Long-term thinking and agility in community development

Community development is an interactive process where community members, local government and development partners collectively take action to solve problems facing a specific community. The aim of community development is to co-create sustainable, stronger and resilient communities. Tshikululu partners with mining and renewable energy clients across the country to invest in the development of the communities around their operations. Tshikululu’s approach to community development enables these clients to partner effectively with communities to generate and measure meaningful and sustainable social impact.

A key factor in these partnerships is the long-term commitment these clients have to the communities in question – in many cases, clients expect to operate in a particular area for 20 years or more. Developing a social investment strategy and measuring its impact in this context requires balancing the need for long-term thinking with the need to be responsive to rapidly changing local conditions and emerging issues. This has fundamental implications for how we approach designing strategies and measuring social impact. It is important to be able to generate and measure long-term change, but at the same time, our approach needs to be able to adapt to unexpected outcomes and changes in strategic priorities.

In addition, investing with a geographic focus often entails taking a generalist approach to development in a particular community, as there is no one path to supporting a community in achieving its vision for development. When it comes to measurement, this requires us to develop indicators that can succinctly but meaningfully capture change across any number of sectors as it happens, within the context of the overall vision.

The power dynamics inherent in the funding relationship are also magnified in a context where external players are so closely involved in making decisions that affect the future of a community. Tshikululu’s approach to community development takes a combination of a top-down and bottom-up approach to development, where participatory principles are combined with external expertise to maximise social impact.

In navigating these tensions, Tshikululu has learned that a hands-on, community-focused approach is critical. Specifically, we recognise that having a consistent on-the-ground presence in communities makes a significant difference for generating and measuring social impact at community level: it makes the feedback and learning loop more efficient, allowing for more agility; it ensures that stakeholders in the community are engaged regularly, strengthening the relationship with the community and its vision; and it enhances our ability to measure change in ways that are locally appropriate and responsive.

Strengthening presence at local level can be done most efficiently by leveraging resources across social investors working in communities within the same geographic area. The growth of the renewable energy sector represents a significant opportunity in this respect – as more communities benefit from social investment, the potential for social impact is maximised by sharing resources and improving coordination of efforts.

How we develop long-term strategies and measure impact in constantly changing environments is – and should be – a process of learning and improving over time. Tshikululu is constantly strengthening our ability to manage and measure impact, not only in the field of community development, but in all aspects of social investment. Adapting our approach to strengthen our on-the-ground presence in the communities our clients invest in is an important step towards measuring social change effectively in rapidly shifting environments, while maintaining a big-picture view of how sustainable social impact is created over time.