Category: Game-changing Leaders | Secure the environment for young people to lead | 19 January, 2014 - 16:00← BACK
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.
THE NEED TO HAVE A COMMUNITY-DRIVEN MANDATE
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.
REVALUATING OUR MANDATE
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.
CONDUCTING A LISTENING EXERCISE WITH COMMUNITY-BASED “CHANGE AGENTS”
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:
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:
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.
5168 Alabama Crescent Cosmo City Extension 5 Johannesburg
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.