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Making Neighbourhoods Stronger
The reasoning behind this methodology
Why Empower Communities?
we use words, we often convey meanings that we do not intend, or meanings that we
do not know we convey. There are emotions and assumptions associated with the words
the word "poverty" for example. In the assistance industry (helpers of development),
we often see ourselves as soldiers in the so-called war against poverty. Poverty is
what we want to defeat. But what is the opposite of poverty? Wealth.
Somehow we do not like to admit we are "soldiers in the war in favour of wealth."
while poverty and wealth are technically opposite, there are many assumptions, emotions
and hidden values that are attached to both those words, and those are conveyed along
with their overt meanings. Somehow it is morally OK to help poor people, but we do
not always like to keep in our conscious thoughts that we are helping them to obtain
module on income
more acceptable when it is named as "income generation" than as "wealth generation"
even though "wealth" is a more accurate economic term. (Where the objective is to
generate wealth rather than merely transfer money). The term "wealth" comes with
hidden emotional baggage that implies it means huge richness.
is a problem because there are disparities in wealth; some have more than others.
If genuine equality were possible (and it is not, you may be happy to learn), then
poverty would not be a problem.
associated with "wealth" are "power" and "capacity." Communities (and individuals)
that have lots of one, usually have lots of all three, and vice versa (those with
low wealth usually have low power and low capacity). So when we want to improve the
conditions of people in low income communities, poor communities, marginalized communities,
we want them to have more wealth, power, and capacity.
not too much.
is nice (we think) to help the poor, but (in our hidden desires) we do not want them
to become rich, or at least we do not want them to become as rich as us. We do not
want to admit that.
of the emotionally laden words we use today is "democracy." We are all in favour
of it, apparently.
we look carefully at the meaning of democracy, it turns out that we are not always
in favour of it, especially if it means having to give up some of our own relative
power (or wealth, or capacity).
who say they are in favour of democracy are really in favour of a set of institutions
that allow people to vote for candidates, putting into power those with the most
votes, allowing them to represent the people. This is "representational democracy."
That is almost a contradiction in terms. The meaning of "democracy" is "Power to
the people" (demo = people, cracy = power). The process of voting for representatives
takes power away from people and gives it to the vote winners.
we say we want to empower a
community, we mean that we want to democratize it.
That does not necessarily mean we want them to have votes to choose their representative
(as in the British or American political model). It means we want the people (not
just individuals) as a whole (collectively) to have power. We want to find ways for
the community to have more power, wealth and capacity.
communities most deserving of our assistance, then, are those with the least amount
of power, wealth and capacity.
we must be aware of our hidden desires to keep them poor, powerless and incapable
just so that we can keep giving them our charity. If we genuinely want to empower
them, we must do it in such a way that they become independent of our charity, that
they become self reliant, that they can sustain their own development without our
help. Our own desires for wealth and power are normal and natural. We need not be
ashamed of them. We must, however, keep in mind that in our desire to help people
who are poor and powerless, that we do not do so in ways that, in the long run, keep
them poor and powerless ─ and dependent upon us.
training documents on this web site are aimed primarily at the community mobilizer,
and emphasize methods and techniques rather than theory or ideology. To effectively
use those methods, however, we must be aware of what reasoning lies behind them,
what principles apply, and what long term effects they have. Importantly, we must
also constantly examine our own motives and purpose behind what we do.
Getting Stronger through Exercise:
times throughout this web site, you are advised to take approaches that can be seen
as empowering, rather than those which promote dependency.
sometimes use the term "charity
to name dependency
of giving help. Charity in itself is not bad, in so much as it is based upon generosity,
a value that we strongly support.
we mean by the "charity approach," however, is a way of helping poor and powerless
people that does not help them to become self reliant. Gifts that make the receivers
more dependent upon the givers, are not truly generous. They sustain poverty. They
keep the givers in a position of giving. If you give something to a person or group
in need, you temporarily alleviate their need. You can be quite sure that when they
are in need again, they will come back to where they received their first assistance.
is not bad; it is human nature, or the nature of survival for any organism.
you want that person or group to become self reliant, you need to be sure they want
something in the first place. Then you must find ways for them to work or to struggle
for it, so that when they need it again they will not come begging for it. If they
get something for free, they will know that it was worth (to them) every penny they
spent on it.
times on this web site, you will see a sports analogy to explain the empowerment method.
A coach does not do push ups for the athlete, nor does a coach practice putting the
basketball into the hoop for the basketball player. The person who is to get stronger
and more competent has to do the work.
analogy is found in physiotherapy. If you hurt yourself and lose the use of your
arm, you go to a physiotherapist for help. The physiotherapist may move your arm
in the manner you need to move it, but only to show you where it must be exercised.
You need to practice moving it yourself, and that is a painful and uncomfortable
process. You need to want to get better. The result is that you get your strength
back, and no longer need the services of the physiotherapist.
the coach does the push ups for the athlete, the athlete does not become stronger.
If the physiotherapist does the exercises for the patient, the patient does not become
stronger. If the community worker does the work for the community, the community
remains dependent, and poverty is sustained. Weakness.
empowerment approach to community development is one where first you determine that
the community wants something (as discovered in a brainstorming session)
and then shows the community members how to get it. The process of their getting
it is the exercise (struggle) that strengthens them.
