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Yesterday I shared with you some thoughts about how smallholder farmers must be strengthened so they can help feed the world's growing population. Today, I want to share with you the importance of community development.

Economic growth for its own sake is not a solution. For economic growth to make sense and to make lasting change, there has to be community development—it must contribute to a better life for the least of us just as much as it improves life for those of us with the most.

For Heifer, community development comes through training in our Cornerstones for Just and Sustainable Development. These values, such as gender equity, full participation, sharing and caring, accountability and training and education, are the backbone of our work.

Community Development through Heifer's Cornerstones

Embedded into a family’s life and culture, these values create significant social change. Women gain their voice and become leaders in their communities. Husbands learn respect and help their wives. Co-ops form, savings accounts are created and, in time, entire communities, entire countries change.

Community development is the foundation for market development, and building social capital and ensuring gender equity is the highest form of pro-poor development.

Without community development, market development doesn’t last. Market development typically works against the poor, so Heifer International provides the structure and tools families need to compete fairly. These include resources such as animals and training to help them achieve resilience, but we also provide them access to others in the value chain that add value and provide access to cash. These are critical needs, not nice to haves for these smallholder farm families.

We call this Heifer’s Healthy Hoofprint—and it creates material change such as increases in income and nutrition; attitudinal change in values and social norms, where farmers who once isolated themselves now collaborate and cooperate; and external change, including changes in laws and policies by governments and other NGOs.

But it’s got to be about more than income, it’s also about what that income means to them, how it helps improve their lives beyond basic needs. It’s about more than helping them grow more food. It’s about helping them grow better food—more nutritious, more diverse, providing a year-around diet that supports three protein-laden meals every day of every month. There can be no more lean months.

Community development creates individual and collective prosperity.

It’s about helping them help cool and improve the planet, using more organic fertilizers like manure from their animals, implementing good sanitary practices—using latrines and protecting water supplies. It’s about empowering women to their proper place and role—equal partners in progress and profits, and as leaders. We must ensure they have a say in their education, contribute to decisions in the household, have mobility and unfettered access to services and markets—equality in all they do and seek.

There must be other intangibles—key pieces of community development—as well. There is strength in numbers, so we must help them behave collectively, for the good of the community as well as the good of the family. There must be social inclusion and trust, especially trust. We see that in our projects that continue to heal the wounds of war and conflict in Rwanda, Kosovo and Cambodia.

We, and others who support us, believe our attention to community development, alongside asset development, contributes to our success. As families use our livestock to increase food production and diversity, the Cornerstones foster change that spans generations. In some communities, we are seeing families celebrate 13 generations of Passing on the Gift.

Sheep as agents of community development.

Imagine that. One sheep became two, then four, then eight. After 13 generations, that is 4,096 sheep and 4,096 additional families benefitting from the original sheep and training. That’s impact!

Come back tomorrow to the Heifer Blog to learn about how measuring our impact is key to demonstrating the changes created by our work.


Pierre Ferrari

Pierre Ferrari is president and CEO of Heifer International. Pierre is very passionate about empowering the families and communities with whom Heifer works: “It took me decades, but I have come to know that the only way to happiness and joy is to be of service to others.” Pierre’s other joys are his wife, Kim, his two sons and two stepdaughters. In his free time he enjoys golf, squash, reading and travel.