When I first started in the community development field, I was amazed to discover that so many of the target populations that we dealt with really felt they didn’t have a voice and that their opinions didn’t matter or count for anything. At first I had a hard time grasping the concept that someone could believe that their voice could mean nothing. But as the years passed and I worked with more and more people who felt disenfranchised and felt they had no voice, my opinion started to change.
Probably the greatest hurtle that anyone doing community development or capacity building has to overcome is the fact that many of the people they work with feel very alone and because of their dependence upon social agencies and government services, they have been made to feel like they have little control in their lives and so their opinions don’t matter.
But the power of one person can be combined with many others to make a difference in their own lives, in their communities and in our society. The power of one when united with a multitude of others with common perspectives is a huge power and a strong voice.
How do we help people to realize that their one voice has power? Well there are several ways to do this. Community development workers can:
- Build a positive relationship with their clients – Speak sincerely, openly and honestly with your clients and demonstrate that you value their insights, opinions and perspectives. Never promise them anything that you can’t deliver.
- Talk about current issues in the news – Talk to clients about current issues that impact their lives and ask their opinions on those issues. Encourage them to share their opinions through group discussions, coffee meetings, or having them present their opinions in a speech to their peers.
- Ask for clients input on community – Create opportunities for clients to provide input on what they think about their communities and what they identify as issues in their community and challenges they are facing as residents of that community.
- Set a goal – In co-operation with your client and other individuals, set a goal to accomplish in the community. Set a goal and encourage them to take ownership of that process by talking to others about it. Once the goal is achieved, your clients will begin to understand that their voice when united with others can be loudly heard and have a huge impact on their personal lives.
Question of the Day: What other ways can you think of to assist people in recognizing the power of one?
For more resources, see our Library topic Nonprofit Capacity Building.
By Ingrid Zacharias