Community support refers to those CIMIC activities that help local communities to improve and normalise their lives. Community support operations are aimed at building confidence in the peace process and creating a positive relationship between the peacekeepers and their host community.

CIMIC Officers at sector and battalion level are likely to become involved in identifying, planning and overseeing community support operations while those at Force Headquarters’ level are likely to be involved in setting policies and guidelines for community support operations.

This chapter will start with an explanation of what community support is, and give a list of possible examples. It then goes on to discuss a number of principles applicable to community support operations and introduce some planning considerations. The chapter will touch on some monitoring and evaluation issues and end with a specific practical example of all the steps and issues involved in one common example of a community support operation – namely the rehabilitation of a school.

What is Community Support?

Community support refers to activities undertaken in support of national or local counterparts, such as a local community, with the aim of improving their conditions and building their confidence in the peace process. When carried out according the principles and guidelines as outlined in the policy section of this online course, community support operations are likely to build a positive relationship between the local community and the peacekeepers. The primary aim of community support activities, however, is to support the efforts of the local population to improve and normalise their lives in a stabilization or peacebuilding context.

It is normal for communities emerging from years of civil war and conflict to be hesitant about rebuilding their community infrastructure and normalising their cultural and social activities. They may be fearful that the conflict will flare-up again. Therefore, community support initiatives are also aimed at supporting local communities in this effort and boosting their confidence by supporting their efforts with the resources available to the peace operation.

In most conflict settings, one can also anticipate that local communities have had negative past experiences with soldiers. They will typically associate armed men and women in uniform with the violence they have experienced or witnessed, and they are therefore likely to mistrust and/or be fearful of the presence of the military and police peacekeepers. It is in the interest of the peace operation to develop a positive relationship with the communities where military, civilian and police peacekeepers are deployed. Community support projects can be used for this purpose.

Community Support Projects and Humanitarian Space

CIMIC projects must be carried out according to the principles and guidelines highlighted in Chapters 2 and 3. In particular, CIMIC Officers need to give attention to the differences between direct, indirect and infrastructure support in the MCDA guidelines.

CIMIC projects in support of humanitarian action will typically fall into the ‘indirect’ and ‘infrastructure’ categories. It is only in exceptional circumstances and as an option of last resort that the ‘military’ component will engage in direct assistance. When such situations emerge it is advisable that the intended support should be cleared first with the HC except, of course, when immediate emergency action is required to save lives.

CIMIC projects should never be reported as humanitarian activities. It is the CIMIC Officer’s responsibility to protect humanitarian space by ensuring, amongst others, that military units do not claim to do ‘humanitarian’work, so that the distinction between independent and neutral humanitarian action and CIMIC projects carried out by the military can be maintained. If the military supports a humanitarian agency then that should be reported as ‘support to…’, and not as if the military has provided humanitarian assistance.

It is in the interest of the peace operation to protect humanitarian space.

Examples of Community Support Initiatives

The following list of examples of community support activities is not exhaustive. Each mission is unique and the types of community support projects that can be undertaken is a factor of the needs and priorities of local communities, and the ability and resources available to the mission.

(1.a) Infrastructure projects:

  • rehabilitation of buildings, e.g. a school, church or clinic;
  • reconstruction or critical maintenance of roads and bridges;
  • reconstruction of water and sanitation services; or
  • rehabilitation of electricity supply.

(1.b) Support to social services:

  • training of medical personnel; or
  • training or providing teachers and trainers.

(1.c) Support to economic activity

  • rehabilitation of a market; or
  • training or other support in certain sectors, e.g. agriculture.

(1.d) Socio-cultural and sport activities:

  • support for cultural activities like traditional ceremonies;
  • support for sport activities; and
  • support for environmental initiatives.

The rehabilitation of a school, church or clinic is probably one of the more common activities that one may find under community support projects, but it may actually be quite a complex undertaking. The rehabilitation of a school is dealt with in more detail in the case study section at the end of this chapter. Another project that is quite common, is soldiers volunteering free time to teach a language or other subjects at a local school. Another common problem is lack of employment and other meaning ful activities for youths. Therefore organising sporting events, like soccer tournaments, have often been found to be useful in channelling people’s energy into meaningful activity. Similarly, supporting the celebration of traditional holidays and ceremonies may be a powerful symbol of normalisation and peace for many communities.

Some more unusual examples include:

  • a Korean battalion teaching Tae Kwan Do (a martial art style) to youths in East Timor;
  • a Thai battalion teaching farmers how to use their water buffalo to cultivate their rice paddies, also in East Timor; and
  • mobilising school children to pick up rubbish and clean up their local environment (village, beach, roads, stream, etc.) on World Environment Day, which served to educate them and their community about environmental protection, clean up their community, and connect them to the broader global community.

Principles of Community Support

Although it may be difficult to imagine how community support activities may have negative outcomes, many in fact do have harmful or negative unintended consequences. In order to avoid these and in order to ensure a coherent and well-coordinated peace operation, it is necessary to observe the following principles:

Community Needs

Community support projects must be carried out based on the needs of the community, as identified by the community – not by the CIMIC Officer or any other external actor – and according to the priorities determined by the community.

