Home Page


中文 / Zhōngwén
Ελληνικά / Elliniká
Српски / Srpski


Other formats:


Other Pages:


Site Map

Key Words


Utility Documents

Useful Links










Transforming Charity to Empowerment

by Phil Bartle, PhD

Strategy Paper

How to convert an assistance programme from one designed as an emergency response to one that supports sustainable, self reliant development

Transformation: From Dependence to Empowerment:

The disaster might have been war or civil war, a huge natural disaster like an island sinking into the ocean, or civil unrest forcing refugees to seek refuge in a neighbouring country. Where people have lost their homes, sources of income and food supplies, their livelihoods, their parents and children, their identity, their essential services that helped them to be who they were, then they have survived a disaster that is considered in this training document.

An assistance program based upon emergency response to a human disaster has already been set up, has staff in place, and is operating. The immediate survival needs of the society and beneficiary communities are taken care of, and the society is in a state of transition from one where emergency response was needed, to one where transitional and development assistance is now needed.

The development assistance desired is that which will contribute to a sustained self reliance (removal of dependency) of the beneficiaries, in a stable and secure environment. See Community Empowerment. This training module looks at what changes are needed in an emergency response programme, and what changes are needed in an agency administering the programme.

It is for both mobilizers and managers.

The Need for a Transformation in Programme:

The situation is in flux. The time for providing emergency response assistance is passing, and the time for providing assistance to sustained development is here. The agency as an assistance organization must therefore be flexible and adapt to these changing times.

To do so it must have a staff that is familiar with the concepts of social change, community development, self reliance, sustainability and empowerment, and have the willingness, skills and organization necessary for itself to be transformed to meet the changing sets of needs.

The purpose of this module is therefore to review the concepts and principles central to the new approach, provide guidance on assessing staff ability to be able to change, and to provide guidance to make the organizational changes needed to implement a development assistance program.

The staff will already have a good idea of their own organizational strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats (SWOT). This exercise will aim at guiding their assessments into an holistic analysis. Should the organization and its programme continue as before? Shut down? Transform to something new? or move elsewhere? This decision can be assisted by the product of a SWOT session.

Introduction; A Medical Metaphor:

Metaphors have their limitations. In this one, no one can argue that a community which has faced and survived a disaster is the same as a person who has had an accident. What is pertinent, however, is that there is a parallel in what professional treatment is required when the emergency is over and it is time for the slower, less exciting phase of recovery and growth.

When a person has an accident and, say, breaks a bone in the arm, then an emergency response is needed. Medical professionals will set the bone and put the arm in a plaster-of-Paris cast. Analgesics (pain killers, eg morphine derivatives) may be prescribed. After some time the anaesthetic must be withdrawn so as to avoid addiction by the patient.

The body of the patient produces bone callus to hold the pieces of bone together, but the muscles are becoming weaker when they are not being used. After six weeks, when bone callus has begun to knit the pieces of bone together, the cast must come off. This is painful and traumatic for the patient, and the medical practitioners must be firm and non-emotional. If the cast is not removed, then the muscles of the arm will atrophy and the arm weakens.

The patient has become dependent upon the cast and must be weaned off it in order to become fully functional and healthy again. It is now time for the long and tedious grind of physiotherapy to bring the arm muscles and bone up to the strength they were prior to the accident.

A community or society that undergoes a human or natural disaster is, in several ways, like that patient. In the adrenaline-rich excitement of the disaster and immediate aftermath, aid is given freely because it is essential for survival.

But a time will come when the charity can become a negative factor and must be replaced with empowerment-aimed, development assistance; the tedious physiotherapy. Like the patient's muscles, the decision-making and responsibility-taking elements of the community may atrophy for lack of practice. See Dependency.

The professional assistance staff must remain calm and firm. There is a temptation to keep handing out the charity assistance for too long, weakening the community, perhaps because it is too easy to just keep doing the same thing, perhaps because there are vested interests in it remaining, perhaps because the leadership lacks vision. The professionals have to learn and know when to take the cast off and to start administering the physiotherapy, when to phase out the charity and to phase in the empowerment assistance. It is a difficult decision to make and there will be resistance from both staff and beneficiaries.

The program must be transformed. The professionals must design and implement that transformation; a challenge of heroic proportions.

The Continuum is Not Automatically Continuous:

Among professionals and practitioners in the bilateral and multilateral donor agencies, this transformation is called the “continuum.”

