The Community Work Programme: Building a Society that Works

Philip, Kate
November 2013
Employment Working Paper;2013, Vol. 152, preceding p1
In the context of a global jobs crisis, there is renewed interest in the role of public employment in providing work opportunities even where markets are unable to do so. This context has also seen a range of forms of innovation in public employment, with new forms of work and new approaches to implementation delivering different kinds of outcomes. The Community Work Programme in South Africa (CWP) is an example of such innovation. The CWP was designed to use public employment as an instrument of community development, and uses participatory local processes to identify work that needs to be done to improve the quality of life in poor communities. This has resulted in a multi-sectoral work menu with a strong emphasis on care, food security, community safety and a range of other work activities. The inclusion of work in the social sector within a public employment programme creates new ways of strengthening social outcomes. The CWP also differs from other public employment programmes with its focus on providing ongoing access to regular, part-time work for those who need it at local level, providing an income floor in ways that draw from lessons of social protection. This design feature is a specific response to the structural nature of unemployment in South Africa, which means that for many participants, there is no easy exit from public employment into other economic opportunities; instead, the CWP supplements as well as strengthens their other livelihood strategies. The Community Work Programme was an outcome of a strategy process commissioned by the South African Presidency in 2007 that aimed to strengthen economic development strategies targeted at the poor. This process recognized that in a context of deep structural inequality and unemployment, strategies were needed that could enable economic participation even where markets are unable to do so. This formed part of the rationale for scaling up South Africa's existing commitments to public employment, under the umbrella of the Expanded Public Works Programme, with the CWP also designed to use public employment as an instrument of community development. The CWP is still a relatively new programme, institutionalized in the Department of Cooperative Governance in South African since April 2010. This article examines the policy rationale for the CWP, describes its key design features and explores the forms of local innovation to which it is giving rise, in relation to the forms of work undertaken and the associated community development outcomes. It also explores some of the challenges of implementation and the policy questions to which this innovation in public employment is giving rise.


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