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Improving community security

Saferworld’s approach to community security is about putting people in the lead and helping them to improve their experiences of safety and security. It is an approach to programming and policy, but also a philosophy about what security is, who it is for and how it is delivered.

Saferworld believes people should always be at the centre of interlinked peace, security and development interventions. Unfortunately, security is still often considered as primarily a state issue. This misses the truth that insecurity is a personal experience characterised by absence: absence of protection; of paths to redress grievance; of fair access to resources; and of rights. These insecurities are barriers to development and contribute to cycles of violence that prevent people leading safe, fulfilling and dignified lives.

For over ten years Saferworld has developed an approach to responding to these insecurities that we refer to as ‘community security’. Community security is a powerful approach that builds human security and contributes to wider peace and development goals. If the peace and development community are to make good on our commitments to strengthen relations between states and societies and improve people’s experiences of security, community security must become a principle tool shaping the policies and programmes of international actors.

Community security identifies and responds to local perceptions of security by working through both formal and informal systems, and often acting as a bridge between them. Evidence suggests that skipping straight to a model in which the state is the only authority sanctioned to rule, while other, informal authorities are bypassed, is impractical. Instead, what is needed are investments in transitional interventions that build upon existing capacities and sources of legitimacy, which are rooted not in legal or territorial rules alone, but on local perceptions and priorities.

Community security affirms the need for institutional and technical reforms, but rejects the idea that security is the sole preserve of the state. The public must be engaged and be given the opportunity to articulate security concerns to their providers as well as be a part of planning and implementing responses. The focus of reforms, meanwhile, should be redirected towards supporting effective and responsive decentralised service delivery mechanisms that build upon local capacities for change.

This requires a shift in focus away from the form of institutions towards improving their functions; a shift away from investments in either the state or society and toward efforts to increase interactions and trust between them. It necessitates investments in existing informal arrangements for service delivery and decision-making. And it requires far more nuanced appreciation of the myriad interests and incentives that drive local populations and national elites.

Saferworld’s approach to community security developed from working directly with communities living in conflict-affected contexts. We always work with local partners and see this as an integral part of our approach.

Since our initial work in Kosovo we have worked with communities and partners to implement community security programmes in a wide range of contexts including Bangladesh, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, MyanmarNepal, Somalia, South Sudan, and the Caucasus, among others.

In 2012 Saferworld began a four-year, multi-country project in Bangladesh, South Sudan and Yemen funded by the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs - Improving the conditions for reconstruction and development in Bangladesh, South Sudan and Yemen.The aim of the project is to contribute to an improved environment for reconstruction and development in these three countries. It sets out to do this by creating more active, informed and inclusive societies, and more effective and accountable institutions – in turn increasing public safety and security.

Our work on community security is closely linked to our work with security providers more broadly – for instance, working with police services around the world to promote a community-based, democratic model of policing. One example of this is work with the police service in Kenya.

In the Caucasus we are supporting communities and authorities to map their security needs, identify priorities and plan solutions which can build trust and reduce tensions. And in many contexts, our work on community security is intimately connected with work on issues around the proliferation of small arms and light weapons, such as in the Karamoja region of north-eastern Uganda.

And our work on community security doesn’t stop with our programming. We also draw on ‘in-country’ experiences to work with policy makers, politicians and civil society in donor countries and international institutions to promote a more integrated and ‘people-centred’ approach to security.

Each of our programmes on community security is context specific but there are substantial similarities between our programmes. We have established an internal community security group to consolidate and build on our collective knowledge and better share experiences of the challenges and successes of implementing community security.

This list of resources will be expanded. Items listed here do not necessarily represent the views of Saferworld.

Featured projects

Photos: Communities First

Featuring the work of award-winning photographer Marcus Perkins, this photo essay tells the story of individuals and communities in South Sudan, Bangladesh and Yemen.

Community Security Handbook

Based on our extensive experience, Saferworld's Community Security handbook sets out the steps involved in planning, implementing, evaluating and improving Community Security interventions.

Video: Putting people at the heart of security and justice

In this short film featuring interviews from community members, partners and staff we explore what a community security approach means.