Key Steps to Sustainable Community Development

Key Steps to Sustainable Community Development

By: SOS International

When disasters, natural or man-made, occur, they often leave people helpless and in dire need of assistance. In such circumstances, immediate relief is crucial, and prompt responses are vital to save lives. However, relief is just the first step in rebuilding communities and helping them recover from the impact of a crisis.

In Steve Corbett’s 2012 book on poverty alleviation, “When Helping Hurts: How To Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor- and Yourself” he highlights three stages involved in any sustainable work on community development: relief, rehabilitation, and development. Each step plays a crucial role in rebuilding communities and supporting affected individuals.

The Stages of Long-term Change

The first stage in the process of helping communities is relief, which involves providing essential and temporary aid to those affected by the crisis. This aid may include food, water, shelter, medical supplies, and other basic needs. This is where a group is working for people in a giver-receiver dynamic. Relief aims to stop the bleeding and provide immediate support to those in need.

The stage that follows relief is rehabilitation, which seeks to restore affected individuals and communities to pre-crisis conditions. This stage involves working with the victims in partnership to help them recover and become self-sufficient. It is a crucial stage that empowers people to take control of their recovery and rebuild their community. Rehabilitation can include counseling services, livelihood support, and other assistance that help people adjust to their new routines.

The final stage is development, which involves creating sustainable change and growth in affected communities. This stage builds on the work done in the previous stages to develop long-term solutions to the problems the affected communities face. This stage helps communities go beyond where they were before while being better prepared for future disasters.

To give a broad example of these three stages, let’s say that a natural disaster strikes a community. Proving those immediate needs such as temporary housing, food and water, and clothing are part of relief. Rehabilitation would be helping the community rebuild homes, businesses, and schools and getting them back into operation. Development in this community could focus on working with the community to develop procedures to be prepared for another disaster.

The danger of misidentifying needs

Providing relief to a community is important in the short term, but it may cause problems when applied to situations that require rehabilitation or development. Continuously supplying aid without addressing the root cause of the problem can create a dependence on external support, which hinders long-term recovery. This dependence can unintentionally leave an organization and its partners in a position where all their resources go toward giving out continual aid without rebuilding the community to the point of self-sufficiency and stability. This means that if people stop giving, the community would be directly affected. This is the danger of staying in the relief phase.

It is also crucial to know when to provide relief. Carefully examining each community situation means considering the extent of the crisis, how much of the problem was self-inflicted, and recognizing if the community is in the place to do the work themselves. Doing things for others that they can do themselves creates unnecessary paternalism. Empowering self-sufficiency with a solution that fits a community’s culture, rather than trying to impose another culture, should be one of the main end goals for community development. Community involvement and ownership in development are crucial for sustainability.

Why this matters to SOS

At SOS, our mission is to create holistic, sustainable solutions for the communities we partner with by empowering Local Care Networks that are already doing good work. We participate in relief, rehabilitation, and development around the world, identifying where each community is and carrying it out through our four core areas of impact: food, water, rescue, and community development.

If you explore our core four areas of impact, you may notice a couple of themes. While we participate in emergency relief as an essential response to meet basic needs during a crisis, we also use each area of impact to carry out long-term community development. We put a high emphasis on partnering with local communities to find custom solutions that work best in the local context. Developing custom solutions is vital to strengthening communities and protecting at-risk children from traffickers and other dangerous external threats. This is only possible by walking alongside community leaders and working with communities to ensure sustainable development.

Developing communities to secure at-risk children does not just impact the present; it builds the future! Securing children and communities today changes the trajectory of their lives. The children who are impacted by effective development will grow up to become flourishing adults who lead in their community and develop the communities around them! Effective community development is multi-generational!


Corbett, S. C., & Fikkert, B. (2012). When Helping Hurts: How To Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting The Poor– And Yourself.

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