Community Empowerment/Overview/Thirty Minutes

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Community Empowerment

Thirty Minutes

The Community Empowerment Collective is a not-for-profit association located world wide which works on the Internet to produce, translate, and make available free training material for strengthening communities. It has an annual budget of zero. It is registered in Victoria, British Columbia, in Western Canada. The Community Empowerment methodology starts with the idea that capacity can not be built (social engineering), but the community can be stimulated and encouraged to develop itself. There are roughly 200 documents on the web site which are aimed at training mobilizers to work in communities to stimulate the Community Empowerment methodology. These are translated by unpaid volunteers (to various extents) into about thirty languages. The training emphasizes “How-to” rather than theory and research about the empowerment methodology. It aims to write at a level of language for middle school leavers, and provides an extensive set of key words to cover the vocabulary they might not yet know. The web site is non commercial, has no advertising, and is provided for free and without editorial control by the Seattle Community Network (SCN)
The following are the eight principles of empowerment:
1. The balance of power (opinion makers and leaders, not merely the demographic majority) must desire the community to become more self reliant and willing to make efforts and sacrifices to become so. (Leaders and opinion makers may be formal and/or informal, officially recognized and/or unrecognized). Without this, the mobiliser would be wasting time and better employed in another community;
2. An experienced and/or trained agent must be available to intervene to stimulate and guide the community to organize and take action to overcome poverty and become more self reliant. The mobiliser may be one with natural talents and skills, while the training on the web site is aimed at developing and sharpening those skills and talents;
3. While assistance can be offered, it should not be charity assistance which promotes dependency and weakness, but partnership, ie assistance and training that promotes self reliance and increased capacity;
4. Recipient organisations or communities should not be controlled or forced into change, but professionals trained as activists or mobilisers should intervene with stimulation, information and guidance. Persuasion and facilitation are needed;
5. Organisms become stronger by exercising, struggling, and facing adversity. Empowerment methodology incorporates this principle for social organisations. Sports coaches use the slogan, "No pain; no gain." We do not promote pain, but do promote struggle and effort;
6. Hands on participation, especially in decision making, by the recipients, is essential for their increase in capacity. Decisions can not be made for or on behalf of the community;
7. A substantial proportion (it varies) of the resources needed for a community project (ie the action) must be provided by the community members themselves;
8. We need to aim at the participants from the beginning taking full control, exercising full decision making, and accepting full responsibility for the actions which will lead to their increased strength.