The word “continuum,” however, can be misleading.It implies a continuity or a smooth transition between the emergency response and the development assistance, a metaphor of a “change of gears” between first gear and second gear. There is no natural continuity, however, and the only smoothness of transition lies in how competent the assistance agency's staff are. While the change should be as smooth as possible, and should minimize trauma and shock, it is closer to a metaphor of a “change in gears” from reverse gear to forward gear.

Providing charity as an emergency response immediately after the disaster contributes to immediate survival, but it also weakens. Accident patients, whether they have been hurt or not, should not expect to live out their lives in an ambulance. Providing charity is easy to do (when the resources are available) by the assistance staff and easy to accept by the beneficiaries (like wearing the cast and taking the pain killers). Assisting the beneficiaries to participate in choosing, planning, and obtaining necessary resources, in contrast, is tedious, hard work, and slow (like the physiotherapy).

Expect resistance to the transformation by both the assistance staff and the beneficiaries.

A Participatory Approach:

The task at hand is to transform the program of the agency, and to retrain and re-orient the staff away from the previous “charity” approach and towards an “empowerment” approach. This transformation can not be done without the active and motivated participation of the staff (national and international) in the country.

If the staff are disgruntled and sceptical, they will predict it will not work, engage in sabotage, and ensure a self fulfilling prophecy. If, in contrast, they are involved in decision-making and planning necessary for the redesign, they are more likely to feel a sense of responsibility (sometimes called “ownership”) of the transformed program, and will work more towards making it a success.

Providing charity may give some staff some rewards over and above their salaries and the satisfaction of seeing people survive; it is a potential for obtaining personal obligations, power and prestige (personal gain). This must be acknowledged and observed, because an “empowerment” methodology, in contrast to the “charity” approach, does not offer those same kinds of rewards. This often constitutes a vested interest in resisting transformation of a program. It may have to be counter-acted by a range of measures, from counselling such staff, up to, in extreme cases, terminating some contracts.

Involving all staff in the identification of the need for transformation, briefing on the implications of such a transformation, participatory decision making about needed changes, and planning (including the making of work plans, new job descriptions, program documents, staff re-organization), thorough and sympathetic understanding and discussion of all mentioned objections to the proposed changes, and staff involvement in seeking solutions to expected problems, will contribute to minimizing and counteracting vested interests in resisting agency changes and program transformation.

We know that the involvement of all members of a beneficiary community in the decision making, planning and implementation of a community project helps to promote sustainability, transparency, improved governance, and project success. The same applies to country staff involvement in the transformation.

The Key Substantive Topics:

What training in concepts is essential for the staff to understand what the transformation from a charity to a development programme? The basics in social change, community development and stability are reviewed here. For more extensive list of topics, various training pages on this site review the concepts and principles that are essential to a developmental support programme. Site Map

Staff training in social change should be non-academic (in the sense of having much literature review and class assignments). It must be based upon sound sociological principles and thoroughly anchored in practical and concrete situations. It requires an understanding of the sociological perspective of the nature of society, the relationship between social and individual, and the process of change.

The development briefing should be focused upon empowerment principles, poverty reduction/elimination (not alleviation), development (not charity and dependency), and management training modified for community capacity development. It must concentrate less on delivering / providing social services and more on methods to strengthen the community.

Stability principles are based upon a security approach, in a post-disaster context, where emergency response methodology needs to be converted or transformed to self-reliance promotion (without losing sight of the need for continued food security and other post-war concerns). It is not enough to memorize a definition of the key concepts, but this also needs a discussion that relates several of the concerns which are encompassed by them: empowerment, dependency, security, sustainability, self reliance, charity, society, participation, management, community, and others.

See: Key Words

Start a Programme Transformation with a Needs Assessment:

Too often a development assistance organization will start planning with a sectors approach. “We have medical personal and teachers, so we will provide health care and education.” This results in disorganized and unbalanced resource provision in the affected society. The assistance is based upon the agency's needs rather than the beneficiary society's conditions.

Development assistance planning needs to be based upon conditions in the beneficiary society. It should begin with an assessment of developmental needs, a participatory assessment in which the beneficiaries work in partnership with the agency. The assessment should determine what kinds of assistance will contribute to sustained self reliance, poverty reduction, civic engagement, increased health, gender balance, good governance and other mutually identified goals of development.

Social Change:

Social change is a social process, not merely a collection of individual changes. Society and community, while composed of individual humans, are not the same as individual humans, do not function the same way as individual humans, and do not grow or change like individual humans.

