Taking Control Over Own Development: Community Mobilisation in Myanmar

The 2021 military coup has cracked down on Myanmar’s fledgling democracy. Now, actors across the country are promoting self-sufficiency in local communities to keep civic spaces alive. Through an Orange Knowledge Tailor-Made Training, The Hague Academy is strengthening the capacities of civil society and non-governmental organisations across Myanmar to manage their resources, take leadership roles, deliver services and share knowledge. Hoping to embolden their efforts on inclusive, cooperative and sustainable civic initiatives, we share best practices for community mobilisation.

On February 1st, 2021, the military took control of Myanmar and NGOs, CSOs, and local communities across the country either ceased their operations or went into hiding. Still, many local actors and organisations have continued to oppose the military’s crackdown in non-violent ways. They are defending now-clandestine civic spaces and are taking control of their own provisions. As one of our partners in Myanmar reports: “the determination of the people to end military rule is strong.”

The Importance of Community Mobilisation

One of the primary duties of a government is to provide its people with services – such as healthcare and education – that benefit everyone in society. Since the 2021 coup, many local communities in Myanmar have been left to fend for themselves by an authoritarian regime. Community leaders across the country have taken the role of ensuring essential services to their villages and towns.

Community mobilisation is the process of engaging communities to identify community priorities, resources, needs and solutions. Community members collectively identify goals, and then make and implement plans to achieve their goals on behalf of the community. Their agency is encouraged, allowing them to take ownership of their own development. Community mobilisation is characterised by various attributes, such as participation, inclusion, accountability and promoting local voices.

In 2021, the Centre for Good Governance Myanmar provided a guide for development partners operating in the country: “It is crucial for development partners to defend the survival of civic space with embedded democratic, inclusive and rights-based values, as well as the overall resilience of civil society. This task includes providing support for organisations and individuals who can contribute to positive political and social change in Myanmar. It also includes promoting the increased participation and leadership of female, youth, and ethnic minorities within the civic space, as well as the (nonviolent) pursuit of an inclusive federal democratic settlement”.

A Tailor-Made Training on Community Mobilisation

In support of Myanmar’s civil society, The Hague Academy designed a training programme to provide online, self-paced training to 55 local community members. The training aims to support the nonviolent resistance of citizens, local communities, NGOs, and CSOs towards once again having a legitimate federal democratic government in Myanmar. By staying engaged with local civil society and non-state actors in Myanmar, this training can serve to maintain the civic space that was created during the democratic years. Preserving this civic space is crucial to protect the gains made before the military takeover in terms of democracy, good local governance, citizen participation, climate adaptation, water management and gender equality.

How Can Communities Take the Lead?

Effective community mobilisation can go a long way in maintaining inclusive and democratic processes. These are some of the steps that organised local communities can follow in this process:

  1. Tap into pre-existing communal structures

Every community has a leader that is usually supported by a group of formal representatives and/or informal advisors, like village elders, or yat mi yat pha in the case of Myanmar. Communities often also have other groups like a mother’s groups, youth groups, savings groups, religious groups and school committee.

Any of these groups or representatives from these groups may have already prioritised and planned development activities in their community. Communities could already have submitted plans to the local township, have resource maps, or be fundraising for a project. As an NGO or CSO, always check with your community before deciding where to begin your support.

  • Map and leverage existing community groups and structures: If existing groups are inadequately prepared or underrepresented by the community’s participants, provide targeted capacity development support and encourage the group to consider expanding membership.
  • While doing so, onboard community leaders: Some communities are eager to participate in a mobilisation effort. Others may be too busy, unwilling, or simply unable. It is essential to have a frank discussion at the outset with community leaders about the implications of participating in a community mobilisation campaign in terms of time and commitment. Only when community members are ready to accept their roles will the community mobilisation effort have a chance at success.
  1. Consider the decision-making structure of community mobilisation efforts

Approach community mobilisation as a co-creation exercise. Decisions should be made collectively by community representatives and based on their expressed needs.

  • Distribute decision-making authority: Avoid placing decision-making control in the hands of a single person or group of ‘notable persons.’ These activities, especially when accompanied by outside funding, can be easily subject to elite capture.
  • Get buy-in: If possible, obtain the buy-in of local authorities. This will ensure support for the project and facilitate future advocacy efforts should additional approvals or support be needed.
  • Share information and gather feedback: Establish a regular process of information dissemination along with a formal feedback and dispute resolution mechanism to provide a channel for communication and for the resolution of grievances.
  • Follow good practice: Ask community leaders and representatives to commit to the ideals of participatory decision-making, inclusion, and accountability in the process of the mobilisation exercise.
  1. Establish formal structures

When forming or reforming a village development committee, it is helpful to establish guiding documents like bylaws, an organisational chart and role descriptions.

  • Village Development Committee (VDC): A formal structure like a village development committee can help lead change efforts. VDCs serve as representative bodies for the community, coordinate community outreach and contributions, handle communication, facilitate dialogue with partners, manage data collection and mobilise funding. The VDC can be designed to incorporate other committees or groups like the community farmers group or water group.
  1. Funding Plan

Funding is an important part of realising most development plans. Communities should look both internally and beyond for development funds. Sources might include individual donors, in-kind donations (like time, land, and materials) from community members and local businesses, and grants from NGOs, or government funds. A fundraising plan can help guide outreach and communication efforts.

Another, more sustainable, way of raising funds is through the cultivation of revolving community funding mechanisms known as village development funds (VDF) and village savings and loan associations (VSLA). Members of VSLAs contribute a set amount on a regular basis to a group fund. They can then take small interest loans for business or emergency needs. As interest accumulates, the fund grows. Profits can be used for more loans, distributed to members as dividends, and saved toward community development goals.


The steps highlighted above were drawn from the online modules on Community Mobilisation and Non-Governmental Service Delivery, developed for the programme by expert Aaron Leonard.

For more information regarding the training programme, please contact Programme Manager Oscar Alvarado (oscar.alvarado@thehagueacademy.com).

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