A PLEA FOR SPONTANEITY
Phil Bartle, PhD
Keynote Address; Bellarmine Conference, Loyola Marymount University
Los Angeles, 2005, November 7
Just to get the ego out of the way, I am here to be one of the resource people you might be able to tap for this conference. I have worked for Community Empowerment for about forty years, mainly in Africa, a bit in Asia and a tiny bit in Europe and North America. Have worked at the planning and programme levels, advising governments and municipal councils, for the United Nations, aid agencies, private companies and non profit NGOs. Have worked in rural and urban communities, have trained hundreds of community workers, managed and co-ordinated them, and have developed several hundred training documents for empowering communities. I am also a scholar, have researched and written on the topic and taught at universities in Africa, Europe and Canada. I hope that this experience can be of some use to some of you in Los Angeles, as we work together here to aim for a Just Community.
What can we learn from community work in Africa that might apply here in Los Angeles?
Africa is strewn with the remnants and wreckages of projects that were not sustained, and which failed, especially when the donors left. They all looked so good on paper: vision, strategy, goals and objectives clearly spelled out, resources identified, plan of action, business plan, monitoring, lessons learned.
Many of them had participation of the recipient communities, some consultations to find out what they needed, and what were local conditions. Then the projects were taken back to the donor or executing agency, refined, approved and made ready for implementation. The community members were no longer needed, and they were not good at making up all those reports anyway.
That is the lesson learned. There really was no community participation in the decision making from start to finish, there was little or no sense of ownership, and when the donors left, the local people referred to it as belonging to the donors, and did nothing to keep it running or maintained.
Linear planning fails.
What is needed is a little less of the corporate planning model, and a little more spontaneity and flexibility, and a guarantee that the community members are involved in the planning and execution, not to mention sacrificing some of their resources, from beginning to end. Some lateral or matrix thinking, Some respect from the donor or execution agency, and some willingness of the donors to involve the community members in a process that therefore gets a bit messy.
If we want a just community here in California, or anywhere else on this continent, then in the relations between donors and beneficiaries we can learn from these examples, where the donors are now any sources of funds and vision, e.g. higher levels of government, or agencies, both private or governmental, that have the express desire to strengthen justice in our communities.
The dimension handout describes community as a cultural or social institution.
A German sociologist Tönnies, used two words, gemeinschaft and gesellschaft which strictly defined simply mean “community” and “society.” Now, when we use those words, in English, in the social sciences, they can be changed from nouns to adjectives, and are no longer separate and finite categories, but attributes that apply to our communities in degree.
The word gemeinschaft can now be used to the degree that a community is small, informal, where people know each other as total persons rather than as roles, and the atmosphere can be called warm and fuzzy.
In contrast, the word, gesellschaft, can be used to talk about the degree to which relations are more cold and formal, more inflexible by being written, and where we know each other as deli clerk, bus driver, police officer, customer, or other role – ie as an incomplete person.
The handout on sixteen elements shows the ways we must or can strengthen communities.
The more we set about making linear plans to strengthen communities, the more we shift the community from gemeinschaft to gesellschaft. We are in danger of removing the essential nature of community when we start doing that. If we are more flexible, take our time, find ways to strengthen the warm and the fuzzy, and flexible enough to tolerate the more messy approach, the more we can succeed in making our communities just.
The world is inexorably moving towards gesellschaft. It began in the first city, Mohenjo Daro, ten or twelve thousand years ago as a result of the agricultural surplus. Urbanization and increased division of labour and interdependence, has that effect.
But biologically we humans have not really changed in the last 50,000 years, and we are designed to live in small groups, face to face, where we know everybody. What we find happening is that at a local level, spontaneously, we are creating new, perhaps pseudo gemeinschaft relationships. We learn the name and use it for the deli clerk, bus driver, and postal delivery carrier.
While we seek a just community, we need to strengthen community. Our gemeinschaft is the baby, not the bath water. Warm and fuzzy, messy, spontaneous, and human.
We need to celebrate our spontaneity. We need to encourage the creative in our selves and others. We need to shift the envelope so that we do not have everything neatly boxed into budget lines items before we start to act.
So what do you want to get out of this conference?
What do you want to take away from here? To finish off this session, I would like to hear from you. Please do not use this limited time to get up on a soap box, to preach or make a long statement or explanation. As if we were in a standard community development session, simply tell us all, in one sentence or less, what you wish to have when you leave that you did not have when you came.
If you copy text from this site, please acknowledge the author(s)
and link it back to www.cec.vcn.bc.ca
Slogans and Proverbs: Following the path of least resistance makes all rivers
and some men crooked
© Copyright 1967, 1987, 2007 Phil Bartle
Web Design by Lourdes Sada