Civil Society and the future work of social change
by James Taylor of the CDRA
Many civil society organisations in the funded business of social change have been overtaken by the very thing they have been pursuing. Changes in the context around social development organisations are demanding that they reflect deeply on what they do, how they do it, and on the very identity of what they should become if they are to remain relevant to the demands of the time.
The changing context in broad brush strokes
The history of funded (or aided) development is most often traced back just over 60 years to the ‘European Recovery Programme’ initiated by the United States in 1948 after World War II. The intention was to build relationships through helping to rebuild European economies after the end of the war in order to prevent the spread of Soviet communism. As the European countries started recovering they too incorporated development aid into their relationships with countries considered to be less developed. Development aid played a significant role in shaping political and economic relationships throughout the cold war period. Around two decades ago, a series of events began to dramatically change the world order. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 coincided with the return to democracy in Chile after Pinochet’s dictatorship. The demise of the Soviet Union led to democratic movements and regimes in central Asia, Eastern and Central Europe. Around the world, epochal changes were taking place; the end of apartheid in South Africa and its new democratic president Nelson Mandela in 1994; the democratic regime in Cambodia in 1993; economic liberalisation in India in 1991; and the Tiananmen Square demonstrations in China in 1989. Three trends seemed to coalesce simultaneously around the world nearly two decades ago – the rise of democracy, the globalisation of economy and the voice of civil society. There was a resurgence of the concept and meaning of civil society in this period. In its new incarnation, civil society began to be heard, seen, talked and written about around the world.
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Who’s thinking about social change? We are! Are you?
by Jennifer Lentfer of How Matters
I’m in Johannesburg this week for the Barefoot Guide 4! Twenty-eight participants from 16 countries are here in a collaborative “Writeshop” to lay the foundations for the next Barefoot Guide. We’re writing a book (or is it?) entitled, “The Real Work of Social Change.”
This 4th Barefoot Guide will present and illustrate many examples of social change in different contexts, exploring not just the stories and activities, but digging deeply into what the practice and real work are that have made social change possible. Many development practitioners, in all walks of life, want to move beyond isolated, project-based activities. We know that the future lies in more integrated, multi-actor programs that accelerate, rather than impede social change, requiring very different understandings of change and different strategies, approaches and practices.
Over the last couple of days, we’ve been talking a lot about individuals (personal responsibility) and the collective (mutual obligation and accountability) within social change. We’ve also been talking a lot about the transformation that occurs when people discover the strength of their voice and have space, or the opportunity to use that voice, and engage with those in power. Experimentation, active citizenship, ambiguity, and trust seem to continue to circle back through our discussions.
It’s a big topic, but I’m impressed with the WriteShop methodology itself and how it’s open enough to support the formulation of ideas, while enabling “people who aren’t writers write for people who aren’t readers.” There’s lots of questions floating around, and that’s ok. After intense days, we’re now formulating writing maps for our proposed chapters or sections, and then seeing where the content takes us. Tomorrow, we are unleashed! We write!
Here’s the question I’m trying to answer: How do we communicate the reality of social change so that people can have a deeper appreciation of its complexity? It’s about how we portray people, our roles, our work, our mistakes in a “silver bullet solutions” world. It’s about engaging with people who aren’t great fans of “the process,” which is what’s needed if social change in a rapidly changing world will require us to go out of our comfort zones, (which it will)!
And here’s some nuggets of wisdom I’ve been noting throughout the week:
“Listening and questioning are the two root tools we have in social change.” ~Doug Reeler, Community Development Resource Association
“The new era of M&E will be dawned by the people we serve.” ~Moctar Sow, Réseau Francophone de l’Evaluation
“If writing something is a voyage of discovery for you, it will be for your reader.” ~Tracy Martin, EveryChild
Check out others’ Barefoot Guide 4 reflections and thoughts on our Hackpad. Feel free to add your own there as well or here in the comments.
If you’ve got concepts, theories, stories, examples, ruminations or reflections on social change, there’s still many other ways to contribute to the Barefoot Guide 4. (We’ll hardly be done by Friday!)
News from the Field
Writing for Development Course
See participant feedback from the pilot course
This 5-day course is for anyone who works in the development sector with an interest in improving their writing. This course will boost your skills to produce compelling and original pieces of writing that engage your reader. Writing is an undervalued yet increasingly important skill for development practitioners. Proposals, progress reports, articles, case studies, fundraising material, websites, blogs, press statements… The list is endless. Many of us feel overwhelmed by all the writing we are expected to do and struggle to articulate our thoughts and put our experiences onto paper. The result is that a lot of what is happening ‘on the ground’ remains unseen and unknown to the general public and potential donors. This is a missed chance!
As a participant you will:
East and Central Africa
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Nairobi, Kenya: 5 - 9 May 2014
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania: 12 – 16 May 2014
Cape Town: 26 to 30 May 2014
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This course can also run in-house on request
for details and registration.