Community Development

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“What should young people do with their lives today? Many things, obviously. But the most daring thing is to create stable communities in which the terrible disease of loneliness can be cured.” 

― Kurt Vonnegut, Palm Sunday: An Autobiographical Collage

“The essential challenge is to transform the isolation and self-interest within our communities into connectedness and caring for the whole.”

― Peter Block, Community: The Structure of Belonging

There are many definitions of community development, and each are informed by specific values and ideologies, and specific contexts in time. But all appear to focus on empowering communities to be more self-reliant.


The issues or problems in the community are defined by external parties in community work, while in community development, groups and members in the community are supported to identify issues, problems or concerns that affect them.

[Here, we will take stock of how others have defined these terms, and arrive at our own definitions so that it can encompass the wide array of work and the relevant key constructs (e.g. participation, empowerment, social justice etc). Also how different groups define it could vary, eg government, social workers, community workers etc, so we should take note of this]

Community Development

The purpose of community development is to create 'solidarity' and 'agency'. The approach is guided by the principles of encouraging self-help, attending to subjectively felt needs and supporting participation (See Bhattacharyya 2004[1] or a summary here).

S Vasoo

S Vasoo has defined it as "planned changes undertaken through the efforts of the government, corporate sector and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) or voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs) to promote community better and and community problem solving" - ostensibly the goal is to promote self-help.

Empowerment/Social Justice Model

A democratic process where the community comes together to take collective action to determine its own needs and how they should be met (Ife, 2016; Ledwith, 2016).

Expounded by the principles of social and environmental justice, Ledwith (2016) describes community development as the practice of “seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary” rooted in the vision of a far, just and sustainable world (p. 5).

Core values: Empowerment, co-operation and collective learning, espousing the ideology of equality including respect, dignity, trust, mutuality and reciprocity (Ledwith, 2016). 

"Community development is a practice-based profession and an academic discipline concerned with the organisation, education and empowerment of people within their communities" (International Association for Community Development) [2]

Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD)

Coined by Kretzmann & McKnight (1996), it refers to the practice of discovering a community's capacities and assets as a means to sustainable community development. As opposed to a needs-based approach to looking at communities, which sees and keeps people as dependent, in a perpetual state of survival, helpless and even performative agents of a social service/aid system, taking an ABCD approach means taking account of the following "assets" and how they can help solve social problems:

  • Gifts: This refers to talents, skills and capacities of community residents - everyone is assumed to have something to offer one another. From labelled people to youth to the low income, all individuals are regarded as full participants in the community-building process
  • Associations: Refers to informal social associations in entities such as social groups, places of workship, neighbourhood associations etc.
  • Institutions. Comprises private businesses, public institutions, VWOs and other more formal entities.

Mapping these assets then allows them to be more effectively employed to meet communities' internal needs. Such a method will inevitably be very relationship-driven.

NOTE: This does not mean that communities do not need additional resources from the outside - rather, outside resources will be more effectively used and invested when community assets are already fully mobilised, and when communities have a say in the conditions by which these resources are obtained.

Community Work

  • Not the same as community development, which refers to the processes of developing community structures

The National Social Work Competency Framework defines it as a direct practice that involves direct contact with clients and beneficiaries at the community level to address their needs. The key responsibility area for community work in the NSWCF is to: “Develop new community support systems which bring about enhanced psycho social well-being of the community.”

Community Engagement

Background and History of Community Development in Singapore

The following are excerpts from Ng Guat Tin, 2017 "History and Context of Community Development in Singapore", Chapter 4 in IPS Exchange Series 12.):

"Community development, as practised in Singapore, tends to follow a planned, service-delivery, consensus model — different from textbook ideas of social action and social mobilisation." (Ng Guat Tin, 2017: 69).

Jurong Industrial Mission: Community work in the voluntary welfare sector can be traced to Ron Fujiyoshi, who was trained in the tradition of Saul Alinsky and project director of Jurong Industrial Mission (1968 to 1972). Alinsky can be said to be the grandfather of a radical model of community development, developed in the United States and spread elsewhere (e.g., Australia, Hong Kong and the United Kingdom). Fujiyoshi (a Japanese American) was asked to set up Jurong Industrial Mission (JIM), under the auspices of the East Asia Christian Conference. JIM ceased operations in 1972 after being warned by the government (Sng, 1980, cited in Goh, 2010). 

Nazareth Centre & Beyond Social Services: In the 1960s, there were manifestations of secret society activities and “detached youths” in Bukit Ho Swee housing estate. Sister Sabine, who was trained in community development in the Philippines, was tasked to start a private community centre —Nazareth Centre — reaching out to those living on the margins. Sister Sabine’s community organising work however caused concern (e.g., over one hundred people turned up for a meeting,arranged by her, with a local Member of Parliament) and she was subjected to internal security scrutiny (Barr, 2010). She then “retired” in 1969 due to poor health. Nazareth Centre stopped its community work and turned to the provision of social services instead. Beyond Social Services was said to have started only in 1969, though still operating under the name of Nazareth Centre, before making several changes in organisational name. 

