6 December, 2016

Taking a Back Seat

We all know the jokes about the meddling in-laws whose advice, even though they mean well, is often far from being helpful. So when it comes to helping people in poverty, is our well-meaning support really beneficial? Or are we just like meddling in-laws?

This issue was addressed at a Philanthropy in Australia Conference in September where a number of community leaders, prominent Australian philanthropists and influential charities explored the concept of citizen-led development.

Citizen-led development is based on the idea long-term beneficial change needs to be driven by local people rather than imposed by well- meaning individuals unfamiliar with the circumstances of the people whom they are trying to help.

We as humans, no matter where we live, work or play tend to have a vested interest in improving the places we call ‘home’. We all want to have the freedom to have a ‘say’ in our lives, the lives of our families and local communities.

Citizen-led development is about equipping local people, who are already passionate about their own communities, to contribute to a common vision and development of priorities. By doing so, we can build trusting community relationships and give a voice to those whom we’re trying to help.


We can foster people’s skills and we can build community-ownership for sustainable change. This does not mean watching from the sidelines, but rather giving communities in need the freedom to create their own future and walking alongside them and providing support as they develop their own solutions appropriate to their local context.

It’s why supporting an organisation like ADRA is really important. You know that you are making a long-term and sustainable difference. No matter who or where we are, we all want to see others thrive. To do so, we can use these helpful tips to put our best foot forward and help nurture thriving relationships.

But to do that effectively, it’s important that we empower communities to drive change. That sometimes means taking a back seat, and not being meddling in-laws.

Aleksandra Ewing is the senior fundraising manager at ADRA Australia. 


  • Hempworth, F., 2016, Why communities must drive social change, Alliance Magazine. www.alliancemagazine.org/blog/need- community-driven-change
  • The Movement for Community Led Development, 2016, Defining Community-led Development, The Hunger Project. https://communityleddev.org/definition
  • MacLennan, b., Bijoux, D., Courtney, M., 2015, Community Development and Community-led Development: What’s the Difference?, Inspiring Communities.
  • Hanson, H., Ceccherini, V., 2010, The Benefits of Community-Led Development Programming in Insecure Environments. Mercy Corps. Inspiring Communities.