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From Participation to Leadership: A resource pack on community-based protection

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Introduction

Community-based protection in Oxfam

In the late 1990s, humanitarian actors were reflecting on the challenges of supporting the protection of civilians in many crises – especially in the face of crimes against humanity and genocide in Rwanda and Bosnia. It was apparent that protection could not be restricted to only those organizations with a formal mandate, such as UNHCR and the International Committee of the Red Cross, but that all humanitarian actors needed to contribute. This included the recognition that each humanitarian actor could bring their own perspectives, skills and experience to a collaborative and complementary effort. For organizations like Oxfam, this meant an opportunity to bring a long history of working with communities in crisis. This could complement the more formal roles of organizations mandated to strengthen state systems or work directly with parties to a conflict.

Oxfam’s work on protection has always been strongly rooted in community-based action. Oxfam’s first ‘protection programmes’ worked with displaced people and refugees in East Asia building on their existing and potential capacity, and helping community groups to engage with the authorities. This work was always combined with advocacy carried out with partners and allies persuading, mobilizing and influencing duty bearers to fulfil their protection responsibilities. This strategic combination of community-based work, and national and often global advocacy is the hallmark of Oxfam’s approach to protection.

In a pioneering protection programme in West Timor in 2003, Oxfam staff and partners worked in dangerous and challenging conditions to help refugees organize themselves, understand their rights and make informed decisions about their future. This was combined with successful advocacy for the Government of Indonesia to change its policy on the involuntary relocation of refugees. This community-based approach was later used in conflict zones in the Philippines and Colombia, where groups were formed to organize ‘self-protection’ activities in the face of violence against civilians.

Other new programmes adapted their approaches to their contexts in Liberia, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In eastern DRC in 2006, Oxfam and partner organizations started to take this community-based approach to scale, at one point supporting 96 protection committees made up of volunteers and outreach workers helping thousands of people living through one of the world’s most brutal conflicts. Increasingly Oxfam worked with partner organizations, combining the skills and strengths of each.

Oxfam’s community-based protection (CBP) programme in eastern DRC became the organization’s flagship for testing out new ideas and approaches, and for developing a dynamic pool of dedicated staff who went on to work in many other countries. It was a learning programme that invested in evaluations, which enabled Oxfam, partners and others to see how protection work in extreme situations could lay the foundations for developmental approaches to governance and active citizenship, and contribute to longer-term goals on gender equality and women’s rights. This approach is now used across protection work by Oxfam and partners in the Central African Republic (CAR), Lebanon, Yemen, Bangladesh, Somalia/Somaliland and many other countries.

In 2016–18, Oxfam invested in evaluations of its CBP work in eastern DRC3 and CAR4. These provided a strong evidence base for the benefits of using a community-based approach to protection, and highlighted the immediate impact that community protection actors can have – whether by negotiating the safety of community members in the face of direct threats or working for longer-term changes. These and other evaluations demonstrate the immense, but often unrecognized, value of CBP – and how international actors can support it by working in solidarity with communities in crisis with a strong network of national partners.

In the last decade, CBP has been adopted as an approach by many humanitarian organizations. Perspectives on what constitutes ‘community-based’ vary, and at worst involve a superficial extraction of information by international actors. The most successful and effective CBP work has community members at the centre, and is not afraid to shift power and control to those communities, while supporting and recognizing the expertise of national partners. Oxfam is committed to supporting local humanitarian leaders, and continues to work alongside and in partnership with many national and local organizations, such as those that have co-created this resource pack, and strives to continually grow and improve.

Objectives

The objectives of this resource pack are:

  • To provide tools for different steps in the community-based protection (CBP) programming cycle.

  • To provide guidance on the implementation of CBP.

  • To share experiences directly from protection volunteers and members of community protection structures (CPSs), as well as staff from Oxfam and its partner organizations of the different ways CBP is done around the world.

Target audience

This resource pack is intended to be used by staff from humanitarian organizations – local, national and international – working with or planning to work with communities in protection. It is also aimed at community-based organizations, CPSs and community volunteers working on protection. It is primarily intended for those working directly with communities, but will also be useful to managers and technical advisors.

The secondary audiences are allies, researchers, donors, engaged campaigners, development and humanitarian professionals, academics and students interested in community-based approaches and CBP.

Development

This resource pack is the result of discussions with staff from humanitarian organizations and community volunteers involved in CBP. These discussions helped define the themes covered and the types of tools and other resources included, as well as its format. The process of co-creation began in April 2020 and concluded in August 2021.

The early stage of the project involved a total of 48 semi-structured interviews with humanitarian staff in Afghanistan (1), Bangladesh (7), Central African Republic (3), Colombia (5), the Democratic Republic of Congo (4), Iraq (6), Lebanon (6), Myanmar (1), The Occupied Palestinian Territory (1), Somalia/Somaliland (4), South Sudan (3), Syria (1), Uganda (1), Venezuela (2), Yemen (1) and Oxfam’s Global Humanitarian Team (2). While most interviews were carried out with a single interviewee, in some cases two or more participated.

These interviews helped identify specific tools, case studies and/or recommendations, which were later submitted for inclusion. Discussions with the collating team helped clarify any questions, leading to the final versions provided here.

The early stage also involved 17 focus group discussions (FGDs) with community volunteers in Bangladesh (2), Central African Republic (4), Iraq (1), Lebanon (7), Somalia/Somaliland (1), South Sudan (1) and Yemen (1). Both men and women participated in these discussions, in single-sex or mixed groups, according to preference and cultural appropriateness. Whenever possible, the groups included community volunteers from a range of age groups, ethnicities, legal status and abilities.

How to use this resource pack

This resource pack includes different types of resources:

15 templates: templates and suggested processes for different tasks within CBP that can be adapted to different contexts.

10 examples: tools used in practice by CPSs and staff from organizations contributing to this resource pack.

32 case studies: experiences shared by humanitarian staff, often on a specific aspect of CBP.

Recommendations: suggestions from humanitarian staff based on their experience and expertise.

Narrative: an overview of how the different resources fit into the programme cycle, laying out the main points of each step, and providing links to all of the resources in the pack.

The complete resource pack can be accessed at: https://policy-practice.oxfam.org/series/resource-pack-on-community-based-protection/

Each section of the narrative starts with a box summarizing the resources referred to and links in the body of the text help the reader find individual resources more easily: yellow links take the readers to templates, examples, case studies and recommendations while blue links take them to sub-sections in the narrative .

The individual resources – i.e. the templates, examples, case studies and recommendations – begin with a number of icons and tags to help the reader navigate the resources (see Figure 1).