We may look at community in two senses, one geographic and the other moral. The geographic sense of community, which happens to be what most people generally have in mind when they use the term, refers to a neighbourhood, village, small town, or specific locality. Members of a community in the geographic sense may share interpersonal bonds which may or may not be based on blood relations, as in a village or small town. Members of a community in the moral sense share some common values, interests and goals and demonstrate loyalty and commitment to the general interests of the community. A fundamental meaning of a community is the sharing of an overall way of life, what makes a community different from a mere association of individual persons is the sharing of an overall way of life. Members of a community are expected to show concern for the well-being of one another, to do what they can to advance the common welfare and generally to participate in the community life. In order to talk really meaningfully about community, the moral sense of community must be held as primary to the geographic sense: that is to say, the moral sense must be at the base, and inspire, the geographic sense of community otherwise a community would be reduced to a mere association of individual persons, without meaningful interaction and a sense of responsibility and concern for each other.
Development is about improving the social, economic, cultural and intellectual lives of people, it is about improving the quality of life and standard of living of people by way of providing for their basic needs. Community development, then, is providing all that is necessary for improving the lives of people in a specific locality (that is, community in the geographic sense explained in the preceding paragraph) It is providing the basic needs of life namely education, food, health, housing and a satisfactorily level of income for all members of the community. We would also say of a community that it is developed when all members of the community show concern in advancing the welfare and the collective or common interests of the entire community.
Identifying the levels of community
Communities are different in size, both geographic and population, and operate at different levels. Thus, the family, clan, village, tribe, city, neighbourhood, nation/state, sub-region (such as West Africa), region (such as the continent of Africa) and the world – the global community are all kinds of community. This means that a person participates in a variety of communities for he or she would be a member of an extended family, village or town, ethnic group, nation state and the world. It would follow that a person would participate also in a variety of social contexts or relationships, though at different levels, all of which would be essential for the development of his or her well-being, identity and potential.
There is a secondary or derived meaning of community that is expressed in such references as “the scientific community”, “the academic community”, “the business community”, “the entertainment community” and so on. There are professional or scientific organizations. They are called “communities” simply because the members of these organizations are linked by, and thus share, common interests, values and goals. These communities are thus influenced in their beliefs and purposes by the primary or fundamental meaning of community – namely, the moral meaning.
What Community Development means
Community development involves several things. It involves improving the material, social, intellectual and cultural lives of the members of the community. Community development also involves providing for the infrastructural needs of the community: adequate water and sanitation, good housing, health facilities, schools. Improving the environmental conditions of the community. Every adult member of the community showing real concern for the progress and success of the entire community and realizing that doing so will lead to his/her own well-being as well as the well-being of the others members of the community.
Factors that promote community development
Community development to be realistic and successful, requires certain factors or preconditions. These factors or preconditions include the following:
Community development like national development or, for that matter, the development of any institution or organization, depends very much on effective leadership: leaders who have vision about the future of their community, can set the development goals of the community and find ways of pursuing those goals, have the ability to initiate valuable projects and to look for financial support for the projects the community seeks to embark upon. Community development requires leaders who have the progress and welfare of the community at heart and have the courage to make appropriate and relevant decisions. In Ghana, most of our chiefs who are generally respected, can provide leadership in community development.
The realization by the members of the community that community development is a participatory enterprise is an important factor. This means that community development should involve all the members of the community, or as many of them as possible, in executing the projects that have been proposed, projects such as: the construction of school buildings or health clinics or dealing with environmental sanitation, or the setting up of scholarship funds to educate the young people of the community or finding ways of getting competent and dedicated teachers for the schools of the community or finding ways of dealing with social problems afflicting the community such as teenage pregnancy and indiscipline among the youth and so on. In pursuing all this, the communal spirit must be at work to inspire and move people to see the need to work together for the welfare of their own community. Seeing community development as a participatory enterprise will lead to the tapping of the creative talents and qualities of the individual members of the community.
Collective Awareness of the need to improve local conditions of life
The participatory enterprise discussed in the foregoing paragraph underlines the urgent need for all people to be involved in the development of their community; it requires the collective effort and sharing of responsibility for the progress of their community. The collective sharing of responsibility for developing their community requires, in turn that all the members of the community become (or, are made) aware of the need to improve the local conditions of their lives. This awareness on the part of the members of the community is extremely important, for it is this awareness that will make each individual member of the community to see the need to contribute, in various ways, his or her quota to the development of the community.
