Accepted paper:

Playing a zero-sum game in community development?


Yi Wang (Durham University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper presents a critical analysis of community development by looking at a Chinese organization's practices in an informal settlement in Nairobi, Kenya and by showing how an outside organization interplays with the local agenda in community development when it enters the local community.

Paper long abstract:

Compared with governments, multilateral development institutions, and big NGOs acting as the first three pillars in development, Develtere and Bruyn (2009) point out the importance of the fourth pillar, non-specialist bodies, which refers to non-development departments, associations in various fields, foundations, other civil organizations and so on. In practice, a lot of foreign NGOs doing various projects in African countries fall into this category and they are actually playing a very significant role in local community development. However, the fourth pillar has not yet been fully researched in academic world. The paper utilises empirical research on a Chinese NGO's work in Mathare, an informal settlement in Nairobi, to analyse the community development from a critical perspective and to look at the interplays between the foreign organization and the local community's agenda. Participant observation and in-depth interviews of both volunteers and local people are main methods used in this research. In this paper, firstly, the symbiotic relationship between the Chinese organization and the local community is illustrated, within which relationship mistrust and a playing of a zero-sum game between the two when considering their power relations are highlighted. Secondly, it investigates how the culture and identity of local people affects their adaptation and influence on the external Chinese organisation's projects. Both positive and negative impacts of the Chinese organization's practices are addressed. Thirdly, the paper links the analysis of community development at an individual and community level to higher levels and identifies possible solutions to rooted problems in community development.

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