment of a locally managed Atoll Development Program, an Atoll Community Fund that provides loans to support income-generating activities, and formal relationships with existing national-level institutions to provide services such as a savings program through the Mobile Bank. The successful elements of the Project include the flexible project structure, awarenessbuilding components, community determination and prioritization of activities through participatory rural appraisal, support from the national government, administrative support for local organizations, and coherent strategies linking the Project with national policies and priorities. I conclude that achieving sustainable livelihoods amongst local people through participation requires support in the form of institutional and economic development, and an overall framework for local planning and policy development that carefully considers local needs in relation to broader regional and national concerns.

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