Democratic Way of doing things
Doing things in the democratic way is a factor that will promote community development and this is for several reasons. The democratic way will allow many of the members of the community to make appropriate and useful input in making decisions affecting the development of the community. People will be willing to express their views freely and to bring up their ideas and understanding as to what should be done and how it should be done. In this way, community leaders will benefit a great deal from the ideas, suggestions and advice of other members of the community, while the other members of the community, while the other members of the community will also feel that their input is required and appreciated and so will be willing to give of their best and enthusiastically involve themselves in the development of their community. The various problems of the community can more easily be solved when many minds are given the opportunity to deal with them.
Community development cannot be successfully undertaken, and on a sustained basis, without mobilizing the financial, intellectual, material and human resources both from within and without the community. With regard to internal resources, community leaders should be able to prevail upon individual members of the community to contribute to the funding of projects to be undertaken by the community: this may be done through the imposition of levies and other kinds of taxation. Loans from the local community banks may be sought. Non-financial contributions may also be made: in building a school block, for instance, members of the community may be urged to provide material resources such as cement, sand and stones, while artisans such as masons and carpenters provide expertise and skills. Physical energies of the members of the community can also be mobilized for sheer physical action, such as cleaning the environment, planting trees to replenish the degraded forest,and helping the police to deal with criminals.
As regards mobilizing external resources, both financial and material (“external” here meaning outside the community itself), community leaders may have to seek the assistance of banking and other financial institutions in the country as well as assistance from foreign governments and foreign non-governmental organizations. In mobilizing the resources the effort or contribution of the members of the community will be needed.
Character, Integrity and commitment
In talking about factors that promote community development, the moral character, disciplined disposition and level of commitment of the members of the community, including their leaders, cannot at all be ignored or looked at lightly; for these qualities are of extreme importance. Good character and moral probity will help deal with the possible incidence of corruption that will take away monies intended for development projects into the personal pockets of some members of the community, a situation that will not promote development. The members of the community must have a real sense of commitment to the tasks of development before them and work with determination in order to achieve their goals. In all their endeavors toward the development of their community, the members must demonstrate discipline at all times, for discipline is necessary, if progress is to be made and success achieved.
Relevant factors that affect community development
There are important factors that the members of the community and their leaders must consider in making decisions about the development of their community. Those factors include the following:
Sensitizing the people to the need for development
First and foremost, the members of the community who are to be involved in the development of the community must be made to understand and to feel the need for developing their community. Thus, they must be sensitized to the need to make all necessary efforts to improve the conditions or situations of their lives. Sensitizing the members will also make them respond readily and positively to persuasions intended to convince them to see and appreciate the need to make the necessary personal sacrifices and contributions to the development of their community. Sensitization will not only instill a sense of love for the community but also arouse emotional attachments to the community.
Identifying the problems
The members of the community, having become sensitive to the need for community development and, thus, ready to pursue that need, the next thing is for the community, to identify the problems that hinder the improvement of their well-being and the quality of life, they want for themselves. This involves a thorough investigation and study of the problems that relate to health, water, education, electricity,environment,getting financial support for their agricultural pursuits, and so on. It also involves examining their cultural values, beliefs and practices to ascertain which of them may be said to hinder attempts to develop their community and what should be done to those cultural values and practices.
The problems of community development that must be tackled would be naturally be many, while the available resources, financial and material, are severely limited. It would therefore be necessary to prioritize the problems, that is, to consider which of them are more important or pressing and must therefore be tackled first, and which second, and so on. In deciding which problems must be given a prior attention, the community must consider its own local interests and needs and must not be guided by any larger political interests or considerations or yield to political manipulation.
Examining Alternative solutions
Having prioritized the problems confronting the community, there will be a need to examine alternative approaches to dealing with them. The community leaders will have to give serious consideration to the availability of various kinds of resources, including the technology that must be used. Expert or professional advice will indicate that some of the approaches may be easier and more cost effective than others and therefore ought to be preferred to the others.