Build an empowered community: 5 things to do in 2017

We’re just over a week into 2017, and it’s time to talk about goals, plans, and resolutions: thus, 5 things to do in 2017 to build an an empowered community.

Let’s start with the obvious question: what is an empowered community?

An Empowered Community

An empowered community is a community where every individual feels able and encouraged to contribute to the betterment, growth and strengthening of a community in which they feel ownership and, most importantly, belonging.

empowered community

1. Coalition Building

Coalition building is one path to community empowerment. Bringing together individuals and leaders who represent a broad range of stakeholders and community sectors and seeking to find common ground on a particular topic or issue. Tom Wolff writes about community empowerment through coalition building:

Health and Human Service Coalitions aim to improve the community’s quality of life by: developing the community’s local planning capacity, increasing collaborative problem solving, promoting greater cooperation, developing an advocacy capacity of the community, and increasing information access.

How to do it?: look for opportunities to join active coalition building efforts; this might be community meetings that happen on a regular basis, activity specific groups like Juvenile Justice Advisory Councils, DWI and community meetings against substance use and abuse, League of Women voter meetings, Multi-disciplinary team meetings, or regional or state summits on topics that are of interest to you, your business, or your organization. Generally speaking, seek out and encourage opportunities for working together to identify and implement action, encouraging networking and connections between communities and organizations.

2. Community Skills and Knowledge Overview

In order to understand where the limits or gaps are in the services offered to your community, it is helpful to start by recognizing the skills, knowledge and expertise that people contribute, building on these and what has gone before. Ask Questions, and collect information. Do you best not to duplicate, but collaborate. How can you work together? Down the road you can look at things like Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), collaborative or network funding or grant applications, and joint strategic planning meetings.
How to do it?: You can write what you find out down, by interviewing community leaders, cold calling organizations with a web or social media presence, or looking through the yellow pages, but one way to gauge the coverage of services, community skills and knowledge is to plot out the presence on a map. A physical map! Depending on your scope of interest you could do a map of your city (what i’d recommend) or your state. Get the colored pens out or better yet, map pins color coded to what works for you. It’s amazing how a visual representation can give you a new and helpful perspective on the scope of skills, services, organizations and knowledge in your area.

3. Seek Equality in your community

By challenging discrimination and oppressive practices within organisations, institutions and communities we demonstrate that every individual, family, business and organization has a place within our community. I do believe that equity is actually more fundamentally important than equality, and there are some attitudes of bigotry, xenophobia, racism, and sexism that I personally believe has no place in an empowered community.

How to do it?: By working in ways which recognise that discrimination exists, promote equity of

opportunity and good relations between groups and challenge inequality and exclusion. By exploring what equity means in your community and encouraging understanding each other’s differences and the motivations behind those differences. By listening to those who feel oppressed and discriminated against, but also being willing to educate yourself on why they might feel that way. It is not the responsibility of those who are oppressed or discriminated against to educate you.

4. Build Participation as a cultural value

Participating is acculturated as a cultural value when empowered communities facilitate democratic involvement by people in the issues which affect their lives based on full citizenship, autonomy and shared power, skills, knowledge and experience. By engaging with your community in ways which increase people’s skills, knowledge and confidence, and instill in them a belief that they can make a difference you can create a legacy that lives long beyond you.

How to do it?:

Find ways to say thank you to other members of your community for what they do. Even if what they do is not directly in aid of your organization, your business, or you.  A hand written thank you card never goes astray, especially if it means you quietly making another aware that they are noticed, and appreciated. A letter to the editor in a local newspaper, or nominations for local, state or national awards or acknowledgements are other ways to demonstrate appreciation. This is great for the whole community when one is acknowledged for their participation and contribution.

As Mary Reding Smith, co-founder of Military Spouse J.D. Network says, “Take people with you” – when you are meeting with a representative (whether legislative, community, or business), take a young person, an employee, a mentee, or a friend interested in community empowerment with you. Share the opportunities to build experience speaking truth and helping to build strong, vibrant, supportive communities.

Invite people to join you. Ask for help; ask for their help (and take time to notice what people are good at).

5. Be an advocate for Social Justice

Be an advocate, supporting others and amplifying the voices of those with less agency than you. By being an advocate for social justice, you are enabling people to claim their human rights, meet their own needs and have greater control over the decision-making processes which affect their lives. It doesn’t matter where on the political spectrum you sit, by being a person who facilitates and enables those in our community who often don’t have significant political agency – this includes children, the elderly, the disabled, and the disenfranchised – you are making sure our communities are self-supporting.
How to do it?: volunteer to serve on city or county advisory boards or committees, encourage those around you who may not have considered doing so, to do the same. Seek out opportunities to understand the physical, social, and practical needs of your community – whether by volunteering yourself, by asking questions of those working in these areas, or by listening when people tell you their story. In general terms, find ways to encourage and equip individuals, organizations, and businesses in your community to take part and influence decisions, services and activities.

A final word

Contributing to the growth and strength of an empowered community doesn’t happen overnight, nor is it the work of one individual, business, community organization, or entity. It is a rather abstract, nebulous even, concept. The fruit, as they say, bears witness to the existence and power of an empowered community.

Speaker. Reader. Thinker. Writer. Traveler. Advocate

Anna Blanch Rabe, founder of Anna Blanch Rabe & Associates, has been working with Social Enterprises, socially-responsible businesses, educational institutions, and non-profit organizations since 2006 to develop and effectively execute strategic, digital, and narrative initiatives to gain exposure, develop community capacity, attract talent, and reach new customers. Anna is an Australian-born speaker, writer and advocate. Connect with Anna on Academia.edu, Linked In, Instagram, facebook page, & Twitter. Ask for a Media Kit
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