Why Choose a Community to Empower?
the purpose of community mobilization is to increase its power, wealth and capacity,
why would you choose to mobilize one community and not another?
world is not a fair place. There is inequality. There is strife. There is inhumanity
towards mankind, by humans. Life is not fair. We need some purpose in life. Trying
to set right the wrongs of the world; trying to help poor people to become independent
and escape from their poverty, are among such purposes. Simply trying to become rich
ourselves is the main purpose of some people, but it is a very shallow and unfulfilling
purpose (the richer that people get, the more wealth they want; there is no satisfaction).
There is no evidence, or even hope, that the world will become fair, that poverty
will be eliminated. Yet the striving for it is a purpose that has its own rewards.
we could spend our energy in trying to mobilize and empower a rich or relatively
wealthy community, but that has less purpose than trying to help a poor community
become stronger. The methods that are explained in this web site can be applied to
rich or poor communities.
to work with a poor community can be a way of putting more purpose in your life.
Choosing a community simply because it is the one you were born in is perhaps equally
valid, but less purposeful.
documents on this web site are designed mainly to be applied to low income, poor
capacity, poorly empowered communities. Writing them has purpose; no money is earned
in putting them here on the internet. It is an element (regiment? ammunition?) in
the war against poverty.
people like to quote: "Charity should begin at home." They often say this to justify
raising money to give out handouts to poor people in their home communities (which
does not end their poverty, as we know). Unfortunately, such people often believe
that it should not only start at home; it should also end there. What a short sighted
and selfish notion.
whole world has human beings in it. We are all related. We are one big human family.
The people far way in isolated poor communities are our brothers and sisters. If
we can help them, we have purpose in life. If we help them, we should concentrate
on helping them to become independent of our charity, able to help themselves in
we have a choice in which community to apply our skills as mobilizers, it is more
meaningful (and has greater global effect) to choose the lowest income communities,
those with less power and capacity.
Empowerment as a Social Process:
several places on this site, we point out that poverty is a social problem, and is
contrasted with the individual problem of lack of cash or other resources. We must
distinguish between the social level and the individual level, in our analysis, in
our observations, and in our interventions.
community is a social
and is not an individual. It is far more than a mere collection of individuals. It
is an entity, sometimes described as "superorganic,"
that transcends the individuals that compose it at any one time.
is easy to see and interact with an individual. A "community,"
in contrast, is a scientific model, like an atom or a solar system, which can be
seen at most only partly at any one time, but cannot be seen as a whole. (You know
the story of the seven
blind men and an elephant).
A community does not behave like an individual.
sometimes anthropomorphise a
community (think of it and talk about it as if it is a human being) but it is more
like a social amoeba than like an individual human.
can make individuals stronger (physically, psychologically) and we can make communities
stronger (capacity, wealth, power); these are not the same. In our work as mobilizers,
we must be careful to avoid making predictions and assumptions about communities
as if a community is an individual, thinking, human being. It is easy, but wrong,
for us to slip into that kind of thinking.
you, as a mobilizer, can see individuals, can work with individuals, your target
is the community, a social organization, which you can not see in its totality, and
with which you must work indirectly.
be successful then, in empowering the community, it is necessary for you to understand
the nature of social organizations, of the social level, of society. It is also necessary
for you to know something about the relationship between an individual, or individuals,
and community, and society.
this web site tries to minimize theory and ideology, and tries to emphasize practical
guidelines, methods and techniques, it encourages you to learn about the science
of sociology, the nature of community as a social organization, and sociological
perspectives, in order to do your work more effectively.
however, that sociology can not be very precise and very predictive as, say, is chemistry
or astronomy, because the factors that affect social change are too many. It is made
more difficult because as social organization, such as a community or an NGO, is
a construct, a model, that you can not see directly.
you need to set yourself a career goal of learning more about the social perspective,
and to develop skills in understanding the social elements that are revealed by the
indicators you can see, including the behaviour of individuals, social and economic
statistics, some events, and demographic data. To help you in this, there are two
modules which identify sixteen elements of empowerment. One is focused mainly on capacity
development of an organization (such
as an NGO or CBO), and the other is focused mainly on measuring
decreases) in the capacity of a community. These sixteen elements, many of which
also can not be seen except through characteristics of individuals, will help you
to carefully and in detail look at the empowerment process as a social process.
a community is not something that you can do to that community. Because the process
of empowerment, or capacity development, is a social process, it is something that
the community itself must undergo. Even members of a community, as individuals, can
not develop their community, it is a growth process of the community as a whole,
internally, as an organism (super organism or social organism).
to force growth, trying to force social change, is called social
and it does have its effects, but usually effects that are far from what you want.
Our method is to stimulate the community to take action.
often refer to that action as a "project." By doing a project,
the community will become more empowered, develop more capacity. The action it takes
is its exercise to become stronger.
noted above that the people must struggle in order to become stronger. The basic
method of a community mobilizer is to first determine what the community as a whole
wants, then guide it in struggling to achieve it.
outsider can not decide what the community wants. The community members have to agree
on what they all want most. That is the first of several reasons why they need to
participate in decision making; that participation is needed first to determine what
they want most.
