Aid, Women, and Leadership in Post-Conflict Societies

As civil conflicts end, relations among actors have to be (re)built. States and international donors know this, and as a result, a good portion of the cascade of international aid for post-conflict countries is focused on enhancing local cooperation among social actors. But do these interventions work? A common method used to increase cooperation among local actors—designed and bolstered by the World Bank—is the Community-Driven Reconstruction (CDR) approach, which is built on the assumption that bringing communities together to collectively manage public goods improves local governance.

In a recent paper, James Fearon, Macartan Humphreys, and Jeremy Weinstein evaluate the impact of a CDR program with a randomized control trial of communities in Northern Liberia. After the intervention, the researchers asked communities from both groups to play a “distribution game,” a game in which groups had to act collectively to distribute goods. Both treatment and control were divided in two: in half of the communities, 12 men and 12 women played the game, whereas in the other half of the communities, 24 women played the game.

The researchers visited the communities and explained that in one week, they would randomly choose 24 people from the community to receive 100LD (five USD, or close to a week’s wages). The individuals would have the option to contribute nothing, a part of, or all of those funds to a collective community fund. The researchers also explained that they would match the funds contributed by the selected individuals at two different “interest rates:” some players would have their contributions matched by a 100 percent rate (i.e. the researchers would double the contribution to the community fund), and some would have their contributions matched by a 400 percent rate (i.e. the researchers would pay five times the contribution).

In general, Fearon and his colleagues found that the CDR was effective. Communities participating earned better scores in the distribution game than those that did not, thereby contributing more to the community fund. CDR methodology, then, seems to be effective. However, the estimated CDR impact was almost entirely concentrated in the mixed-gender communities. In communities where both men and women played, CDR increased the score (contributions to the collective fund) from 67 percent to 82 percent, whereas in communities in which only women played, the score was always 84 percent, both in CDR and non-CDR communities.

This finding sheds some light on the mechanism that would explain why, and when, the CDR approach is effective. What can we learn from this specific difference between communities with only female players and communities with male and female players? What can we learn from this finding in Liberia that we can generalize to other settings?

The authors administered additional surveys to members of the communities about their values and attitudes toward the community, gathering detailed information about what happened in the communities during the week before the game was played. For mixed-gender communities, they found that exposure to Community-Driven Reconstruction did not lead to the selection of high valued projects, change the level of trust in community leaders, or cause people to value more community welfare over individual welfare. Instead, they found that the intervention of CDR caused greater mobilization efforts by leaders in the community (e.g. leaders had greater experience and ran more meetings, and communicated more with village members) who were also elected through more transparent and democratic mechanisms.

However, these effects were only observed in mixed-gender communities. CDR interventions had no effect in communities where people already knew that only women would play the game. In those cases, communities used the structures already available—women had built networks and structures previously, even before conflict had ended, to defend their interests—and not the mixed-gender structures created by the CDR intervention. The authors suggest that the value of CDR interventions is not so much in their broad impacts on the beliefs and preferences of community members about democracy, governance, or the collective well being, as it is in the interventions’ effects on leadership capital: local leaders’ skills and experience, as well as their capacity to mobilize.

The message for international aid agencies and their partners is to be aware of the type and magnitude of the leadership capital the intervention is creating. Any institution created by external interventions, such as CDR, will necessarily compete with pre-existing structures (in this case, all-women structures). Therefore, if policymakers want to foster more democratic or gender-balanced institutions at the local level, these institutions will have to be more effective than the pre-existing ones.

Article Source: Fearon, James D., Macartan Humphreys, and Jeremy M. Weinstein. “How Does Development Assistance Affect Collective Action Capacity? Results from a Field Experiment in Post-Conflict Liberia.” American Political Science Review 109(3), 2015.

Featured Photo: cc/(BethanyFank, photo ID: 51009366, from iStock by Getty Images)'
Jose Rafael Espinosa
Jose Rafael Espinosa is a Staff Writer for the Chicago Policy Review. He is interested in law, politics, and state-building in developing countries.

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