June 2, 2024

Community-Driven Change Leads to More Lasting and Equitable Impact, New Bridgespan Research Finds

Drawing on data from India and Africa, the report challenges funders to shift more power and decision-making to the communities they serve.

MUMBAI—June 3, 2024—Funders striving for lasting and equitable impact should learn from the communities they serve by adopting a community-driven change (CDC) approach, according to new research from The Bridgespan Group. The report, Community-Driven Change: Demonstrating Impact in Africa and India, challenges funders to work with communities to develop the power and assets needed to make decisions about their own futures.

For decades, philanthropy and governments have practised a top-down approach to funding, treating the symptoms and not the root causes of the most pressing social issues. By contrast, CDC is a process whereby communities actively participate in, lead, and own the identification, design, and execution of solutions for the challenges they face. While CDC is not new, a growing number of funders and implementing organisations have championed the potential of CDC in recent years.

“CDC programmes and traditional top-down programmes both produce measurable results, but the overlap stops there,” says Riti Mohapatra, a co-author of the report and partner in Bridgespan’s India office. “As a process, CDC goes beyond programmes, transforming how communities think and act as they increase their power and assets.” Power means agency, shared vision, and inclusive leadership, and assets refer to knowledge, skills, and financial resources. Power and assets lay the groundwork for lasting and equitable change.

In researching this study, Bridgespan authors spoke with more than 50 funders, NGO leaders, intermediaries, and experts, and profiled nine Indian and African organisations to showcase the impact of varying CDC approaches. They also surveyed people in 800 households, partnering with implementing organisations across Kenya, South Africa, and India.

Bridgespan’s report describes CDC as an evolutionary journey, highlighting communities’ transitions from recipient to partner to owner, where self-determination takes root. In some instances, community ownership signals the exit of the implementing organisation; in other cases, it means that the organisation transitions to the role of facilitator or advisor. Each community will evolve across the spectrum at its own pace.

The report describes compelling evidence of how community ownership of initiatives can lead to lasting and equitable change in a variety of ways. It also outlines three paths for funders new to community-driven change, or funders seeking to enhance their efforts, to consider:

  • Partner with communities to identify, prioritise, and implement delivery of vital services.
  • Fund initiatives that develop community leaders who, in turn, educate and organise individuals to pursue their rights and entitlements.
  • Support community groups that work with local government, markets, and civil society to secure funding for local projects and advocate for policies that benefit local residents.

“For many funders, the pressing question isn’t whether to pursue CDC, but how to proceed with an approach that works,” says co-author Ntefeleng Nene, a partner in Bridgespan’s Africa office. “The paths we highlight can serve as building blocks for structuring a CDC approach, as well as a framework for assessing whether an initiative has lived up to its defining promise of building power and assets likely to result in sustained and equitable impact.”

Read the full report at https://bspan.org/450jOJP.

About The Bridgespan Group

The Bridgespan Group (www.bridgespan.org) is a global nonprofit that collaborates with social change organisations, philanthropists, and impact investors to make the world more equitable and just. Bridgespan’s services include strategy consulting and advising, sourcing and diligence, and leadership team support. We take what we learn from this work and build on it with original research, identifying best practices and innovative ideas to share with the social sector. We work from locations in Boston, Johannesburg, Mumbai, New York, San Francisco, Singapore, and Washington, DC.

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The Bridgespan Group would like to thank the JPB Foundation for its generous and ongoing support of our knowledge creation and sharing work.