Coordination and Synchronisation

Ensure that all initiatives are coordinated with the appropriate civilian authorities so that:

  1. the community support projects do not replace or fulfil a function that should have been performed by an appropriate civilian authority or agency; and
  2. the activity that is undertaken is coordinated with, and supportive of, the larger programmes and initiatives underway in that sector.

All community support projects must be undertaken in support of local communities and their authorities. Proper coordination will also ensure that community support initiatives will benefit from any existing independent programmes that can support your initiative, such as Quick Impact Projects (QIP) and ‘Work for Food’ initiatives.

Joint Ownership

All community support projects should be jointly owned and managed by the community or local authority it intends to support. There should be a project committee or some form of joint decision-making body that oversees and manages the project.

Option of Last Resort

Remember that the use of military assets in support of humanitarian assistance must be the option of last resort. Such actions may take place only where there is no comparable civilian alternative, and only when the use of military support can meet a critical humanitarian need. Community support projects should not be undertaken in situations where the peacekeepers are engaged in ongoing hostilities with one or more factions, as such projects may become a target and endanger the local communities and other civilian actors that choose to participate in the community support projects. Community support projects are thus best suited to the post-conflict or peacebuilding phase when all hostilities have come to an end. During stabilization missions, the type of community support most likely to be undertaken relates to the restoration or extension of state authority, such as building or re-building a police post, or rehabilitating a court or local government office.

Avoid Reliance on the Military

Civilian authorities and agencies must not become dependent on the resources or support of the military component. Any resources or support provided by the military should be, at the onset, clearly limited in time and scale, and provide an exit strategy that defines clearly how the function undertaken could, in the future, be undertaken by civilian means.

Avoid Conflict with Relief Agencies

CIMIC community support projects can potentially cause tension between the military unit involved, and NGOs and other relief agencies. The tension is caused because humanitarian agencies are concerned about their independence, and they feel that it may cause confusion if the military becomes involved in CIMIC projects that seem similar to the projects they undertake.

Military units must refrain from undertaking or referring to their activities as ‘humanitarian’. CIMIC Officers should consult all possible stakeholders to identify problem areas, and to avoid appearing in competition with relief agencies. Community support projects should be complementary to the service provided by relief agencies, and should be of a developmental rather than a humanitarian nature.

Relief agencies, as the appropriate civilian agencies, should be given the first choice of projects and their actions complemented by those projects that are out of their reach (outside their scope or resources; inaccessible in their vehicles etc.), or that are otherwise complementary to their service (e.g. don’t provide the same medical service as the local clinic, but offer specialised services not available at the local clinic, on referral by the clinic).

Do No Harm

All community support projects must be guided by the commitment to ‘do no harm’. That is, they should not further the conflict, nor harm or endanger the beneficiaries of the assistance, nor create dependency on the military.

10 Elements of Project Management

1. Clear goal and objectives
2. Target audience
3. Stakeholders
4. Time frame
5. Inputs
6. Outputs
7. Outcomes
8. Benchmarks
9. Management and coordination
10. Monitoring and evaluation

If community support actions are undertaken according to these principles, that is:

  • in support of (and preferably directed by) the local community; and
  • well-coordinated with all the other stakeholders; then

they are likely to result in:

  • good relations with the local community;
  • confidence in the peace operation and the peace process; and,
  • possibly good publicity for the military unit in question, and the peace operation in general.

However, when a military unit undertakes such projects:

  • without proper consultation with the beneficiaries and community leaders;
  • without proper coordination with all the civilian stakeholders; and
  • for the wrong reasons, e.g. for publicity;

then they are unlikely to have long-term, sustainable positive benefits, and in fact may cause harm and negatively affect the reputation of the mission.

Direct, Indirect and Infrastructure Support

CIMIC projects should not engage in any form of direct humanitarian assistance, except in exceptional cases when this has been requested by or cleared with the HC.

CIMIC projects may be involved in indirect or infrastructure support, if appropriate, as per the ‘Military and Civil Defence Assets Guidelines’, but should be closely coordinated with the appropriate civilian authorities under all circumstances.

(See CIMIC Response Matrix in Chapter 1)

Some examples would include: choosing to support a school because of its proximity to the unit’s location, regardless of the needs of the surrounding community or the school rehabilitation plan of the education authorities or, offering free medical services regardless of the fact that a NGO may be trying to assist the local clinic to establish a sustainable service based on a cost-recovery model. These kinds of uncoordinated and supply-driven CIMIC actions are likely to create tension between the military unit, the local community and other stakeholders (such as local authorities, NGOs and UN agencies) who have not been consulted in the process.

Practical Example: The Rehabilitation of a School

The points raised above can be illustrated in a fairly common example, such as the rehabilitation of a school. Let’s assume, for instance, that the CIMIC Officer – through his or her interaction with teachers or local community leaders – has been informed that there is a need to rehabilitate a local school. The school may have been damaged during the conflict, for instance part of the building may have been destroyed by fire.


Participation in CIMIC community support projects will boost the morale of the troops involved, because it gives them an opportunity to get out of the compound and to interact with the local population in a meaningful way. It will make them feel good about the contribution they are making to rebuild the country where they are deployed.