The concept “superorganic” implies that a community or society transcends individual humans; the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. See Culture. Individuals enter and leave by birth, death and migration (as inorganic atoms enter and leave a living organism), but the society or community continues.

A social system is composed of learned behaviour and beliefs, patterns of interaction and expectations. The social unit of transmission and reproduction is the symbol, not the gene. See Community.

The six social dimensions include: (1) technological / capital, (2) economic / wealth, (3) political / power, (4) social / institutional, (5) ideology / values, and (6) beliefs / world view. Each of those dimensions is linked to all the others, and changes in one dimension affect all others.

Sociologists have taken various approaches to understanding social change, since Marx, who suggested that changes in the technological and economic dimensions occur first (through a dialectic / phoenix process) and cause changes in the other four dimensions. Max Veber, in contrast, suggested that changes in the values and beliefs dimensions occur first and cause changes in the remaining four. Modern sociologists see change as much more complex, and that all six dimensions are involved in the change.

Societies and communities continuously change; none remain constant. What may appear to be a “structure” in a society or community is like the “structure” of moving water in a fountain; its “stability” may be more apparent than real.

On a practical level, instruments of social change, mobilizers and facilitators, including development oriented NGOs and governmental agencies, do not change society or community; society and community change themselves. The most a change agent can do is to act as a catalyst to that change, and perhaps have some minuscule effect on the rate and direction of that change. To be effective, such agents must become aware of the difference between actions of individuals in a community or society, and changes (usually towards increased social complexity) in the whole community or society itself.

When a society changes around an individual, the effect can be similar to that individual migrating to a new community; the discomfort experienced by that individual (acculturation) can be similar to what was called “culture shock.” For an organization to function effectively in a rapidly changing community or society, the individuals in the organization must be able to observe and predict social changes, and be able to plan and to change plans accordingly.


“No one can develop a society; society develops itself.” Julius Nyerere

Development does not simply mean becoming more wealthy, or getting bigger amounts of income. Development means changing and growing. It is social change in all six sociological dimensions. Community development, in this series, is not the provision of social services, but the methods that will encourage, guide, and perhaps influence that sociological development, as applied to a community.

When an acorn grows and develops, it does not simply become a huge acorn, it changes shape, develops new organs, and becomes an oak tree. So too a community or society; development is social change, not merely increase in size.

The most common direction of social change is in the direction of increased complexity, increased organization, ie development. When a new organization is formed, or when new roles are added to an existing organization, then social complexity is increased.

An agent of change may have goals different from the people in communities and societies that are the targets of change or the beneficiaries of aid or assistance. It is necessary for the change agent to be clear on its goals, and its values (to be human is to have values; no person or organization can be value-free). Negotiation and communication are needed so that the agent and the target group understand and accept each others values.

An agency may have general and implied developmental goals and values such as: poverty reduction, transparency, gender and ethnic balance and fairness, good governance, democratisation, peace, literacy, capacity development, good health, self reliance, civil engagement, social tolerance, community and national unity, empowerment, respect for human rights, rule of law, social harmony, religious tolerance, and others that are built into its program and project objectives. Beneficiaries may have the same or similar values, but perhaps not with the same emphasis on each. We can not assume that these are universally shared values. It is important, as part of the team building and transformation of the agency (its staff and its organization), that the elements of desired social change (each understood to be an essential part of the development process) be identified, clarified and recorded. The same must be done with the beneficiaries (target groups).

Without clarification and mutual understanding, the beneficiaries and the agency may work at cross purposes, internally and with each other.

See: Hidden.


No community or society can remain the same; change is inevitable, ubiquitous and continuous. Sometimes, when change is rapid as during contact of radically different societies, war, migrations, and major political developments (eg conquering empires), it can be violent and traumatic. Change can not be prevented, but it is wise to prepare for it and to find ways to protect society and community members from the most negative effects of rapid and violent change.

Food security is only one aspect; security of all the basic survival requirements (shelter, health, safety, predictability) is needed. Survival security (secure sources of food, shelter, etc) is the major contributor to peace and security in a community or society.

In any disaster situation (human or natural) the immediate requirement is satisfied by emergency response, and is based on a “charity” model (the beneficiaries need assistance to survive, and the donors provide it). The major drawback to the charity methodology is that it can not be sustained past the provision of aid by the donors. To sustain that security, two factors are needed: (1) there must be a level of capacity contributing to self reliance, that the affected community can become strong enough to support itself, and (2) the ecological environment must be such that it can sustain the survival of the community.