The brainstorm session
is one of several techniques taught on this site that helps you to draw out of them
their priorities. When done correctly it is a process that determines a communal
choice, not the choice of a few people, or of a dominant faction.
that is the decision of strategy, or what path to follow in order to reach the priority
goal. Again, there are different ways to choose a strategy, but the more it represents
the will of the community members as a whole, the more valid it is. Their participation
is vital for success.
the project, it will have inputs and outputs. Inputs are the resources put into the
project. An output is an objective when it is realized. While some of the inputs
can come from outside donors, including the government, but the community itself,
its members should make some sacrifices too. As well as participation in decision
making, we suggest that they also make contributions of resources, as inputs.
is an essential, but often overlooked, element of any project. The community should
also participate in monitoring the project. Members should not leave it only to the
outsiders ─ donors or implementors ─ to see if it is going as planned.
the course of carrying out the project, community members may identify some skills
that they lack. These could be in accounting, in reporting, or in technical skills.
If you are able to help them obtain training in such skills, we recommend that the
training is participatory also. That people learn best by "doing" rather than listening
to lectures or watching presentations.
approaches are recommended throughout the empowerment process. Participation contributes
nineteen fifties and sixties (and later) saw the end of colonial period for many
new countries. Hope was high that it would also mean the end of poverty as countries
became more self reliant and stronger.
reality was very different, and discouragement replaced optimism as poverty and the
number of poor people grew. There are many historical causes for this, neo colonialism,
multi national corporations each stronger and wealthier than whole countries, globalization
of corporate culture, lack of sophistication and knowledge by leaders, and on and
on. Everyone has her or his own favourite theories.
we distinguish between (1) historical causes and (2) factors that contribute to the
problem remaining. This has a very practical purpose. We can not go back into history
and change events. We can see current factors, and have some influence, however small,
on them. The training on the web site is aimed primarily at the community mobilizer
(and her or his manager, planner, programmer and administrator).
the gender module, we cite the slogan, "Think globally, act locally." This
applies here, too. How can we contribute to a strong, self reliant, independent nation?
If that country has strong, self reliant, capable communities, then it will become
as a mobilizer, can not (through your work) directly change the national characteristics
of a country, but you can contribute to one or more community becoming stronger.
Also, by teaching these methods and techniques to others, you can contribute indirectly
to other communities becoming stronger. You may be able, too, to influence the legislature
and ministry directives and regulations in ways that will contribute to an environment
that promotes and supports strong self reliant communities. As more communities become
stronger, the country benefits.
Marie de Maistre wrote, "Toute nation a le gouvernement qu'elle merite" (Every country
has the government it deserves) Lettres et Opuscules Inedits (vol. I, letter 53),
sometimes incorrectly attributed to the second American president, Thomas Jefferson.
If you work towards getting the society you want, you will contribute to getting
the government you deserve.
development will not come through wishful thinking or by bar room debate. It comes
as a result of hundreds of thousands of small, steady, changes based upon hard work
of many people with vision. You can be among them, and this web site gives you the
tools with which to engage in that hard work.
Find the Best and Enhance It:
positive attitude with optimism and the willingness to keep trying are not mere luxuries
in this work. They are necessities.
person, no community, no society, is perfect. We all make mistakes. If you spend
any time and energy on criticizing, you will emphasize the fault you criticize, and
hinder its correction. You will meet people who promise and fail, people who do not
carry out their side of an agreement, people who lie and cheat, people who are inept,
inefficient and inaccurate, people who are dishonest and misleading. From the time
you were born, no one promised you that life would be fair. That is just the way
succeed at this kind of work, you need a positive attitude, and you need to accept
that failures are inevitable, and be willing to, "Keep on keepin' on," even after
get the best out of people, you need to see but not mention their weaknesses and
failures, you need to recognize their strengths and achievements, and you need to
let them know you expect their best.
on strengths, not on weaknesses.
help communities to become stronger? The world will be a better place; poverty will
be reduced; working towards this is a meaningful endeavour. What is the empowerment
method? Charity (giving things for free) weakens communities. Communities will become
stronger when they decide what they want, and work (exercise) to obtain it.
communities should you choose to assist in becoming more self reliant? Choose those
in most need, the poorest, the ones with least capacity, the ones with the least
is poverty and development not merely applicable to individuals? Poverty is a social
problem and requires social solutions.
is not possible unless it affects whole communities. Why should community members
participate in development? Without their participation, there would be no development,
and any improvements will not be sustained.
not work towards national development? As communities become stronger, they contribute
to genuine national development. You as a mobilizer can practically work at helping
communities become stronger, whereas work with nations directly is less practicable.
about all the disappointments, dishonest people, and cheating individuals? A positive
approach is a requirement for community work; accept failures and go on beyond them;
accept that we all make mistakes so avoid criticism and build on strengths.
work is honourable and valuable, even if unsung.
© Copyright 1967, 1987, 2007 Phil Bartle
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––»«––Last update: 2011.05.30