Community Development: Breaking the cycle of poverty


Frik de Beer

Frik de Beer

Community development is both a collective effort and an achievement driven by individual facilitators with the aim of lifting a community out of poverty. The sixth edition of Community Development: Breaking the cycle of poverty continues to be a definitive guide for community development workers, students and practitioners alike. The book contextualises poverty and explains the process of community development. We spoke to author Frik De Beer about the contextual relevance of this work for South Africa today.

Community Development: Breaking the cycle of poverty partly focuses on how to empower development workers so that they can help build capacity in communities to break the cycle of poverty. What kind of enablement do you believe communities need if they stand a chance to break the poverty cycle?
There is no shortcut to community development, no single answer to the question. However, to treat all people with dignity and support their initiative, however small and insignificant it may appear, is putting us on the road to self-development and self-confidence. 

What role do you feel society at large can play in supporting the upliftment of people out of poverty?
Listen to people, show empathy, do not start projects (identified by outsiders)

This can be a challenging question to answer, but for people who perceive or view poverty as something separate from themselves or as something that isn’t necessarily their issue, why would it be important for people to understand that poverty is deeply connected to our sustainability challenges as humanity?
Many years ago, Dr Anton Rupert said, and I paraphrase, you cannot sleep if your neighbour does not eat. Partnership and coexistence in justice is the only way forward to survive ethically, economically and politically in South Africa.

Could you share 5 things from the book that everyone needs to know about the importance of community development and how this can bring people out of poverty?
I do not know if everybody wants to or feel a need to know about the importance of community development. I find the following ideas or guidelines useful when thinking about and dealing with human-centred community development:

  1. Humans and their dignity are central to community development
  2. People can only lift themselves by their own bootstraps if they have bootstraps
  3. Community development is a learning process
  4. Ownership of development is accompanied by rights and obligations
  5. Community development is small and simple. Bigger is not necessarily better

At this point in history, what do you feel is important for people to add to the social dialogue around community development and breaking the cycle of poverty for Africa in particular?
I wish we could replace the anger, the fear, the entitlement in our society with good humour, confidence, and responsibility.

Given South Africa’s current socio-economic context, where do you think we are going wrong and what are we getting right?
The newspapers are reporting daily on where we are going wrong – I cannot add to the list. Our active and vibrant civil society is what we are doing right. Only we, the people of South Africa, will make good things happen.

What impact do you hope to create with this book?
I shall be grateful if an understanding is established of development as a process, not as a method, and not as an end-goal.

Any advice or guidance for someone looking to support communities?
Listen to the people, be patient, do not initiate projects favoured by you

What change would you like to see in the country in the next 5 years?
A stable policy environment favouring socio-economic development, combined with rational and consistent implementation of land, labour and social policies. It goes without saying that we will do much better in development terms in a country free of corruption, with a fair and consistent judicial system. Above all I see a country of kindness among people, where violence against women and children is eradicated.

Could you share a little more about what keeps you motivated and inspired to make a difference?
I experience at grassroots or sidewalk level, a humanness towards each other, amongst ordinary people, that differs from the grandstanding and vocalness (emptiness?) of many politicians. And of course, a sense of humour where people pause and share a moment


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