For an agency to contribute to self sustaining survival security it requires a radical “change of gears,” from charity (emergency response) to a development (empowerment) mode. The transition is misnamed as the "continuum" approach, where an emergency response methodology needs to be converted to self-reliance promotion (without losing sight of the need for continued food security and other post-war survival necessities).

To sustain self reliance and to promote and stimulate social change towards increased survival security, an “empowerment” approach is needed, where the dependency syndrome is counteracted and where, especially, the beneficiaries (target groups) participate in the decision making and planning of their own development.

Sustained self reliant development calls for an empowerment approach. Simple charity (ie just handing out resources to the beneficiaries), promotes and encourages dependency.

Where the beneficiaries must struggle or exercise and expend energy as they provide for themselves, they will more likely become stronger. To sustain a process of increased food (and other survival) security – therefore stability – requires empowerment, capacity development and strengthening, not charity which encourages weakness, poverty and dependency ─ therefore instability.

The Four Key Questions of Management:

As with empowerment methods to help and guide a community in its own development, the modification of management training is a useful technique in involving the staff in their own program transformation, and in encouraging sustainable success in the transformation.

The core of all planning and management, including the production of documents such as work plans, plans of action, project designs, program designs (and as frames for progress reports and monitoring), are included in the four key questions:

  1. What do we want?
  2. What do we have?
  3. How do we use what we have to get what we want? and
  4. What will happen when we do?

Question one includes the background, definition of the problem, and identification of broad goals and specific objectives. Question two is a situational analysis, observation of potential and realized assets and liabilities, inputs, constraints and hindrances.

Question three involves general and specific descriptions of strategy, scheduling, organizational changes (for decision making and for action) and proposed set-up. Question four encompasses not only predictions of expected output and impact, but should also indicate methods of monitoring and assessment the process during implementation.

When involving staff in the transformation of an agency from an emergency response approach to an empowerment approach, and when involving a community in determining and planning its own development, these four key questions can be used in the facilitation of the needed involvement.

While the primary goal of the agency is to transform its country program from emergency response to developmental assistance, the goals of individual staff members more likely are in terms of their own job security and career hopes. These may at first appear to be in conflict of interest, especially if they are not voiced and examined.

Some staff members may feel threatened by the proposed transformation (perhaps fearing their job will become redundant). When these concerns are aired in participatory staff sessions (eg the brainstorm), solutions are more likely to be generated. These may include some staff retraining, some changes in approach and orientation, and some organizational restructuring, which can be gentle, phased, transparent and incremental.

Some staff on their own may decide that they are not prepared to adapt, and will seek employment elsewhere rather than to stay and sabotage the transformation process.

See: Four Key Questions.

Assessing Capacity:

Capacity (strength, power) is the “ability”’ to do something. Here the “something” is that which the members of the organization or the community as a whole have decided to do or to achieve. (In the context of this exercise of changing from an emergency response team to a development assistance team, the “something” is the ability to make that transformation). In community development, the “something” is the ability of a community to determine its own destiny.

Capacity development (strengthening, empowerment) is a process of increasing the strength of an organization or community. Measuring those changes, similarly, is best done using participatory methods.

Capacity can be seen to have sixteen elements: altruism, communal services, communications, confidence, context, information, intervention, leadership, networking, organization, power, shared values, skills, trust, unity, wealth.

When the whole of the staff, or the whole of a community, is involved in the assessment of the relative strengths of each of the sixteen elements, and changes in each, then a useful index of capacity (and changes in capacity) can be produced. To obtain that involvement, a facilitator must use methods to draw out the separate observations of all staff or members and then combine them into a single assessment.

To obtain a measurement of capacity and its increase, the facilitator needs to explain each element, and explain how each participant can make an assessment of the present level of capacity and changes in capacity over some previous time periods. As part of a group process, the facilitator can combine all assessments to make an index of capacity and of changes (usually increases) in that capacity. Please see: Measuring Capacity.

Measuring capacity of an organization is very similar in principle to measuring empowerment of a community. The task for the agency staff participants in this exercise is to measure the capacity of the country organization to transform itself and its program from emergency response charity to assistance in beneficiary communities achieving sustained self reliant development.

What does the program and its staff need to have in order to transform itself? Use the four key management questions. What is its capacity now and its potential to make the transformation?

