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by Ben Fleming

edited by Phil Bartle, PhD

So I’d like to discuss ownership, community ownership to be precise, and our role in developing this in the work we do. I’m talking about long term gains for short term effort on your part; about recognising the internal strength of communities, facilitating the development of community self esteem, and helping individuals believe in themselves when they think they have nothing to offer. Also I’ll touch on a few minor pitfalls, I’m sure you have many more.

The minds and ideas of people is the greatest resource a community has. We are experts, we have done this before, but true knowledge is a combination of two factors:

1) an awareness of community development processes, as is contained within this site

2) an understanding of the context of the environment in which you are working; this is to say every town, every village is different, not only for its geography but for the people which dwell within.

I can only suggest to watch, talk to, and examine the human resource of every place in which you work; both those that are willing to be involved, and those that are not. Why care about those that aren't interested? Because it is within their minds where the true issues of the community lie. Find the true source of problems, and help those that would ignore your presence the most, and you'll find the keepers of effective and sustainable development, and possibly, only possibly, the true leaders in the empowerment of a community.

Just as the herd can only travel as slow as the last buffalo, a community can only grow at the rate of its most indifferent. So how to encourage holistic community empowerment? Here are some ideas:

  • Community forums where people are all given the opportunity to speak, whether in small discussion groups or individually;
  • Identifying individuals to help out who would normally not be involved – walk the streets, meet people, encourage them to be part of the project, play ball with the local youths, get the elders onside and ask for their children's involvement and those of their friends; dig deeper into the structure of the communities in which you are working to find those that have slipped through the cracks;
  • Seek internal specialist; they may not possess the same qualifications, but their passion or orientation to a task may provide valuable local knowledge and leadership on the best approach to a community activity;
  • alk with the people and involve them in your thoughts as if they were their own; live with them in their perspective. Yes, as a wise elder once said, it is one thing to live Indian, it is another to be Indian – so for a project to possess true ownership you must develop a relationship with at least some members of the community so that they do the work you were employed to do, so that the community sees itself as identifying issues and developing solutions.

Give the community responsibility for both its successes and failures. I've been part of projects, as I’m sure you have, where my colleagues and some local workers believed that some level of sabotage may be involved. In reality, who is losing out? Does the community see the true affects of such actions?

Help the community to see that they need to take responsibility for their own actions. If the community jeopardises the work you are trying to do, then the onus is on the community to overcome this. I choose to help, though the community must take ownership of the process and accept any internal challenges to help themselves to identify and solve the issues I've been employed to help them to face. This may come in many forms, knowledge of systems of governance, increased community self esteem or self belief, or even just a small amount of guidance in the right direction or to the right contacts. Definitely not dragging them along as they must drive the process, must take ownership and develop their own empowerment to affect change.


© Copyright 1967, 1987, 2007 Phil Bartle
Web Design by Lourdes Sada
Last update: 2011.09.27

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