The web site also provides many practical descriptions of how to do things related to empowerment, ranging from gender balance, income generation, functional literacy, community mobilization, enabling environment, participatory appraisal, through planning, project design, management training, proposals, report writing, to applications in various sectors.
The following are the six cultural dimensions of communities. Changes in any one of them necessarily leads to changes in the remaining five.
1. Technology: The (1) inventing, (2) using and (3) teaching of others to invent and use tools, is the cultural dimension, not the physical tools themselves.
2. Economy: The production and distribution of wealth, which did not need money in earlier societies and in some elements of our society today, eg home and with friends. Wealth is anything that has value and it has value to the extent it is useful and scarce. It includes goods and services, but goods only in terms of the services they provide. Money is not wealth, but is a measure and a means of storing and exchanging wealth. The economic dimension of culture is not just business, buying, selling.
3. Political relates to power and influence. It includes authority and types of authority (traditional, bureaucratic or charismatic). Politics is not the same as ideology (which belongs to the values dimension) or only party politics (which are institutions that are not universal).
4. The social, Interactional or Institutional Dimension refers to patterns of interaction, social organization, meanings we attach to each other, our presentations of selves, roles. Examples include family or class.
5. Values, Ideology, Aesthetic: The shared values that we apply to judgements such as good or bad, beautiful or ugly, right or wrong.
6. Beliefs or Worldview, the ideas we have about how the universe operates. Religious beliefs . . . and more. Mobilisers are trained to expect that any changes they may make or stimulate in a community will result in changes in all six dimensions.
Here are the sixteen elements of strength in a community, organization or family:
1. Altruism: The proportion of, and degree to which, individuals are ready to sacrifice benefits to themselves for the benefit of the organization as a whole (reflected in degrees of generosity, individual humility, communal pride, mutual supportiveness, loyalty, concern, camaraderie, sister/brotherhood). (Where individuals, families or factions are allowed to be greedy and selfish at the expense of the organization, this weakens the it).
2. Common Values: The degree to which members of the organization share values, especially the idea that they belong to a common entity that supersedes the interest of members within it. Members share, understand and tolerate each others values and attitudes. (Racism, prejudice and bigotry weaken a community or organization).
3. Communal Services: An organization's facilities and services (such as office space, equipment, washrooms, tools, supplies, access to toilets and other personal staff facilities, working facilities, physical plant, potable water), their upkeep (dependable maintenance and repair), sustainability, and the degree to which all the organization's members have access to them.
4. Communications: Within an organization, and between itself and outside, communication includes speaking, electronic methods (eg telephone, radio, TV, InterNet), printed media (newspapers, magazines, books), networks, mutually understandable languages, literacy and the willingness and ability to communicate (which implies tact, diplomacy, willingness to listen as well as to talk) in general. Poor communication means a weak organization.
5. Confidence: While expressed in individuals, how much confidence is shared among the organization as a whole? eg an understanding that the organization can achieve what ever it wishes to do. Positive attitudes, willingness, self motivation, enthusiasm, optimism, self-reliant rather than dependency attitudes, willingness to fight for its rights, avoidance of apathy and fatalism, a vision of what is possible.
6. Context (Political and Administrative): An organization will be stronger, more able to get stronger and sustain its strength more, the more it exists in an environment that supports that strengthening. This environment includes (1) political (including the values and attitudes of the leaders, laws and legislation) and (2) administrative (attitudes of civil servants and technicians, as well as Governmental regulations and procedures) elements. The legal environment. When politicians, leaders, technocrats and civil servants, as well as their laws and regulations, take a patronizing approach, the organization is weak, while if they take an enabling approach, the organization will be stronger.
7. Information: More than just having or receiving unprocessed information, the strength of the organization depends upon the ability to process and analyse that information, the level of awareness, knowledge and wisdom found among key individuals and within the group as a whole. Information is more effective and more useful, not just more in volume. (Related to, but differs from, the communication element).
8. Intervention: The extent and effectiveness of animation (management training, awareness raising, stimulation) aimed at strengthening the organization. Do outside or internal powers increase the level of dependency and weaken the organization, or do they challenge the organization's members to act and therefore become stronger? Is the intervention sustainable or does it depend upon decisions by outside donors who have different goals and agendas than the organization itself?
9. Leadership: Leaders have power, influence, and the ability to move the organization. The more effective its leadership, the stronger is an organization. The most effective and sustainable leadership (for strengthening the organization, not just strengthening the leaders) is one that operates so as to follow the decisions and desires of the organization as a whole, to take an enabling and facilitating role. Leaders must possess skills, willingness, and some charisma.
10 Networking: It is not just "what you know," but also "who you know" that can be a source of strength. (Not only "know-how," but also "know-who" gets jobs). Extent to which the organization's members, especially leaders, know persons (and their agencies or organizations) who can provide useful resources that will strengthen the organization as a whole? The useful linkages, potential and realized, that exist within the organization and with others outside it.
11. Organization: The degree to which different members of the organization see themselves as each having a role in supporting the whole (in contrast to being a mere collection of separate individuals), including (in the sociological sense) organizational integrity, structure, procedures, decision making processes, effectiveness, division of labour and complementarity of roles and functions.
12. Political Power: The degree to which the organization can participate in national and district decision making.Communities have varying power and influence within the district and nation.
13. Skills: The ability, manifested in individuals, that will contribute to the organization and the ability of it to get things done that it wants to get done, technical skills, management skills, organizational skills, mobilization skills.
14. Trust: The degree to which members of the organization trust each other, especially their leaders, which in turn is a reflection of the degree of integrity (honesty, dependability, openness, transparency, trustworthiness) within the organization. More trust and dependability reflects increased capacity. (Dishonesty, corruption, embezzlement and diversion of organizational resources all contribute to organizational weakness).
15. Unity: Unity means a shared sense of belonging to a known entity (ie the group composing the community). Although every community has divisions or schisms (religious, class, status, income, age, gender, ethnicity, clans), the degree to which its members are willing to tolerate the differences and variations among each other and are willing to cooperate and work together, a sense of a common purpose or vision, shared values. (Unity does not mean that everyone is the same, but that everyone tolerates, even celebrates, each others' differences, and works for the common good).
16. Wealth: The degree to which the organization as a whole (in contrast to individuals within it) has control over actual and potential resources, and the production and distribution of scarce and useful goods and services, monetary and non monetary (including labour, land, equipment, supplies, knowledge, skills), (When greedy individuals, families or factions accrue wealth at the expense of the community as a whole, that weakens the organization).
The more any organization (or community) has of each of the above elements, the stronger it is, the more capacity it has, and the more empowered it is.
An organization does not become stronger simply by adding a few more facilities. Strengthening or capacity development involves social change – development – and that, in turn, involves all sixteen of the above elements of strength.
The web site also provides many practical descriptions of how to do things related to empowerment, ranging from gender balance, income generation, water supply, functional literacy, advocacy, community mobilization, HIV/AIDS mitigation, enabling environment, community based social work, participatory appraisal, through planning, community member skill training, project design, guidelines for training mobilizers, management training, proposals, monitoring, report writing, to applications in various sectors.