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Community Empowerment Can Genuinely Benefit The Community Social Work Essay

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In society, some groups are more vulnerable than others - the poor, the disabled, battered women, etc. NGOs working at the grassroots levels are best suited to deal with the vulnerable groups. However, NGOs and the Government can join hands to find the most suitable strategies to use, to empower those who are potentially weak in the social structure. The Government of Mauritius has put in place an NGO Trust fund to help these people to lead a decent life.

Community empowerment can genuinely benefit the community. However, along the way community organisations encounter several obstacles which hamper the empowerment process. This called for a review of the community empowerment strategies.

Most of the limitations of empowerment strategies occurred due to the lack of training in leadership development and lack of capacity building skills. On the other hand, NGOs were found to be limited in their actions due to the lack of resources and dependence on the Government. Moreover, the Government sometimes attributes more importance to the needs of stakeholders, rather than the needs of the community - thus failing the whole purpose of community empowerment.

So, to increase community involvement, organisations have altered their way of doing things. Some examples are : strengthening relationships with the community by developing a deep understanding of community issues, undergoing training, implementing creative strategies to encourage participation, among others.

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What is community empowerment?

'Community empowerment is the local government's core business' (cdz & changes, 2008).

Community empowerment enables people to play an active role in the decisions that affect their environment (cdx & changes, 2008). According to Rappaport (1987), empowerment is meant to enhance the possibilities for people to control their own lives. Cochran (1986) believes that people understand their own needs far better than anyone else and as a result should have the power both to define and act upon them (John at al, 1993).

Community empowerment refers to the process of aiding communities to gain control over their lives. Communities consist of groups of people sharing common interests, concerns or identities. Through empowerment, people are able to control the factors and decisions that define their lives. By increasing their assets and building their capacities, they can therefore broaden their networks. People cannot be empowered by others as such, but by themselves (WHO, 2012)

Community empowerment encompasses involvement, participation and commitment to the society. It is only possible when people feel a sense of belonging to the community and it aims mostly at social and political changes. In another words, community empowerment is a way of re-negotiating power to achieve more self-control (WHO, 2012).

Community empowerment covers the social, cultural, political and economic aspects of society. With the advent of globalisation, actions at the local level heavily impacts actions at the global level. This is why partnerships are required to finding collective solutions (WHO, 2012).

Communication is the key to successful community empowerment. It helps to raise awareness and increase knowledge of the people to encourage discussions and debates, so that people gain insight on the controlling forces acting upon their lives and initiate their own decision making process (WHO, 2012).

Empowering communities also includes empowering the individual. Empowerment at the individual level starts with defined needs and aspirations and focuses on available resources.

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It is the process of taking control, which eventually leads to fulfilling one's potential. It comprises of certain factors; self-reliance, participation in decision making, dignity and respect, belonging and contributing to the community. The empowerment of communities involves a higher degree of individual empowerment, a strong sense of belonging to the community, participation in political activities, leadership in decision making and access to resources (WHO, 2010).

The community empowerment process is very complex and requires understanding and commitment from the part of all stakeholders. Community empowerment progresses gradually. Therefore it requires constant learning and consistent building of a community's capacity (Donnelley, 2009)

2.1 How to empower a community?

In order to empower a community, that is to involve groups of people in engagement activities, it may be necessary to develop a campaign. However, we should bear in mind that a campaign based on other motivational grounds besides community welfare, fails the whole purpose of community empowerment. Community engagement involves the active participation of individuals and community representatives in all aspects of the campaign. It is very important for the community to be active participants, instead of passive ones (Kirklees Partnership Involving Communities Framework, n.d).

Empowering people is not an easy task. Individuals often do not have the time, energy, resources, expertise to develop and implement such campaigns. Community engagement demands certain criteria, namely resources to enable empowerment - such as political and legal rights, funding and the social capacity to create mobilisation networks, opportunities - such as those provided by institutional arrangements and finally motivations for people to exert their rights (Paul, 2010).

