I have spent the last few days trying to distill the key principles I have learnt over the last 25 years into a workshop on Community Development. In the end I settled on 7 key principles:
1. Start local – so many initiatives want to start with a community on the other side of town or the other side of the world. In some ways it is much harder to start at home but You really cant export what you don’t have. Starting at home gives you experience and credibility to work farther afield.
2. Do your homework – knowing your community and the people in it is critical to the process. We so often come to development with assumptions that are skewed by our lack of real world knowledge. It is easy to identify the “problems” but it is much harder to see the “assets” and the potential of our community. Take the time to get to know the place and the people.
3. Build friendships – our neighbours are not projects to be managed or problems to be solved. They are people to be loved. If we start with friendship we will build the bridges needed to add real value.
4. Give away your power – power dynamics are part of almost any relationship. Male / female. Rich / poor. Black / white. We need to recognised the power dynamics at play and actively work to “disempower” ourselves in order to engage in real relationships.
5. It’s (not) all about money – money is the easiest thing to invest, but money is so often a power play which isolates us from relationship. Investing time and talent and faith and hope in to the lives of real people is much harder but they are also much more effective in bringing the change that we seek.
6. Shift from relief to development and from mercy to justice – meeting immediate needs is important (at times) but it is critical to make the shift to longer term systemic responses as soon as possible.
7. Allow the journey to change you – if we are not transformed by our engagement then we haven’t truly invested in the lives of people.
These 7 principles are so simple and yet if we actually live them then they have the power to transform both us and our neighbours and in time our neighbourhoods and cities and nations.