Game-changing Leaders

Game-changing Leaders
Learning Brief

Oasis South Africa

Listening to Change: Generating a Community-Driven Mandate for your Organisation by Conducting a Listening Exercise

Category: Game-changing Leaders | Secure the environment for young people to lead | 19 January, 2014 - 16:00



Oasis South Africa was founded in May 2006 and implements innovative community-based healthcare, housing, youth and development projects in Cosmos City, north west of Johannesburg. It focuses its programmes in the informal settlements around this area. In this learning brief Oasis shares on how it conducted a listening session with community agents in order to help re-formulate its organisational mandate and core objectives.


We firmly believe that the continued existence/operation of an organisation like ours should not be left to a board of directors – members of whom are physically detached from the community and challenges it encounters. Instead, members of the communities where we are established should set the mandate of our organisation.


We needed to revaluate our organisation’s mandate because over the past few months a number of social issues have become prevalent in the community where we live and work that challenged our organisational relevance. These challenges left us feeling disempowered because they fell beyond our organisation’s scope and problem solving ability. Our inability to assist in addressing these issues inspired an uncomfortable self-reflection that got us to ask ourselves if the invitation to continue working in our community still stands.  We began to ask if the social issues that our organisation addresses are ones that community members feel need to be addressed. We wanted to know if our organisation objectives matched community identified needs appropriately.

In order to acquire a deeper understanding of what issues where most prevalent for community members, and how these could mandate the future of our organisation, we proposed a listening exercise with community-based “Change Agents”. You can read more about our change agents I our previous learning brief. The listening process is described below.


1. Listening Process

A listening activity entails a process through which all Change Agent Communities (different projects in our organisation) LISTEN to and record the challenges facing the communities where they operate. There is no prescribed method for the listening process because the diversity of the programs coordinated within Oasis necessitates that each change agent community find the best way of understanding the state of their community. However we have a list of guiding questions, which help frame themes that the Agents should listen out for. The Change Agents then come together to share what they’ve heard and to re-formulate the organisation’s core mandate, and it’s subsequent goals and activities.

2. Listening questions

Before the listening process take place, we give the Change Agents a few guiding questions that allow the communities “voice to be heard”. We do not want to create a community that gets used to things being done for them or to them, instead we need to learn how a community can do this for themselves and that is the purpose of the listening exercise. The following types of questions are asked:

  • How does our community perceive our work in the community?  Is it perceived as doing for the community, unto the community, with the community or by the community?
  • Is the free will of people respected?
  • Who determines a projects objective?
  • Is there a willingness in the organisation to make changes to objectives if set by the community?
  • Does the view of an uneducated community member hold the same weight as that of an educated member?

3. Purpose of the listening

The purpose of this listening exercise is not to produce a report filled with statistics, but rather to give us – as community members – an opportunity to reflect on the negative and positive state of our community. More importantly, it is used to view the organisational objectives alongside the expressions of community members and to see if there is any alignment between the two.

4. Implications of the listening sessions

If this listening process is taken seriously, and is conducted thoroughly, it will yield two possible implications for the organisation:

  • First, the organisation’s contribution in the community will be vindicated and its continued existence justified. The organisation will then know how to deepen current objectives in order to expand on its contribution within the community.


  • Second, findings could reveal a significant misalignment between the objectives of organisation and the community needs. At this point uncomfortable questions will need to be asked regarding project objectives or even the project’s existence and relevance.

5. Listening as authentication

It is important not to see this exercise through the lens of monitoring or evaluating the organisation. It should be seen as an authentication process that allows the organisation to be shaped by the community within which it functions. This process allows a reinvention of the organisation so that it does not prescribe what needs to happen TO the community, but instead hears to what needs to happen IN the community.


Our primary role, in whatever activity, is to creatively find ways for community members to increase their capacity to address their own issues. We are facilitators in this process, and our legitimacy must be authenticated by a community-driven mandate. Therefore, we believe that our entry point and continued existence in a community should be by invitation only, from people living and working in that particular community.

Oasis South Africa

5168 Alabama Crescent Cosmo City Extension 5 Johannesburg


In Short

In this Learning Brief Oasis South Africa shows how conducting a "Listening exercise" allows an organisation to be shaped by the community within which it functions. This process mandates the organisation so that it does not prescribe what needs to happen TO the community, but instead hears to what needs to happen IN the community.

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