Development through (em)power(ed) relationships

Part 4: Power within

Tshikululu has found that even after successfully convening a forum committed to achieving collective impact, and even with a robustly debated and jointly agreed end goal, we sometimes don’t see the anticipated movement towards achieving that goal. The energy does not flow as one might have hoped. We’ll have the right people in the room, representing the right stakeholders with already approved budgets and mandates that align to the common goal. Yet we are met with inertia between meetings.

This typically happens when the powerwithin appears curbed or constrained. The people we have in the room struggle to appreciate the power withinthe room, and how this can be translated into a power tochange things. In such instances, participants might also be struggling to translate the power withinthe room into a power withinthemselves, such that they can take this power withinwith them to draw on as they give effect to the forum’s plans between meetings.

Together with our social partners, we are now giving greater attention to nurturing the power within because of these experiences. And we’ve been finding that story-telling, simple as that may sound, is proving to be a key strategy to achieve this.

In the context of the Jala Peo initiative unpacked last week, by seeking to understandpower withinto encapsulate the capacity to imagine and to hope for the future, we chanced upon the idea of holding a poster competition for school learners, inviting them to imagine what a school food garden could mean for them.

It was not only the response of the learners that surprised us, but also the reaction of the forum members when they began to see the power withinto affirm the identity of the local community, their stories, their hopes, their dignity. Through their posters, the learners were showing that they could dream and act and change the world for the better as a community. It was the learners’ imaginings, their articulation of their vision, that awoke something within the adults sitting in the district forum.

Social investment that seeks to affect sustainable systemic change through collective action must include consideration for the affirmation and building of thepower within. This will lead to stronger agency amongst stakeholders that are crucial for collective action. The stronger the actors, the stronger the relationships with and between them can become. The stronger the relationships, the more likely and lasting the impact that can result.

[I am indebted to the for framing the four concepts of power used in this series of articles.