at the Community Level:
An Economist’s Perspective
Asim Ijaz Khwaja
Experiences over the past few decades suggest a shortcoming of top-down approaches to development. Since the 1980s, the new watchwords have been “participatory” or “community-led” development (Mansuri and Rao 2004; Uphoff 1996) and, more recently, “empowerment.” The World Bank’s Empowerment and Poverty Reduction: A Sourcebookdefines empowerment as “the expansion of assets and capabilities of poor people to participate in, negotiate with, influence, control, and hold accountable institutions that affect their lives” (Narayan 2002, 14). Before empowerment can be integrated into development policy, however, it must be clearly conceptualized, and reliable measures must be developed. This is particularly important given that such measures of empowerment are likely to become project goals for development agencies.
This chapter offers an economist’s perspective on how one would begin to construct measures of empowerment and the issues involved in doing so. I do not propose to offer a laundry list of potential measures applicable in all circumstances; such an exercise is almost certainly futile, as good measures are likely to be context-dependent. A more promising approach is to develop a general framework for conceptualizing empowerment, which can then be employed by researchers and practitioners to develop measures appropriate to a particular context and goals. While the chapter puts forward a theoretical framework, it also draws heavily on my own empirical work (Khwaja 2001, 2004) in order to demonstrate how this framework can be applied in the field and to provide empirical support for it.