Every Programme is Different:

A training document like this can not predict all the characteristics of a programme; every agency and every country programme has its own unique set up. There are a few patterns that can be predicted however, and they can mentioned here.

A good emergency response programme may be set up with frequent, say semi-annual, reviews where observations and assessments by the staff are shared in a programme staff meeting. If this has not been the case, then it is a good time to start now.

In a staff meeting, conduct a SWOT session. SWOT is just an acronym for strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. For each of those categories, a facilitator asks staff to write down a list of attributes that apply to the programme. If "threat” is too strong a word, then substitute it with “hindrances” or “barriers."

Then the facilitator calls for members to call them out, puts them onto a board (see the Brainstorm session), groups them together and identifies the most important. These can be summarized and collated by a reporter, and the finished document circulated among staff as well as studied in detail by planners and managers.

When the main issue is the transformation of the programme from charity to development assistance, then the staff should be asked to emphasis the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats that relate to transforming the programme from charity to development.

You may likely find that the programme staff organization has a preponderance of staff that are skilled and experienced in things such as counting (demography), controlling inventory, logistics, and distribution. You are less likely to find persons skilled in income generation, self help mobilizing, management training (unless the charity programme had a large developmental aspect built into it; which is good, but less likely).

The fortunate thing, and certainly something in the minds of staff who may feel threatened by the transformation, is that most staff who have the energy, intelligence, loyalty, and positive attitude to run a good charity programme, therefore also have a good potential for on-the-job re-training needed for a transformation of programme. What they need is flexibility and a willingness to learn and be trained in the new approach. Those lacking those attributes (not those lacking the specific skills) are the ones who may well start seeking new employment.

The skills and techniques needed are found throughout these training pages. The concepts are mentioned above, and explained in more detailed in several training pages on this web site.

What is needed, then, is a transparent and participatory process for the conversion to a developmental programme, involving all the staff. The managers of the agency need to use a participatory and facilitative approach (methods which are also included in the training pages on this site) in designing a new programme.

Increasing Capacity:

There are several appropriate actions that will contribute to an increase in capacity (strengthening, empowerment) of an organization and/or community.

A good start would be to use the same sixteen elements that were used for capacity assessment and, in group sessions identify which ones may be most appropriate for the current situation, which will yield the greatest results, and which are most needed. For each of them, brainstorm sessions can be used as participatory processes to generate and select the best strategies. See: Developing Capacity.

One of the most popular of the sixteen elements is “skill.” A participatory approach may be useful as a way to generate a training and skill acquisition program (curriculum). Be cautious that the training may become an end in itself, for many individuals desire training that furthers their own career but might not necessarily contribute to increased capacity of the organization. Non-formal, hands-on, practical, unorthodox, on-the-job training, where “doing” is more important than reading or listening to lectures, is usually more useful and effective for capacity development.

A useful strategy is to identify a priority need (using a brainstorm session) and facilitate the beneficiaries in choosing, planning, implementing and monitoring its own action (eg a project or operation). In this and the above “learning -by-doing” approach, the community or organization can increase its capacity. See: Brainstorm, Notes for the Facilitator

Remember that any organism will become weak when things are too easy for it; and become stronger when it struggles. A sports trainer knows that a person needs lots of exercise to strengthen muscles and tone. A teacher knows that a pupil needs mental exercises to strengthen the brain. A community or an organization will not become stronger when everything is given to it, but when it struggles. Using participatory methods, then, how can an organization's capacity be increased to be able to convert a program of charity for emergency response to a program of development assistance in support of sustained empowerment of the beneficiary communities?


After the emergency is over, there is a tendency for momentum in providing charity that was justified initially as emergency response. There is likely to be some resistance to change by those not fully aware of how the change can benefit them.

Not only is the charity no longer needed, it can contribute to sustained poverty and can hinder development. An assistance agency which has been involved in the emergency response, and which chooses to remain for the following stages of recovery, rehabilitation and development, can not use the same methods of the past, and must transform its programme.

The concepts needed to understand the needed newly changed methods can be found here and in other training documents on this web site. Staff do not necessarily have to be replaced, most can be retrained for operating the new programme, and most of their needed training material is available in the documents on this site.

The changes needed in the organization, its staffing, its structure, and its outputs are all achievable if done transparently and involving all staff, and guidelines for that are among the management training material on this site.

See the Site Map.


Disaster Strikes:

Disaster Happens

© Copyright 1967, 1987, 2007 Phil Bartle
Web Design by Lourdes Sada
Last update: 2012.10.03

 Home page