Climate Change, poverty, and mental illnesses depict that markets and governments cannot solve our key problems without community engagement. The first thing that a community professional needs to know are how to establish a meaningful relationship with the community s/he wants to serve. Professionals and communities possess two different types of knowledge: technical and social. Some leading people in public service have given us very valuable insights on how to integrate expert knowledge which is technical with community knowledge which is social.
Arthur Ashe gave a very profound statement about community workers who want to serve people by saying ‘start where you are, use what you have, do what you can’.
Professionals and communities possess two different types of knowledge: technical and social. Some leading people in public service have given us very valuable insights on how to integrate expert knowledge which is technical with community knowledge which is social.
The starting point for any technical expert is to map out the resources that a community has, physical infrastructure, technical skills, land and other assets. But before this mapping work an important first step is to know what does the community want , how it wants to achieve it and what are the barriers in its way. Ernesto Sirolli a renowned expert in social entrepreneurship, said very clearly and bluntly how to accomplish this task. He said, “ if you want to help, shut up and listen”.
Listening is an art that does not naturally come to everyone.
Listening is an art that does not naturally come to everyone. We are better at speaking than listening. South Asia’s guru in rural development and poverty alleviation, Akhtar Hameed Khan invented a powerful tool for listening to and consulting with the community. It is called the Diagnostic Dialogue. This tool was used for poverty alleviation in the poverty stricken communities living in the most harsh terrain in the world, the mountain communities of the Himalayas, Karakorum and Hindukush mountain ranges. In ten years time community development plans based on the use of this tool doubled the income of 100,000 households. This was unprecedented. The United Nations Development Program noticed it and provided grant funding to expand this approach to entire South Asia, a region with the highest concentration of the poor in the world. Thus, a new program, South Asia Poverty Alleviation Program (SAPAP) was born focusing on women. It created the largest number of women’s self-help groups (SHGs) in the world.
Discussion with Management of Rural Support Programmes on their Role in the development process. Dr Akhtar Hameed Khan Part I Role of RSPs.
Diagnostic Dialogue consists of three dialogues. In the first dialogue, the development assistance expert asks the community if they want to alleviate poverty in their area. If the community agrees, then it is asked to fulfil certain preconditions to qualify for the supports. In other words, the community earns the support through collective action and a reciprocal relationship is established between the community and the technical professionals. The community is asked to organize and hold meetings regularly, select office bearers through consensus to avoid future inner conflicts, save regularly, and identify one intervention that will alleviate poverty of most of the households in the community.
Three months after the dialogue community presents evidence of honouring its commitments in a meeting with the development expert. Then the second dialogue is started to prepare a feasibility for the project identified by the community as the most suitable project for poverty alleviation. Dr. Khan warned about one thing here. He said that community can come up with two types of solutions, their dreams and things that can be achieved within the available means. Work on the solution that can be achieved within the available means.
When community and development experts agree on the technical solution, then a third dialogue is held. In the third dialogue, grant funds in the form of a cheque are presented to the office bearers of the community organization in a community meeting and the community, and is told to keep track of the money and monitor the project progress. It is their project and they take the responsibility for its implementation.
To know more please read:
Social Transformation in Pakistan: The Art and Science of Linking with the ‘Other’. The book is available on Amazon and it has been published by The Knowledge Executive.
About the author: Fayyaz Baqir is a Development Practitioner, and was a visiting professor at the University of Ottawa from 2018 to 2020. During the past 3 decades, he has been engaged in managing grant programmes for supporting Local Agenda 21. He has advised, researched, taught and written on innovative practices for achieving global development goals through local action. Special focus of his work has been on poverty alleviation, participatory development and social entrepreneurship.
Fayyaz Baqir is a prolific writer with several books available on Amazon. His work covers a wide range of topics and provides readers with valuable insights.
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