Social workers, both voluntary and professional, are assets to the success of these campaigns. Since human nature is complex, the staff leading the campaigns should let go of aspects that

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may threaten the purpose of the campaign. Instead volunteers, community organisations and partner agencies should participate in the design and implementation process. Here empowering social workers might be another important aspect of community empowerment (Kirklees Partnership Involving Communities Framework, n.d).

The Government should include the community at all stages of development projects to increase community engagement and community participation. Capacity building - strengthening skills, potential and abilities of people in developing societies so that they can step out of their misery, and community participation - actively engaged in designing, implementing and evaluating strategies to address a particular problem are essential to community empowerment (Debra, 2002).

Both NGOs and the Government understand the need for community empowerment in Mauritius. Here are some examples of how the community is empowered:

The Government has proposed to introduce a Community Empowerment Programme (CEP) with the objective of facilitating the community to make use of ICT to fully participate in the socio-economic development of the country.

The CEP in line with the Government encourages the development of local content and creativity.

The purpose of this initiative is to democratize access to information, provide comprehensive information about the country, namely its economic and social structure and stimulate the development and production of local content on the internet.

This will enable Mauritians to use the internet more effectively and find solutions to the challenges in the community. It will provide a common platform for sharing local knowledge, a marketplace for project proposals, and discussion forums. People will also formulate and implement their own development projects by collaborating with other stakeholders (NCB, n.d).

Another example would be the Work done by the Bel Ombre Foundation for Empowerment, which was founded in 2008. Their vision is to create an enabling

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environment where each individual can realize his potential. This organisation aims at empowering the inhabitants of Bel Ombre to catch the development pace by investing in training, entrepreneurship and social integration. Ongoing projects include adult literacy programmes, supporting the local artisans and the fight against poverty (Bel Ombre Foundation for Empowerment, n.d).

People should feel free to act upon their own ideas for the benefit of the community, so that they can be more creative and productive in their endeavours. For instance educating people

is one initiative of community empowerment, which can be understood as aiding the individual to better understand his/her needs as well as society's needs, and find proactive measures to the challenges that society faces, without controlling the latter. At the same time, they feel a sense of belonging to the community.

2.2 Whom to empower?

It is true that we are all part of society, and that we have needs, but there are other people who are in precarious situations and need a boost. However, it does not mean that they deserve better treatment than the common man. They should just be given a hand. For example; poor people, battered women, minority groups, the disabled and so on.

Empowerment is also about sensitizing people who are in vulnerable positions or who are potentially weak in the social structure. As mentioned earlier, community empowerment sometimes necessitates campaigns to reach the target audience. However, there are sensitive issues that touch a large group of people and are not often discussed openly. E.g. Battered women.

Hence, both the Government and NGOs focus on preventive measures. Due to the division of labour and stereotypes, women often occupy an inferior position in society and are victims of injustices by man. So, one initiative of the Government was to empower women.

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Empower women

According to reports from all over the world, women constitute a majority among activists in the community and a minority in leadership in the community (Sadan, 1997).

The Ministry of Gender Equality, Child Development and Family Welfare insists on the reinforcement of capacity building of women, which can be achieved through education and training. The Government also provides the necessary support for women to launch businesses (Ministry of Gender Equality, Child Development and Family Welfare, 2010).

The Ministry has organised workshops for women under the National Women Entrepreneur Council to enable them to develop their managerial skills and provide support to potential women entrepreneurs wishing to launch their own enterprise (Ministry of Gender Equality, Child Development and Family Welfare, 2010).

The Women Entrepreneurship Development Programme has been launched in several regions of Mauritius, namely in Quartier Militaire, Triolet, Le Morne, Terre Rouge, Camp Thorel, Lallmatie, Ernest Florent and Pont Lardier and some 1800 women have benefitted from the programme (Ministry of Gender Equality, Child Development and Family Welfare, 2010).

