Looking back on community based protection in the DRC: Oxfam’s legacy

Helen Lindley-Jones Humanitarian, Protection

Five years after Oxfam’s funding and support for community protection work in one part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) had stopped, we wanted to find out if the work was still having an impact, and if so, how. Helen Lindley-Jones (former Oxfam National Protection Coordinator in the DRC) summarises Oxfam’s learning published in the evaluation report If we don’t do it, who will?, and the research report Protection and Governance: Linking good practice in protection and governance programmes in the DRC.

What happens when an INGO goes back to find out the long term effects of its community-based programmes? Oxfam’s DRC protection team did just that. They wanted to find out what (if any) protection work was still going on five years after the programme had formally ended, and to use those findings to design even better protection programmes, building on strengths and learning from mistakes.

Since 2009, Oxfam and Congolese partner organisations have implemented a protection programme in three provinces in the DRC. The programme supports elected Community Protection Structures (16 men and 31 women) to develop Community Protection Plans: these identify context specific protection threats (including illegal road barriers and taxes, arbitrary arrests and multiple forms of Gender Based Violence and discrimination) and engage with local duty bearers on actions to mitigate them.

Since inception, the programme has been adapted in line with learning outcomes: commissioning the evaluation report and research report typifies this high level programme learning commitment.

Oxfam partners and staff revisited 30 communities to see, hear and discuss what had happened in the five years since they’d left. The research provides useful insights, for protection practitioners and those working with governance more broadly.

Oxfam’s legacy – what did the research team find five years on?

  • Most ‘Community Protection Structures’ (CPS) are still active –  in 23 out of 30 communities CPS were still meeting regularly as a group and organising to raise awareness, discuss and advocate on protection issues. In the other 7 communities, protection activities continued but on an individual basis rather than as a group.
  • What they were doing had often changed over time – in some communities, members had stopped meeting as a CPS (by choice or because all community meetings had been banned by the army) but engaged individuals continued: to confidentially refer survivors of abuse to local authorities, provide information on self protection strategies and to raise protection issues in other fora such as Local Development Committees.
  • ‘Seeing that things could improve’ inspired many to continue – experiencing real change motivated many to continue for fear of “the situation returning to how it was”.
  • Others had stopped for a variety of reasons outside the programme’s control – including moving away and the sheer scale of the challenge.

How these findings are informing Oxfam’s Protection work in the DRC

Although challenging, the research paid dividends and holds value for practitioners working in other fragile and conflict affected contexts. It would not have been possible without buy in from partners and staff, for the design and the delivery, but critically to discuss results and propose recommendations to mitigate identified challenges.

Increased confidence and ability of CSC members to engage with local authorities is the most important factor in increasing sustainability

  • Models need to be context sensitive and flexible – differences even within relatively small geographical areas within the DRC require adaptation; meaning, for example, that differing levels of politicisation make CPS participation in weekly security meetings either appropriate or unwise
  • Work with national partner organisations, including local advocacy networks – not only do they understand their context, but they can continue to provide support long after Oxfam has left.
  • Make at least a two year commitment -again this varies with context, but particularly in a context of chronic crisis, sustainability should not be hostage to one year funding cycles and short termism
  • Consider how to support the next generation of leaders, build the skills and confidence of a cadre of community volunteers – to enable the development of positive relationships with incoming local authority representatives, decreasing reliance on individuals
  • Create realistic exit plans with CPS at the outset
  • Invest in people – programme sustainability is rooted in programme quality in the short term and that means investing in staff to develop community level knowledge, skills and confidence in order to  inspire and support future generations in their advisory and support roles
  • Introduce ‘new’ CPS to ‘old’ CPS – ‘new’ CPS can learn from the ‘old’ who may benefit from different types of support as their roles evolve

Learning from experience what supports sustainability is really important. The need for protection work to continue, with or without Oxfam, cannot be over-emphasized.

The last word goes to a CPS Member, describing the difference the programme has made, “The women were very scared before [the work of the Protection Programme] of going before the authorities but now we all go.  If my child was raped before I would have been quiet, but now no one is quiet, we would go to the authorities to make sure they are arrested.”

Further reading:

Diego Redondo Cripovich