Red Flags in Community Development Projects

By Jeff Palmer, CEO on August 17, 2017 | Print

The word “dependency” carries a negative connotation in the development/ministry world. It is considered “bad” and something to absolutely avoid. For the next few weeks, we are going to learn about dependency: what is it, how do we avoid it, and do we always need to avoid it?

What is dependency?

Harmful dependency begins when we (outsiders) come into a community and begin doing things for community members that they can do for themselves. With good intentions, we become the decision makers and implementers of solutions to people’s problems. We enter a community, see the problems (from our perspective), propose solutions (based on our ideas), and either do the solution ourselves or oversee it in a way that ensures that our goals are being carried out.

This approach to relief and development raises all kinds of red flags.


  • This approach takes away the local people’s responsibility for the development of their communities and the dignity associated with it.
  • It devalues the local people’s capital such as abilities, resources, and creativity.
  • It tends to rob people of any future ability to address the thousands of other issues facing them.

Creating dependency devalues the community members as people and communicates to them that they are helpless, less than complete, and deficient, in need of help from others because they can’t solve their own problems.

Solving perceived problems as an outsider not only harms the local people whose poor self-image is already damaged, but it can be harmful to us as the outsiders. We ride in on our white horses of science, technology, and capitalism to save the day, reinforcing a “savior” mentality in us. This savior mentality turns the focus of the development project from the community’s need for interdependence and dependency on God to (harmful) dependency on us, the visitors.

What are some common types of dependency we face and need to avoid?

How can we avoid dependency issues?

Are there good types of dependency?

I’m glad you asked! We will cover these questions and more in our next few blogs.