Community Support Projects Do’s and Don’ts

• Find a balance between meeting needs and ensuring that the projects do not benefit only one faction/village/tribe/ethnic group/religion, etc.
• Research partners and contractors carefully – you don’t want to find out at a later stage that the company is owned by a warlord, war criminal or known black-marketeer.
• Consult all stakeholders and involve all possible partners – use the CIMIC project as a catalyst for others’ involvement. This spreads the burden of the costs and increases the collective experience invested in the project.

• Make promises about a project before it has been approved by all concerned.
• Support a project that benefits only an individual (like the start-up of a privately-owned business). Rather support projects that are collectively owned and that aim to benefit the community, e.g. a women’s association or a veteran’s association.
• Forget to give credit to everyone who made the project possible.

(Canadian Army Lessons Learned Centre, 1999)

The CIMIC Officer must first ensure that rehabilitation of the school is indeed a priority for the community. This must be confirmed by a committee or traditional leadership structure that is recognised by the community to speak on its behalf. Once it is confirmed that the community regards the rehabilitation of the school as a priority, the CIMIC Officer should find out from the appropriate local and regional/provincial authorities what their plans are for the rehabilitation of schools, in general, and for supporting the education sector. The CIMIC Officer should also consult with the local or sector-level AU or UN Civil Affairs Officer and/or Humanitarian Affairs Officer to determine what projects and initiatives they are aware of in the education and related sectors, that may have a bearing on whether the rehabilitation of this particular school should be supported or not.

Once the CIMIC Officer is satisfied that the rehabilitation of the school is indeed a priority for the community, and that the local civil authorities and community have no other means to assist them with the rehabilitation of the school, the CIMIC Officer should consult with agencies and NGOs active in the education sector – probably UNICEF, and NGOs such as Save the Children. Sometimes agencies like the UNHCR may be involved in the rehabilitation of schools, as part of a programme to assist with the reintegration of refugees into their communities of origin.

The consultations must be aimed at finding out if there are:

  • other initiatives underway to rehabilitate schools and, if so, whether or not this school is included in those plans;
  • any existing policies or guidelines that will impact on the project, e.g. number of classrooms per school of that size; or
  • any other initiatives that can support the project – for instance, UNICEF often has projects whereby it distributes school kits (a box with stationery and basic teaching aids) to schools?

Once the CIMIC Officer is satisfied that the proposed project has been identified by the community as a priority, and that the various internal and external agencies involved in education are supportive of the project, he or she should help the community develop a project proposal and submit it to the appropriate body that may be able to assist them, e.g. via the Quick Impact Project (QIPs) process, or to the engineering battalion or the unit to which the CIMIC Officer belongs, if it has the capacity to assist with the rehabilitation project; or perhaps a combination of these.

It is especially important to confirm that the appropriate authorities will support the operation of the school once it has been rehabilitated – that is, who will provide and pay the teachers, who will provide teaching materials like books and stationery, and so on. If there are running costs, such as electricity, who will be responsible for that.

Once all the necessary approvals are in place, the CIMIC Officer should facilitate the appointment or selection of a project management or steering committee that will oversee the project. This may include: an engineering officer; the company or platoon commander responsible; community leaders; the principal of the school; the local civilian AU or UN Civil Affairs Officer and other stakeholders.

In most cases, the military unit will supply only technical expertise and tools and equipment not readily available in the market place – for example, nails and roof sheeting. All materials that can be locally procured, such as timber, should be obtained locally, and all labour should be organised locally. If such a project is properly coordinated with others, the military unit will be able to leverage support from other elements in the mission. For example, the project may be able to make use of the resources available under the QIPs schemes and it may be able to make use of a Food for Work scheme, under the auspices of the World Food Programme, or one of its implementing NGOs, to reward the labourers with food.

The project management or steering committee should monitor progress on the project, deal with unforeseen developments, and evaluate the project upon completion, to assess if the project has achieved its objectives – and to identify best practices or areas that can be improved on in future.

The successful completion of a project of this nature is likely to have achieved much more than just the rehabilitation of a school. It should have:

  • contributed to the development and identification of community leaders;
  • created a process through which several people, both local and international, get to know each other and develop relationships that will be of use in future projects – even if they do not involve the military;
  • created the opportunity, for instance through some formal opening or unveiling ceremony, for the community to celebrate a positive development in their community; and
  • strengthened the relationship between the peacekeepers and the community.


Community support activities can have a very positive impact on the attitude of communities towards the peace process, towards the improvement and normalisation of their social and cultural life, and towards the peace operation.

CIMIC Officers must be mindful of the potential for unintended consequences, duplication and the undermining of existing efforts to develop appropriate civilian capabilities. Through consultation and coordination, they should ensure that the proposed projects are supportive of the needs and priorities of the community, and that they are supported by all internal and external stakeholders.

A UN soldier from Ghana feeds an evacuated refugee boy in May 1994, in Kigali, Rwanda. Refugees fled the genocide of more than 800,000 Tutsis and Twas in the civil war.