Family Service Centres: In 1977, at the same time when Residents’ Committees were springing up all over Singapore, the Ministry of Social Affairs (the forerunner of the present-day Ministry of Social and Family Development) established a family service centre (FSC) in the MacPherson housing estate. It was conceptualised by Thung Syn Neo (a pioneer social worker and social welfare administrator), who set up it up on a three-year pilot project basis, having secured funding support from UNICEF. The focus of the pioneering FSC was on community organising rather than family work or counselling. As a result, there were conscious and conscientious efforts to work with and involve local community agencies such as Citizens’ Consultative Committees, Community Centre Management Committee, schools, small groups and volunteers to improve community well-being in MacPherson. At the end of the pilot project phase (in 1980), the FSC ceased operations despite its apparent success in mobilising local community residents to identify and address local needs (Ng, 1999).The FSC model was resuscitated in 1989, by the Advisory Council on Family and Community Life, which recommended the establishment of four pilot FSCs to provide family services for destitute families, to harness volunteer participation, and to mobilise community resources to assist families in need.

In her study of 35 FSCs in Singapore, Briscoe (2005) explored the usage of seven different modes of community development. She found that the usage of two modes — Social Action and Social Movements — were low. Respondents appeared to be wary of being confrontational with the authorities or criticising public policies. Some respondents said that feedback on government policies were given discreetly. In contrast, there was higher usage of three other modes that had a social service delivery focus —Programme Development and Community Liaison; Community Coalition Building; and Community Education. As for the remaining two modes — Social Planning/Policy and Locality Development —there were also reservations about their usage. Briscoe’s (2005) findings should not be overgeneralised to all FSCs; some FSCs were more community oriented and others, less so.

Issues Faced by Community Workers / Organisations

Issue 1 Skills and Capability of Community Workers

Existing Resources

Lee Choon Guan Research Fund - serves to promote social service research among practitioners in the community. Successful applicants will work with an acad. from social work department in NUS and they get access to NUS research resources. This fund is limited to practitioners with social work qualifications.

Ngee Ann Polytechnic Diploma in Community Development (just started 2019)

ITE Work-Study Diploma in Community Engagement and Development (quite new, only one cohort out)

NUS Chua Thian Poh Community Leadership Programme Certificate in Community Development

Skillseed provides an ABCD workshop

Gaps and Their Causes

Possible Solutions

Community Fellowships (e.g.

Issue 2 Community Conflicts

Recent examples - 'neighbour from hell'

Existing Resources

Community Mediation Centres under Ministry of Law

Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act's Community Remedial Initiative

Gaps and Their Causes

Possible Solutions

Issue 3 Space for community activities

Existing Resources a MCCY portal to help interest groups find meeting spaces

Gaps and Their Causes

Possible Solutions

Issue 4

Existing Resources

Gaps and Their Causes

Possible Solutions

Local Initiatives

Cassia Resettlement Team -- See opinion piece in Today written by CRT

Lin Shiyun and team. -- a community artist and her works in and with the community include: Let’s Go PLay OutSide! (, The Rubbish Prince ( and more.

Good Neighbour Award -- Launched in 2009, the Good Neighbour Award recognises and honours residents who go the extra mile to enrich their community with exemplary acts of care and neighbourliness. The Award is jointly organised by HDB and People's Association (PA), and supported by the Singapore Kindness Movement (SKM) and Singapore Press Holdings (SPH).

Friendzone -- Helps creating community amongst young adults in their neighbourhoods. It begins with a hangout at the void deck where you will meet other interesting people in your hood and connect with them over meaningful conversation.

Community Kitchen GoodLife! Makan by Montfort Care

Project 4650 by Dr Mohamad Maliki Osman in his capacity as both the Mayor for South East District and Adviser to Siglap Grassroots Organisations.

ComSA by Tsao Foundation.

Resource Directory


Our Grandfather Story

A digital video publisher that documents, curates and retells authentic stories across Southeast Asia.

The Hidden Good

A team of content curators and creators

Professional Associations

International Association for Community Development

Democratic Innovations and Civic Participation

Founded in 2000 at the University of Maryland as a research center dedicated to the pursuit of democratic renewal, increased civic participation, and community revitalization

Resources on building community wealth, set up by the Democracy Collaborative

"A global community sharing knowledge and stories about public participation and democratic innovations"

Sorted by case studies and approaches (eg participatory budgeting, deliberative polling, citizen's jury). You can post your own cases too.

ABCD Resources

Useful starter kit for practitioners who want to do Asset-Based Community Development

Saul Alinsky texts:

Voluntary Organisations that do Community Work

AMK Family Service Centre

Beyond Social Services

Filos Community Services

Marine Parade Family Service Centre

There is a community outreach team working with the homeless at East Coast)

South Central Community Family Service Centre

Tsao Foundation Community for Successful Ageing (ComSA)

Training Programmes

Ngee Ann Polytechnic

Diploma in Community Development (just started 2019)

ITE Work-Study Diploma

Diploma in Community Engagement and Development (quite new, only one cohort out)  


  1. Bhattacharyya, Jnanabrata 2004 “Theorizing Community Development”, Community Development, 34 (2): 5-34