I was privileged to go on two missions with IsraAID, a non-governmental, humanitarian organization to work with local leadership in Liberia and in South Sudanese refugee settlements in North Uganda.
Liberia is still overcoming a devastating 15 years long civil war, which left the formerly flourishing country with ruins of infrastructure and highly traumatised population living in poverty.
North Uganda has been hosting since December 2013 more than 1 million South Sudanese refugees in refugee settlements. For some of them it's their second prolonged stay in North Uganda and they all have no idea what the future is about to bring.
Working in both places confronted me with the ideas of "developing leadership" and "community mobilization" when carried out on grounds of uncertainty and hopelessness. As a lighthouse I used Baser and Morgan's definition if capacity development [i] -
"Capacity development is about altering the ability of people's access to authority, resources and opportunities".
Here are my 8 tips for empowering communities in these situations:
Tip # 1: New form of Listening is needed to reduce the power imbalance. This is listening from compassion and without condescending. Remember your experience as an expert, as vast as it may be, has little relevance to this project. Learn the people and the situation newly.
Empowering the local NGO partner means creating a mutual vision and really listening to their thoughts and needs. There is a power inequality between the funding organization and the local-operating one which may cause local organizations to step over their own key principles and may threaten future implementation of the project.
Tip # 2: Do not ignore the Culture gap- there will always be culture differences between the funding international organization and the operating local community. This may cause compliant behavior which many times covers resistance and eventually might damage the project. Always check and recheck whether all partners comply with all the aspects of the projects.
Tip # 3: Empowering leadership- Emergent leadership is a key factor for the recovery and rehabilitation of post conflict communities. As facilitators our job is to identify these instances and nurture them. It may appear as a "one off" leadership act or in creating networks or in critical thinking. Our mission is to empower leadership in all forms and shapes it appears.
Tip # 4: Team work is an essential- the idea of leadership as a "one person show" is totally inappropriate in the instances of post war rehabilitation. Triggering change in the vast scale that is needed can only be done by groups of people especially because everyone is struggling with their everyday survival. Creating teams and strengthening their ability to empower one another will enhance the process.
Tip # 5: High level of engagement- the main criteria for locating team members should be their level of engagement. As human beings we tend to be dazed by the most charismatic people but engagement and commitment is the key principal in this case.
Tip # 6 - Vision led empowerment- Empowering teams and leadership should focus on having a vision, in a written shape of "how do I see the specific future?" or "what is my commitment?". The facilitator should return to the vision regularly to help the team overcome breakdowns and disappointments which may occur on the way.
Tip # 7- Creativity and flexibility- Breakdowns are characterised by emotional flooding of feelings of failure and incompetency. This causes hopelessness and the situation might appear as a "lost" ones. The facilitator's job in these instances is to encourage creative thinking which will lead to new ideas.
Tip # 8- Enhancing the idea that Civic society can initiate a national change- planting the seeds of the ideas that people and organizations rather than governments only, can create huge national level changes. This may appear as "no can do" in post war oppressed and traumatised communities.
[i] [i] Baser H, Morgan P. 2008. Capacity, Change and Performance. Study Report. Discussion Paper No.59B. European Centre for Development Policy Management: Maastricht, Netherlands.