Community Agent as Social Activist
The only constant thing is change. The physical, biological and human environments are
in a continual state of flux. Individuals react to change in patterns laid down by their
society and culture. These patterns change through time.
In the following two papers we look first at the general concept of social agency to
suggest that the paradigm may be shifting.; we then look briefly at two examples of the
new paradigm in practice and draw some preliminary conclusions.
For more than 8000 years there have been individuals who, through education, religion,
the media and/or brute force have managed, more or less consciously, to condition others
into feeling inferior. Thus many people become complacent, long-suffering and dependent on
their leaders to think for them and make decisions on their behalf.
This is the family analogy: the leaders, or elite,
represent the all-knowing and dependable parents who are often stern and aloof. The masses
are the ignorant and irresponsible children who must be disciplined for their own good. In
these modern times this analogy is wearing thin.
Social activists are individuals who, for a variety of reasons, have seen through the
analogy. They seldom emerge from the elite. There are two general types:
Heroic individuals take on the role of new father
(or mother) figure, mobilising the others to revolt against the corrupt and abusive old
order. Sometimes the new order improves life for the masses, sometimes not. There has been
a change in the parent figure, but no change in the analogy. The paradigm survives.
Thoughtful individuals take on the role of
older brother or sister. They have seen through the analogy and want others to see through
it too. They know that adults are capable of making wise decisions, regardless of their
social or economic class. The parent no longer dictates to children but rather siblings
consult. The paradigm shifts.
In practice, social activists may be driven by both intentionalities. It is easy to be
cool, understanding, and patient when the going is smooth; but when the going gets tough
the dictatorial parent may emerge. The litmus test is control. When faced with opposition
the activist may become impatient and angry and seek tyrannical control - at least for a
time. This is rarely a good thing.
|To encourage community people to take self-determined actions, and|
|To avoid harassment and obstruction by the more powerful who may feel threatened.|
Overcoming these challenges requires technical and social knowledge and skills. Truly
talented individuals may manage on their own, but such individuals are rare. Strategic
thinking, mentoring and peer support are essential, and contacts developed through
networking can be invaluable in surviving the second challenge.
The road is made by walking. The process has begun. Community activists in various
parts of the world have set a new ball in motion. Methodologies are being developed which
enable ordinary people to gain more control of their destiny.
The following section describes two existing community agent approaches to social
Community Agents begin as social activists in their own community then, with training
and support, they become a resource for other communities and groups. Most Community
Agents work on a part-time, self-employed basis. They form networks which may be
approached by organisations and agencies intent on practical community work.
One of the first networks of Community Agents began in the late 1980s in the low-income
areas of Colombo in Sri Lanka. Class barriers were the crucial issue for poor people who
were tired of advantaged Sri Lankans reaching out to them. They felt that little would be
changed that way. The Community Agent approach developed as an alternative.
Over several years, and with initial support from UNCHS, poor people joined together to
become their own development agents. They formed a city-wide, poor womens credit
union and several housing co-operatives in which local people determine the priorities and
mobilise others. This has reduced the social distance between the organisation and its
beneficiaries and is proving highly effective. (MORE)
Community Childcare Agents (CCAs) are the focal point for increasing childcare services
in the Highlands of Scotland. They are selected by their local childcare groups on the
basis of trust and willingness to undertake the work. As local activists they are key in
establishing after school and holiday care, but they also co-ordinate local training needs
analyses, training events, impact assessments and work exchanges.
An Out of School Care Federation has been formed which trains the Agents through a
combination of quarterly, centre-based sessions, on-line telephone support, e-mail and a
practical work-pack. The work pack outlines the CCA tasks and provides guidance on where
to find support. This network has been functioning for three years and has made major
in-roads into increasing training, particularly for women living in remote rural areas.
Most Community Agents begin as active local volunteers. Development organisations
recognise them, provide skills training and help them to form networks. The ultimate goal
is to establish autonomous self-managing networks, although this may require several years
of external support before agents can confidently function in a manner that addresses the
variety and complexity of their needs.
Networks of Community Agents seldom arise spontaneously because the process is neither
simple nor direct. External organisations play a vital role in ensuring equal
participation of activists in the initial stages and, over time, in providing an external
perspective on the networks capacity for decision-making and implementation, and for
its skill in coping with and resolving internal issues.
|Select people based on their track record in social activism|
|Select people on their capacity for critical reflection|
|Ensure that training addresses specific, locally identified needs|
|Devise action plans focused on clear, practical tasks|
|Provide regular and easily accessible support|
|Bring agents together regularly to share their experiences|
So what do you think? - click
- Sri Lanka Womens Developmental Services Cooperative Society (Womens Bank)
- 151/13, E-Zone
- Seevali Pura,
- Colombo 8
- Sri Lanka
- Tel: 00 94 1 681355
- E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
- The Out of School Care Federation in the Highlands and Islands
- c/o Merkinch Enterprise
- 2/4 Grant Street
- Inverness IV3 6BL
- Tel: ++44 (0)1463 240085
- E-mail: email@example.com
Albee, A. and G. Boyd, (1997) Doing it Differently: Networks of Community
Development Agents. Caledonia Centre for Social Development, 19 Midmills Road,
Inverness IV2 3NZ, UK. Tel: 01463 230335
Albee, A. and G.Boyd (1994) Concept of Community Agents, Rural Forum Magazine,
Issue 37 (Winter) 1994/95. Forum, Highland House, St. Catherines Road, Perth PH1 5RY
Community Involvement in Rural Development Initiatives, Good Practice Guide No2.
1997. The Stationery Office, 71 Lothian Road, Edinburgh EH3 9AZ. Tel: 0131 622 7050. Cost
Gamage N (1998) Real Voices in Development Hundred Stories of Womens
Bank Members; Womens Bank & UNDP (for address see above)
Gilchrist, Alison (1995) Community Development and Networking, Briefing Paper
No 7. SCCD and CDF,. Community Development Foundation, 60 Highbury Grove,
London N5 2AGCost £6.
SCEC Community Government Exchange, Scottish Community Education Council, 9
Haymarket Terrace, Edinburgh EH12 5EZ. Cost: £6.
The Out of School Care Federation (1997) Good Practice Guide, c/o Catriona
MacLean, 1 Sluggans Drive, Portree, Isle of Skye IV51 9EQ. Cost: £12.
Vijay Krishnarayan (1993) So You Want to Start an Environmental Network? A
Practical Guide to Setting up and Running an Environmental Network, NCVO
Publications, March 1993. NCVO, Regents Wharf, 8 All Saints Street, London N1 9RL.