Engaging Your Community: The Way Forward

Mark Carras is (already!) halfway through his 6-month SCI CIDA Youth internship in Durban, South Africa, where his work is focusing on the development of green economies.

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Durban is all it’s cracked up to be. I spent the nights of my first African summer months doing my best to feign sleep before I borrowed a roommate’s fan. I buy fresh produce from the friendliest farmer’s market-esque street vendors and shop owners, the beach front is beautiful, the highways are lined by leafy canopies and I can get a smile out of most everyone I see. It’s a far cry from Canada in the winter time!

My work at Imagine Durban is moving along well as I approach the halfway point of the internship. I feel like I have been able to form solid working relationships with my colleagues (who crack me up on the daily) and am enjoying steering a couple of great demonstration projects in the townships and within the city centre. A large focus of these projects is working with youth in a park revitalization program and with marginalized communities in a social housing intervention project. Both of these projects utilize multi-stakeholder engagement processes in township communities with a strong focus on community engagement as a key component of the project process.

On a recent weekend I spent a Saturday in a workshop organized for 25 beneficiaries of the social housing project mentioned above. The workshop was with residents of the first wave of low-cost housing that was rolled out in South Africa’s eThekwini Municipality in the mid-nineties. These 25 residents, from toddlers to Gogos (Grandmothers), engaged with facilitators throughout the morning and afternoon to talk about their houses and the practical housing interventions that could be performed on their homes to improve their quality of life. I feel the process demonstrated well to all involved how much value and depth multi-stakeholder community engagement can give a project. This kind of participatory engagement goes a long way towards increasing community ownership of a project/idea/legislation, etc. and helps to create long-term project sustainability through a better rounded and informed approach to various well intended projects and initiatives led by official organizing bodies.

Many projects are conceptualized and implemented by (but not limited to) non-profit organizations, social enterprises and government bodies from around the world with the aim of improving the lives of individuals and communities. From what I have read, seen and experienced here in Durban and at home in Canada, improving the level and quality of community consultation and participatory processes used in these projects will go a long way towards better, more informed projects and intended outcomes.

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Sustainable Cities International is a registered not-for-profit organization based in Vancouver, Canada. Operating since 1993, the mission of Sustainable Cities is to catalyze action on urban sustainability with cities around the world. We work by connecting and mobilizing people through the process of co-creating. We facilitate a thriving, international network of cities that act as urban laboratories: adopting, testing and improving on innovations. Ideas are accelerated through sharing of experience and cities are making transformational change a reality
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One Response to Engaging Your Community: The Way Forward

  1. kdiga says:

    Hi Mark, This is an amazing story about community participation, local ownership, sustainability with marginalized groups. these are all components which I think certainly need a close up view, how you say from what you are reading, the participatory method help you meet more informed projects and intended outcomes… would you be happy to participate in sharing this same story with us our our e-discussion on Poverty & impact?? http://outreach.un.org/unai/2012/04/02/building-the-research-agenda-for-impact-assessment/ I would be very pleased to have you or your group talk about your experiences in monitoring this incredible process! Cheers! Kathleen

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