Promoting community empowerment from the bottom up - the case study of KSI in Ermera
Ann Wigglesworth Victoria University (VU), AUSTRALIA
Abel Boavida dos Santos Universidade do Porto (UP)
This paper interrogates the role of civil society in community empowerment. In countries such as Timor-Leste, NGOs can play a significant role in community empowerment, but are heavily dependent on external donors. The priorities of NGOs are often marginalized as donors pressure local NGOs in everything from financial management to program design. For this reason, local NGOs are often criticised because their role is reduced to service delivery funded by donors in a patron-client relationship. These community programs are not based on critical reflection of how to empower the community.
There are many local NGOs in Timor-Leste which are active in almost all sectors of social life, but they have not delivered significant changes in community development and empowerment. This society, that used to have great collective potential in activism during the struggle for independence, after independence became weak and lacking ability to make transformational change. The dependence of NGOs on donors is very high and community organisations appear disempowered in contrast to the years of struggle when they relied on the principle of their own strength.
This paper will focus on the case study of KSI, an NGOs that has maintained their progressive character in their work for the empowerment of the community. KSI is an NGO founded by young activists who during the struggle experienced an ideological awakening and were inspired by the principles of national liberation initiated by FRETILIN. With its roots in social movements, KSI uses NGO strategies to utilize donor funds for the achievement of community empowerment. This KSI strategy is analysed and interpreted as process of community empowerment which has been internalized in their relations with both the communities and donors.