Engaging beneficiary communities in program planning and coordination is key for inclusive and sustainable development. In Guyana where urban and hinterland settlements scatter across 83,000 square miles, meaningful engagements require careful strategies that consider cultural and geographical diversities. Given that most indigenous peoples live in the sparsely populated hinterland, programs rely upon the Inter-American Development Bank’s (IDB) policies and approaches for engaging indigenous peoples. The IDB’s Vision 2025 prioritizes social inclusion and equality as critical to COVID-19 recovery in the region. Incorporating all these values in creative methods, project teams are achieving results with strong inputs from communities.
In a recent dialogue supported by IDB Country Office in Guyana, the project implementing teams discussed how their experiences, lessons learned, and best practices are shaping the participatory model for development programs in Guyana.
Community Engagement for Inclusive Programs: Adding Value
“Our experiences have shown that community engagements can reap several benefits, savings, wider community change, even changes in family dynamics and lend itself well to overall success of any implementation,” says Donell Bess-Bascom, Deputy Director of Community Development at the Central Housing and Planning Authority (CH&PA). The CH&PA has implemented four (4) IDB-funded programs since 2000 to improve the livability of Guyanese through adequate and affordable housing and upgrade of social and physical infrastructure.
“We have seen engagements with communities throughout the process, from initiation to close out…We have had the privilege of being able to engage entire communities…in developing, designing, implementing, monitoring, and evaluating of programs.”
From Guyana’s Sustainable Housing Program, the CH&PA institutionalized a participatory method for building houses in the hinterland. Subsidies catered for full construction of core homes and for the upgrade of roofs. During participatory workshops, indigenous communities designed housing solutions to meet beneficiary satisfaction and reduce the risk of health issues associated with overheated living spaces, especially for the elderly, children, and pregnant women. Design modifications resulted in savings and more beneficiaries were added to the program. Approximately 424 households across 28 indigenous communities benefited.
“Through those processes, we learned that communities in the hinterland have excellent building skills,” Donnell says. “They have indigenous building materials that work very well and are very durable. They have community systems that have been functioning for years effectively and we were able to use those to be able to design the project. They were able to design what their houses should look like, told us what materials we should build, how to monitor, how to supervise.”
Similarly, Women’s Safety Audits, supported by Women in Cities International, engaged groups of women in Sophia and La Parfaite Harmonie communities to identify improvements that can make them feel safer. Results led to interventions that include installation of street lighting, construction of multi-purpose facilities, and redesign of bridges.
Community Engagement for Effective Program Delivery: Supporting sustainability
In sectors like Energy where programs often face resistance from beneficiaries, the Guyana Power and Light Inc. relies on social engagements to build public confidence and ‘buy-in.’ The IDB-European Union co-financed Power Utility Upgrade Program (PUUP) which introduces smart meters among interventions to help reduce and control high electricity losses, engaged almost 4900 stakeholders in 176 communities across four (4) regions of Guyana. The Project Executing Unit (PEU) uses flexible approaches, even if it means traveling into distant rice fields for small group dialogue with rural farmers or conducting iterative follow-ups to manage conflicts. With the risks of face-to-face interactions during COVID-19, the team turned to radio programs to maintain close coordination among stakeholders.
Chitra Singh, PUUP’s Social Management Coordinator says, “If you have (buy-in), you can be able to treat conflict management in a better way. You can be able to negotiate terms better. If you don’t have that, it has the effect of sabotaging, halting, or even hindering the project going forward.”
Project teams recognize including local ambassadors and interest groups can help to correct inaccurate preconceived mindsets among stakeholders and support the sustainability of interventions. Sharing responsibilities with communities enables beneficiaries to take ownership. Several programs including in health and housing currently involve community-based project committees. Engagements during design and prior implementation are useful to align interventions with development plans and expectations of the communities and beneficiaries.
While best practices of other countries and programs inform techniques, engagements are more effective when adapted to the local context, says Dr. Serena Bender-Pelswijk, Health Systems Specialist for the program, Support to Improve Maternal and Child Health.
“There were designs that we were offered based on what other countries would have done, and we took the time to find out from (the communities) is this something that you’re comfortable with? Or is there something that you would like to see included in this project? Or would you like us to do it this way versus that way? It involved a lot of tweaking and making it unique to the needs of that community.”
To reduce maternal, perinatal, and neonatal deaths, interventions are improving the quality, use, and access to reproductive maternal and child health services. In doing so, communities are involved in knowledge-sharing and capacity building through mentorship and coaching. This element of community involvement is important to reach beneficiaries in remote hinterland villages where the rate of home deliveries is high and given that indigenous peoples communicate in their own languages. Moreover, it can support a timely and efficient grievances redress mechanism considering the vast geographical distance between PEU and beneficiaries.
The program trained approximately 250 community volunteers and community health workers. Sixteen (16) health committees were also set up from 2019 to 2021 in Guyana’s hinterland Rupununi region. These committees support other health issues existing in the communities such as COVID-19.
The IDB’s new Environmental and Social Policy Framework incorporates stakeholder engagement as a priority for development programs and these policies are being adopted by local implementing agencies across Guyana. Many projects include mandatory requirements for the inclusion of all project stakeholders including local authorities, whether they are directly affected by the program or simply have an interest. Requirements cater to the design and execution phases, and these requirements are monitored and evaluated to ensure adequate consultations, grievance redress mechanisms, social inclusion, and gender diversity. Some of these include considerations for the involvement of women, youths, indigenous people, minority groups, and people with disabilities. We are confident that community involvement will continue to result in inclusive program delivery in Guyana.