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Community participation in social funds in Malawi and Zambia1

Q-Squared Working Paper No. 20

Anju Vajja2, Howard White3

February 2006

SARPN acknowledges Q-Squared as a source of this documnet:
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Over the last decade the World Bank has adopted social capital, making it its own through active promotion and a sizeable research output. These World Bank studies are mostly celebratory, finding a strong positive link between the presence of social capital and poverty reduction (e.g. Narayan and Pritchett, 1999). But critics (e.g. Fine 1999 and 2001, Harriss 2002, and Mosse 2003 and 2005) argue that the Bank’s use of social capital de-contextualizes and de-politicizes social relations, ignoring the underlying power structure. However, as Bebbington et al. (2004) point out, critics have focused more on the research output of the Bank than on how the interest in social capital has manifested itself at the operational level. For example, Harriss (2002) de-constructs the Bank’s social capital website and critically discusses a number of studies, but has no direct engagement with World Bank-funded projects. This paper critically examines the nature of community participation in two such projects, social funds in Malawi and Zambia.4

The interest in social capital has powered the rise of Community Driven Development (CDD), a World Bank-invented term for projects with a substantial participatory component.5 The ‘how-to’ guide to CDD (Narayan, 1995) is authored by one of the pioneers of social capital analysis by the Bank’s research department. Social funds began in the late eighties and have evolved toward a community-based model, in which communities formulate and submit proposals,6 and hence make up an important part of the CDD portfolio. Part 2 of this paper reviews the development of social funds in general, and those in Malawi and Zambia in particular. Promoters of CDD argue that such interventions ‘build social capital’, thus providing a basis for sustained community-based development initiatives beyond the intervention supported by the social fund.

However, as pointed out by the Bank’s critics, collective action does not occur in a social vacuum. Part 3 of this paper explores the community-level processes surrounding the identification and implementation of social fund-supported activities in Malawi and Zambia. Embedding itself in traditional organizations, this process departs from the ‘ideal type’ of community participation presented by CDD’s promoters, but not in a way which represents elite capture. The argument that such interventions build social capital is examined in Part 4; social funds are shown to be users rather than producers of such capital. Part 5 concludes.

  1. This paper is based on work carried out for the review of social funds by the Operations Evaluation Department of the World Bank (World Bank, 2002). Thanks are due to our collaborators in designing the data collection instruments – Soniya Carvalho, Susan Razzaz and Vijay Rao - and for their advice on analysis. The views expressed here are our own and may not be taken to represent those of OED, any part of the World Bank, or of our collaborators.
  2. Whilst there are other studies of social funds (notably Rawlings et al., 2004) these do not focus on community-level processes. The exception is the study of the Jamaican Social Investment Fund (JSIF) by Rao and Ibanez (2003), which uses data collected as part of the same study on which this paper is based.
  3. CDD is sometimes distinguished from Community Based Development (CBD), as in the former the community identifies the activities to be financed.
  4. Earlier social funds accorded an intermediary role to NGOs or local government, which is not the case for community-based social funds. In sixty percent of the social funds supported by the Bank’s portfolio NGOs were eligible sub-project sponsors, local government in a similar share of cases, and central government agencies slightly fewer (World Bank, 2002).

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