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How can money strengthen local democracy and empowerment?

Funding is...a matter of collective experimentation – and even of historical creation or invention.

This quote – from Brazilian academic and activist Marcelo Lopez de Souza – sums up one of the key lessons we’ve learnt from working with a diverse range of community development practitioners and academics from across the globe who are grappling with the pitfalls and possibilities of using different funding models: there are no easy answers to the dilemmas associated with resourcing egalitarian social and economic change. Instead we have to name and deal with the complex ways in which Members of a community bank in Cambodia.power operates through different funding arrangements, and experiment with new ways of generating resources while holding firm to the principles of participatory democracy.

Throughout history, community-based organisations and social movements have served as a seedbed for popular democracy, egalitarian change, and social transformation. From the workers co-operative movements of the 19th century to the Zapatistas of today, community-based struggles have been crucial to building democratic institutions and creating new forms of democratic life. A healthy participatory democracy relies on forms of community development that support effective mobilisation at the local level and encourage advanced capacities for democratic decision making and critical thinking.

Of course, community organisations have also been used to advance projects of imperialism, colonialism and social control. To make an obvious but important point, there is nothing inherently progressive about community development: it is an arena of democratic struggle, so the specific ideas, values, practices and institutions developed in communities matter a great deal for their transformative potential.

But if participatory democracy relies, at least in part, on democratic community development, then this necessarily brings us to questions of funding whenever local struggles need access to more resources than they can generate on their own ...

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Analysis of the real value of money ]