Empowerment & Consciousness-raising
To empower someone is to encourage a person to see the power they did not realize they already had. The kind of power we encourage is the power to control one’s own life-situation. Communities and people need the power to plan and shape their own futures. They have a right to manage their own affairs and to look after their own interests - for this, they must have control over their own destiny. Having power also requires having authority and responsibility to maintain that power. While to encourage the recognition of greater power among communities is monumental, consciousness-raising is required to maintain the power over their own lives. To empower a people or a community they must be supported to decide their own goals and visions of what they would like to become, while sharing with them the opportunities they have available in their the world. In this sense AI help's people in communities to help themselves. Also important to keep in mind: a group which gains new power is challenging to those who held that power in the past. To empower a people may be challenging to an old authority.
Sustainability & Community Participation
A sustainable program is one that lasts future generations and in its legacy, supports and promotes community-generated improvement and restoration as a healthy entity. The ultimate goal of a sustainable program is the strength as a self-supporting structure in local people’s interaction and dynamics. Programs which rely on constant assistance by donors are dependent and run the risk of failing if such assistance is cut or reduced. A sustainable program is designed to promote independence and local ownership to not only further the chances of its existence in the future, but foster local participants to have a clear stake in what happens to the program - this encourages locals to place strong value on their own program. Non-sustainable programs run the risk of excluding the locals or beneficiaries of the program from participation. This leads to: systems and portions of the program to be ill-adapted to local conditions and realities, poor development and outcome of the programs services, and general disinterest in maintaining the programs and their success. The following are obstacles to implementing participatory and sustainable programs: (1) organizing to operate and make decisions from the top down, not appreciating and valuing the key of the participation of locals, (2) participatory programs often have a longer time-frame than many donors are willing to accept and support, and (3) organizations which have poor development of its administration and group infrastructure.
The key to beginning a sustainable program with participation at its heart is to help locals to identify their assistance desires. They must take into consideration their own assets, capacities, and needs . Because organizations and locals can often times be on different levels in terms of power, knowledge and skills, there must be a goal of creating equalness between the two. Through active involvement and participation in their own programs, community members can, ensure their own security and protect their community, their culture and their family. Along these lines, we must seek local community participation with the planning and designs of each program’s structure. To begin, we should use local leaders, organizations and associations as a vehicle for promoting local participation and cooperation. The program would be more efficient and humanly profitable (to use business terms) if they are organized and directed by locals themselves. These locals would be helped to set up their own service orientation.
Goals of sustainable participation programs:
1. Public Awareness - community members and NGO are informed how their participation helps them;
2. Policy Design - the policies of the community organization are designed to demand local participation;
3. People’s Organization - decision making and organization takes the form of “bottom-up” building participation;
4. Decentralized Decision Making - decision making based on a local community level;
5. Collaboration - collaboration between communities, organizations, associations promoting success and support;
6. Operational Procedures and Methods - community administrative arrangements promoting participation; and,
7. Monitoring and Evaluation - evaluation and monitoring assessing success and community participation.
Enabling others, we can help to create a self-supporting, sustainable programs lasting generations.
preservation of local cultures & traditions
The culture of a group or community is the glue that holds communities together and makes them last over generations. It is the shared perspectives and manner of interacting that is based on common habits in a common habitat, environment or place. The culture of a group is key in any community, it is the collective expression of values, perceptions, language, technology, history, spirituality, art and social organization of the community. Apart from human rights violations, AI dose not take direct or indirect steps to change culture, rather, its importance is encouraged.
To truly empower a community and to ensure the continuous benefits of working together to build community, self-sufficiency must be a goal. A local program that is self-supporting financially and administratively will stand the test of time when outside support is not always consistent. In this sense, we take the role of facilitators, not financial crutches, who help enable local communities to reach the opportunities they deem important. The program is then a local program which does not crumble when we leave and go on to something new.
Spirituality is an important part of everyone’s life. Spirituality may range from a philosophy, a specific religion, an outlook on life, to a way of doing things. Whatever the case, spirituality is important. We have varying personal spiritualities at AI and in the rest of the world, no specific one presides in the programs. Rather we recognize the importance of spirituality in every community and support the local’s desires of its presence in their programs.
self-determined community-based assistance
In our post-industrial and post-modern world of the United States, development usually means progress, growth, getting bigger, etceteras. However, to take a more personal definition, it means a coming into one’s own. As we are promoters for community development, let us define what we do as encouraging each local group to ‘come into its own’, to become as fulfilled as possible. In this sense, assistance can help a community to reach for its own, self-realized, or self-defined potential. Such assistance however, cannot come from outside of the community, rather it is something which comes from within the community’s existing assets. We must encourage communities to utilize their capacities and assets. Historic evidence indicates that significant community advancement takes place only when local community members are committed to investing themselves and their local associations and institutions in the effort. Communities build naturally from the inside out.
As we come to understand that community assistance can only truly come from within, we may be lead to question, what then, is the role of outsiders? Many communities are blinded by the straps of their poverty; they may be hopeless or unmotivated. Outsiders can bring to them the knowledge of how to become motivated again, and to return to building from within. Each community, no matter how poor or marginalized it may appear, boasts a unique combination of assets upon which it can build its future. Resources from outside are much more effectively utilized and sustained when local communities are mobilized and invested; and if they define their own agendas for which additional resources must be obtained. The keys then to community assistance are the community assets and capacities, when assistance is internally focused it is relationship driven and sustaining.
networking, cooperation, & partnership
What goes along with doing what we do best is networking, cooperating and being in partnership with local groups, associations and institutions which do the best work in their communities. The extent and definition of each partnership range from community to community as do the groups and associations. Developing those relationships of cooperation are important not only to the local community functioning, but to our functioning as well.
research, evaluation, & information sharing
As AI seeks to aid those in poverty, we strive not be so driven by our goals to over look the realities of each community. In this sense, research and evaluation are key to understanding the true reality of the successes and failures of programs. If what we find through research and evaluation is not congruent to what is planned, we are not so bold as to go beyond our agendas to pursue programs truly beneficial to local communities. In addition, as we study and research our own programs, we recognize the importance of learning from others - there is great value in sharing what we have learned with others and in learning from them. As such, we strive to give back to this community, helping to build a learning curve in the field of community assistance.