Neighbors talking to neighbors about key issues — the heart of Concern’s “community conversations” method — allows communities to tackle contentious problems and emerge with shared plans for the future.
It’s Friday afternoon in Mamondor, a small village in Sierra Leone’s Northern Province. Women and men, youth and elders are gathering for a Concern Worldwide-organized “community conversation,” an approach Concern has instituted in several countries in order to stimulate community engagement and ownership of their own development. In Mamondor, it is producing impressive results.
Through genuine dialogue that uncovered shared values, the village has established a community farm. The farm’s income is being used to support vulnerable children in Mamondor, an issue they chose to prioritize.
Such harmony wasn’t always front and center here. “There were big divisions in the community,” says Alhassan Jalloh of Pikin to Pikin, a local organization working with Concern.
One of Concern’s core beliefs is that change starts at the community level, and lasts only when each community is empowered to determine its own future. Community conversations, such as those used in Mamondor, help us turn that belief into reality.
Community conversations provide a safe space for people to come together for thoughtful dialogue about shared values, diffusing distrust. They are also a meaningful way for neighbors to become committed to a common vision for the future.
Concern helps communities focus their conversations to explore a shared sense of purpose and passion.They allow everyone to have a role in defining priority issues and visions.
Through the resulting sense of trust and authenticity, communities can identify the best ways to move forward.
Community conversations have helped bring positive change to Marsabit in northern Kenya, where pastoralists and their families faced hardships caused by the need for more protection of grazing areas.
Traditional development approaches had fallen into disuse due to a combination of increased drought frequency and aid dependency. Community conversations led the pastoralists to decide to find ways to better enforce commitment to protection of water sources and dry land grazing areas, which quickly increased their resilience to weather extremes.
Because of their inclusiveness, community conversations like those in Marsabit shift the balance of power from a few selected members to the broader group, with specific inclusion of the poorest and most vulnerable.
They help communities dispel notions that external experts, local elites or dominant groups have a monopoly of knowledge and solutions to community concerns.
Facilitated through the use of participatory tools and skills, they also create ownership and responsibility for community development, while making use of community knowledge to tackle the root causes of exclusion, powerlessness and underdevelopment.
They are just one more way Concern partners with and supports communities to create lasting change.
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