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September 2004

Case study: Lessons learned and good practice

Community-based organizations in Yemen

The increasing importance and recognition of Community-Based Organizations (CBOs) in poverty reduction and decentralization contexts is self-evident. However major challenges remain related to their capacities to assume key responsibilities at local level and their vertical integration into existing institutional settings. This paper discusses preconditions, good practice and operational lessons learned about organizational capacity development and empowerment processes analyzing the set-up and the institutional/organizational aspects of CBOs initiated and/or strengthened with the support of the Community-based Regional Development Program (CBRDP) in five distinct socioeconomic and ecological areas of Yemen. It assesses comparative advantages and potentials of local institutions and CBOs in decentralized rural development.

The study collected and used primary and secondary data applying different Participatory Learning and Actions (PLA) methods and tools. The study confirmed that a flexible area-based process approach provided the framework needed to establish local confidence in CBO operations and to respond to the dynamic needs of local communities. Moreover, investing simultaneously in institutional and human capacity and productive asset development proved indispensable for both success and sustainability. At the CBOs levels, the local socio-cultural, institutional and political settings revealed significant in shaping the organizational maturity and mode of interactions within the CBOs as well as between the CBOs and their environment. Successful CBOs were often those which proved successful in (a) practicing -internally- good governance based on clearly defined leadership/advisory functions between traditional leaders and elected representatives of the poor, (b) prioritization-based selection between productive investment and social initiatives, (c) linking poor to middle income groups using innovative ways building on their indigenous norms and practices and (d) establishing operational horizontal and vertical linkages with other institutions. A legal framework which supports the combination of social self-help initiatives and economic activities appeared as an essential precondition for successful CBOs operations and sustainability. CBOs showed good potentials to coordinate local poverty reduction initiatives and to contribute, through coalitions with others, to pro-poor policies at the macro-level.

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