Community Economic Development

Rotary Focus Area 06 : Community Economic Development

Among all the Rotary Focus Areas, Community Economic Development is perhaps the trickiest to address but yields the most opportunity for sustainable growth in the long term. It is not merely something to be resolved overnight, but a multi-faceted issue spanning across the entire economy that needs to be addressed systematically. In 2021, nearly 800 million people, which is one in nine people around the world, live on less than $1.90 per day; the international poverty line set by The World Bank. The situation has been further aggravated by the global economic recession onset by COVID-19, which has eliminated the equivalent of 225million jobs worldwide according to the International Labor Organization (ILO).

With such a setting looming in the backdrop, it is certainly an intimidating predicament to face head-on. Where do we start? How do we make a meaningful impact? And what is the role of Rotary in all of this?

Economy, Community and Poverty

In addressing the challenge of community development, it is imperative to learn where the issues originate from. Even before the ravages of the pandemic, the symptoms of a rotting system hovered over these communities living in hardship. These communities exist all around the world with limited access to basic education, healthcare, opportunities as well as a being grossly taken advantage of and discriminated against, rarely being able to participate in the decision-making directly affecting their communities. These issues are oftentimes systematic in nature, having been perpetuated by years of discrimination, corruption or sheer incompetence in governance. Therefore, developing these communities refers to a holistic approach where all the above-mentioned issues are addressed, resulting in a considerable improvement of quality of life in these communities.

Community Economic Development

Opportunities for Productive Work

Unemployment is still rampant around the world with the total number of unemployed persons around the globe reaching an all-time high of 220.5 million in the year 2021. Despite the massive economic impairment caused by the pandemic, there is still an escalating demand for skilled labor all around the world, and within the unemployed population, there is a significant number of youth ideal to fill this market gap. A significant number of individuals are lacking the necessary skills, knowledge and experience to satisfy this market demand. Therefore, it is vital to expand opportunities for vocational training, specifically targeting this segment in society. In Sri Lanka alone there is vast opportunity for vocational training facilitated by the government and various non-profit organizations. However, there is little to no public awareness regarding these services nor are there systems in place to bridge these two parties effectively.

Women in the workforce?

Addressing just half the population in the endeavor for economic and community development is erroneous by design. The United Nations estimates that there were 122 women living in poverty for every 100 men within the common age group of 25-34. In Sri Lanka the women’s participation in the workforce is 32.5% compared to the whopping 72.4% participation for men. Even looking specifically at the youth, the unemployment rate of 36.3% for women is much higher compared to the 21.2% for men. It is evident that there is significant and untapped potential hidden behind these statistics. A holistic change encompassing entire communities is not possible without addressing the underlying discrepancies based on the primary demographic of the population. Therefore, empowering women into pursuing non-traditional routes of employment, removing cultural bias and stigma associated with women participating in the workforce and establishing systems in place to ensure the lack of any discrimination based on sex is imperative to changing the status quo.

Building entrepreneurial capacity

Perhaps one of the most effective ways of creating more jobs is to create more job creators. Setting up the environment to cultivate small-scale entrepreneurship is crucial in revamping the economy decimated by the pandemic. If the pandemic proved anything, it is the undeniable emergence of e-commerce as a viable alternative to the capital-intensive brick-and-mortar stores. Almost anyone with the know-how could start their own business with minimal initial investment. In this opportune setting, young entrepreneurs need to be encouraged and provided with the essential knowledge for financing assets, managing employees, and handling the various other intricacies of a new business.

Community Economic Development

Facilitating self-sufficiency and empowering local economies

In many instances, part of the equation is already well established in the form of local industries and artisanal crafts practiced in communities. Oftentimes these industries have been prevalent and persistent for generations, providing stable livelihoods for the communities with a self-sustaining local economy. However, with the rapid onset of globalization these small-scale industries which are vital to the wellbeing of the local communities, have come under threat. Colossal corporations and conglomerates are dominating the marketplace previously reserved for the local industries, making competition almost impossible. Empowering these local industries by providing them with the required infrastructure, investment in their businesses, helping them find the market for their products and establishing a longstanding relationship between the buyers and the sellers ensuring sustainable progress for both parties, would go a long way in revitalizing these local economies.

Rotary in the fight for Economic and Community Development

Rotary has used its vast arrays of tools and its status as an impactful global movement to make lasting changes in the communities around the world. Through expanding vocational training opportunities and establishing infrastructure dedicated towards the placement of local youth in jobs, Rotary continues to combat unemployment in rural communities. Furthermore, Rotary has partnered with local microlender groups and cooperatives to provide vital resources to fledgling entrepreneurs, effectively stimulating local economies through small-scale investments. Through the introduction of contemporary business resources such as mobile banking and e-commerce to these entrepreneurs, the Rotary movement endeavors to reinforce the ability of these businesses to face the market competition and be viable in the long run.

Rotary has contributed immensely to community development through a multitude of major initiatives,

Community Economic Development
  • Skills development and microcredit project in Esmeraldas, Ecuador done in partnership with FUDECE provides women in the local community with small loans and vocational training to start and expand businesses, empowering them and ascertaining self-sufficiency for their families.
  • Women in rural areas of Guatemala provided financial literacy courses and basic business knowledge while empowering them with microloans as seed-funding for profitable businesses.
  • Establishment of sustainable crop farming practices in west Cameroon through Rotary grant funding, focusing on the control of soil erosion, improved seed varieties, organic fertilizer use and increased income through better marketing strategies for products. 
  • The adopt-a-village sustainability project in Cambodia, focused around providing clean water and sanitation to the community in an effort to combat the rampant spread of cholera and typhoid, as well as establishing economic sustainability by initiating mushroom and pig farming, and a silk weaving venture.
  • Over 600 microloans and business training provided to poor business owners living in the Lenca Corridor of Honduras.

These initiatives stand as a testament to the possibility of sustainable, self-sufficient initiatives focused on developing our communities. Today, this continues to be one of the most pivotal issues of the world, indirectly connected to multiple other complications faced globally. The statistics grow ever higher with each passing year and the necessity for action gets more and more desperate as we go along. With our ever-increasing passion in Rotary, Rotaract and Interact to achieve Sustainable Development Goals, a little more attention directed towards our own local communities and their economies would have significant implications of global proportions.


  2. Economic and Community Development Project Strategies –
  3. Rotary’s Areas of Focus –
  4. ILO Monitor: COVID-19 and the world of work. Seventh edition.

Penned by Rtr. Randima Fernando in collaboration with the District Editorial Team

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