Community from communitas (com, "with/together" + munus, "gift")
WHY COMMUNITY BUILDING
Communities – whether in neighborhoods, schools or the workplace – are often under pressure. The fabric of communities is woven when people are able to exchange their gifts and sorrows. These gifts can come in the form of care, a warm welcome or practical help. Today in our individualized consumer societies the exchange of gifts and sorrows is outsourced to professionals leaving communities fragmented. Alienation, feelings of unsafety and violence are symptoms of a lack of community. On top of that communities have gotten more diverse. In the absence of the exchange of gifts and concerns differences have become a great source of conflict.
WHAT IS COMMUNITY BUILDING
Healthy human relationships
Community building is about restoring healthy human relationships that can positively transform schools, neighbourhoods and workplaces and the conflicts found in them. For this to happen we need to grow awareness for the unique gifts we and others carry. Not only gifts need to be acknowledged but also our sorrows. If we know someone is going through a difficult time, we can find ways to support him. Otherwise his absent behaviour might become a source of conflict. Gifts and sorrows operate on an universal human level that transcend issues of diversity and allow people to connect heartfully.
From problems to possibilities
Communities thrive on cooperation, co-creation and unlocking the inherent abundance. This is not an easy job as competition and scarcity seem to be dominant values in our Western culture. We think the value of competition and scarcity are highly overrated. It might stimulate economic growth, but it reduces citizens to consumers who look to professionals to solve their problems. Community building is therefore a process of questioning these values, discovering our own power and shifting the conversation from problems towards one of possibilities.
In our workshops and trainings we work on acknowledging our gifts. We practice connecting communication, cooperation skills, fluid leadership and strengthen the organizational power of a group. The ability to solve conflicts nonviolently is an important part of this.
A community building process has succeeded when:
We see the unique qualities of each person in the group, including ourselves.
We feel more connected as a group.
We are able to create space by listening.
We feel empowered to speak to the heart of the matter.
We are able to cooperate and self organize to get things done.
We are able to transform conflicts into learning opportunities.
Everything is already in the room
Community building asks for a very specific approach. First of we need to acknowledge that everything is already there. All the required skills and knowledge to build community are potentially in the room. It is basic human knowledge. The community building process is a way of reminding, refining and embodying this wisdom. Therefore as community builders we see ourselves not as teachers or trainers, but as facilitators. As facilitators we have the task to create a learning environment that is both safe and challenging.
Experiential learning is our main methodology. By doing interactive exercises, games and role-plays the group gains a shared experience on which to reflect. We involve body, heart and mind in the process allowing us to align values and actions. This all makes the learning holistic and a bit unpredictable. We sharpen skills, personally empower and build social fabric in the same breath.
If it’s not fun, it’s not sustainable
Joy is a central element in the programs. The idea is what you give energy grows. Having shared positive experiences builds goodwill and trust. This social capital forms an important buffer in conflicts. In the workshops the dynamic between 'serious' and ‘lightness’ are attuned to regulate the energy and emotions and make the interventions very memorable.
Building communities is a form of teamwork. By facilitating in a team facilitators can take different roles in the process, including participating in some of the exercises. This levels the relationship with participants and cultivates joint ownership. Furthermore training in teams makes it possible for trainees to learn on the job. For interventions Léon draws on team of facilitators trained in the same methodology and with a rich and diverse background. Besides facilitation he is also involved in training and educating new facilitators. This enables communities or organizations to build internal training capacity.
TAILORED FOR SUCCES
The programs are tailored to suit the needs of clients and can encompass many themes like teambuilding, community building, diversity, conflict or communication. Workshops and training programs can last from one hour to interventions lasting five days or longer. Please contact Léon for the possibilities.
Through his work for the Dutch organization Diversity Joy Léon facilitated groups up to a thousand people strong. With the team he educated more than hundred facilitators nationally and internationally. He has worked in schools, universities, asylum seeker centers, organizations, theatres and deprived neighbourhoods. Some of this work is highlighted in the pictures above and the portfolio.
ROOTS & RESOURCES
The training methodology is largely based on the successful Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP). AVP began in 1975 in a New York prison. Inmates were concerned about the rising levels of violence and so worked with experienced group facilitators to create sessions for young men to handle conflict better and without violence. The program worked so well that it quickly spread to many other prisons and then into wider society. AVP began with support from the Quakers (Religious Society of Friends) but the program is non-denominational, and works in many social and religious contexts (source). Léon learned the AVP program through the South African NGO Phaphama Initiatives which facilitates the program in schools, prisons, organizations and townships.
Another importent source for interventions is the Organization Workshop as done by the South African Seriti Institute. As they describe: the Organisation Workshop fosters organizational literacy; participants learn new repertoires of organization to deal with social challenges and to manage economic enterprises. It is activity-based, and works with large numbers of people e.g. 400. Products of the OW include infrastructure and new enterprises. The OW creates the conditions for all social partners to collaborate in activity that improves the quality of life in a community.
Other inspirations include the Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD approach) and authors John McKnight and Peter Block.