By Vanessa Vegas, Rotary Service Supervisor
In October, Rotary celebrates Community Economic Development Month. This is a good time to reflect on the profound impact Rotary members are making in this area of focus. Over 10% of all Rotary-funded projects are developed in this area, totaling an investment of more than seven million U.S. dollars in the 2022-23 Rotary year.
According to the World Bank, 659 million people lived below the US$2.15 per day poverty line in 2019. Let’s understand how Rotary and Rotaract members are supporting their communities and transforming lives through Community Economic Development projects.
There are many ways in which the Rotary family can create measurable and enduring economic improvement in their communities. Some possible paths are:
- Building capacity and developing opportunities for productive work
- Empowering leaders and addressing gender or class disparities
- Supporting entrepreneurs, social businesses, or innovators
- Enhancing community resilience, adaptive capacity, and emergency preparedness
The Community’s Voice: A Crucial First Step
As with any successful project, the first step requires engaging with the community to identify not only their most pressing needs but also what resources (expertise, traditional knowledge, physical assets, organizations, infrastructure, financial, etc.) it has to address them. Rotary and Rotaract members can learn how to better provide support by understanding the community through the community assessment process.
In the case of the Rotary Community Corps of Aksu Village in northwest Turkey, the community assessment process was done by engaging in multiple family breakfasts and conversations with a group of women from the community’s women solidarity association. After building trust, friendship, and open communication, the group voiced a need to grow their small businesses. They sold fresh vegetables and fruits, but their income-generating activity was limited to the summer. The Rotary Club of Bursa-Uludag provided equipment, enhanced the space for production and sales, and supported the diversification of products. This led to growth and expansion of their ventures, which allowed them to have an income all year round.
Every project, regardless of its size, should be planned with the intention of continuing beyond the initial assistance from clubs. For projects in the Community Economic Development area, support through equipment, materials, and physical assets are important but insufficient. Entrepreneurship, financial, and vocational training, as well as mentorships and strengthening leadership skills, will ensure a project can be sustained long-term.
In the case of a small service project developed by the Rotaract Club of Karachi Sunrise and Rotary Club Karachi Sunrise in Pakistan, the goal to alleviate poverty was addressed by providing entrepreneurs with a fully equipped potato fries setup, including a cabin, machines, gas cylinder, and all necessary supplies for one month. However, they knew this would not be enough, so they strengthened their initiative by providing mentorship to participants, equipping them with business skills and knowledge that will outlast the materials donated.
Measurement and adaptability to attain positive impact
When engaging in projects that aim to address the economic needs of a community, understanding the existing situation (through baseline data), as well as including activities for monitoring and evaluation, to gauge what is working, what is not, and possible ways to improve deficiencies, heightens the possibilities of the intervention having a positive impact long-term.
In Colombia, a global grant was developed to support the economic development of the El Pencal farming community by providing enhanced agricultural methodology and cooperative creation training to 25 farmers. As part of this effort, an exhaustive baseline data on farming production, income, and profits was carried out. The monitoring strategy designed by the Rotary Clubs of Medellín-Nutibara and Downtown Los Angeles included continued monitoring and measurement of the improvement attained through the project’s activities. By doing this, the sponsors and farmers concluded that they would have higher income if they processed some of the produce harvested. Therefore, grant funding was reallocated to purchase low-technology food driers so the products could last longer and be sold at a higher price in the market. Being able to measure project progress allowed the team to adjust their original project plan to reach the best project outcome.
Technical expertise in-house
Each community our members support is different. Community Economic Development projects can range in size, scope, activities, type, and duration; however, there are general guidelines that can apply to all project planning.
One of the most significant assets Rotary has is our pool of experts in all fields, areas of focus, and regions of the world.
Rotary members interested in developing community-based, sustainable, and impactful Community Economic Development projects can contact their District International Service Chair to get more information on technical expertise available in their district.
As part of the District Resource Network, the Rotary Action Group for Community Economic Development, and members of the Cadre of Technical Advisers with a background in this area of focus can provide support in the design, implementation, and monitoring of your projects. Make sure to reach out as you are in the planning stages.
Rotary is not just alleviating poverty; it’s igniting hope, empowering communities, and forging a brighter tomorrow through Community Economic Development. Join us in this endeavor, and together we’ll create lasting change, one community at a time.