Empower the poor

Since NGOs work at the grassroots level with the poor, they have been able to establish reciprocity, mutual understanding and build trust. The Government of Mauritius works in hand with NGOs to combat poverty. All stakeholders have come to realize that actions at the local level can be a first step to a national solution (Hurbungs, n.d).

One of the first conditions for getting people out of the poverty trap is to make them take full responsibility for their lives. They should also be included in all stages of community projects, so that they feel valued and gain confidence. Another initiative adopted by the Government of Mauritius is developing actions based on the aspirations of the poor. For instance the poor prefer receiving aid to send their children to school with all the necessities

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instead of receiving financial support to feed their hungry stomachs (Hurbungs, n.d).

NGOs should help the poor become aware of their current realities and empower them to make their own choices about the future, initiate actions for their development and adopt a healthy lifestyle (Hurbungs, n.d).

2.3 Benefits of empowering a community

When a community is empowered, people feel free to act within the society and at the same time associate a sense of belonging to it. Through community participation and capacity-building, they rediscover their own potential and gain confidence. They also feel worthy of the community, for the help they are providing - to make a change.

Community empowerment can initiate actions at individual level, which can reach community or even national levels. For example, someone victim of an accident, can gather a group of people - it can be close friends, family, or even strangers who have joined for a good cause - and help to sensitise others on road safety measures (Dr. Glenn, 2009).

Development of small groups can initiate collective actions. It is also a means for practitioners to gain community service skills, leadership skills for some, management skills, develop empathy, broaden networks, form partnerships and bring about social cohesion (Dr Glenn, 2009).

Community organisations offer the means to resolve societal problems. They include young groups, faith groups, community councils and associations. They have the power to mobilise resources. They development of community organisations requires some form of leadership and those who serve the community have better chances of developing community capacity - and can become future leaders (Dr Glenn, 2009).

Empowered individuals are able to influence the direction and implementation of a programme through their participation. They progress from a personal action to the point that

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they are collectively involved. This can lead to gaining the power to influence economic, political and social action. They can therefore help others to empower themselves and gear them towards capacity building (Dr Glenn, 2009).

2.4 The role of the Government and NGOs in community empowerment

The Government of Mauritius has the responsibility of catering for the people and has formulated laws to protect them and safeguard their rights. The Government acts as an authority figure. The political and administrative environment of a community directly affects the empowerment process (Phil, 2007)

The environment includes a series of factors such as the laws, rules and regulations and practices of the civil society. The environment also covers the policies and practices of relevant Non-Governmental Organisations (Phil, 2007)

In this regard, their task is to encourage community activities that enable the community to develop itself - to be empowered. They should also help the community to initiate actions towards self-reliance, community empowerment and eradication of poverty (Phil, 2007).

The Government should be able to modify Ministry regulations, modify legislative policies, support legislative committees responsible for legislative reform, provide guidelines and empower NGOs active in the related sectors, raise awareness through conferences, workshops, competitions and so on and pass relevant information through public media - posters, radio, local TV, newspapers, and advertisements (Phil, 2007).

NGOs are increasingly involved in capacity development. They lean towards developing skills and tools to strengthen the society. NGOs can have a significant impact on community development. However not all NGOs are in good terms with the Government and very often they lack resources and face many obstacles and unless they become partners with the Government, capacity building initiatives will continue to fail (Inger, 2009).

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The Government should also offer training to practitioners so that they are well equipped at all phases of the process. More importantly the Government should provide support to NGOs which can lead to consistency and integration with each other. Support could be of financial and technical assistance for meetings, working committees and campaigns.

According to the Mrs Sheila Bappoo ( Minister of Social Security, National Solidarity and Senior Citizens Welfare & Reform Institutions), the Mauritian Government fully acknowledges the role of NGOs in community development. The Government has put in place an NGO Trust Fund which has the objective of helping vulnerable groups of the society so that they can lead a decent life.

The Government provides support to numerous organisations who are actively involved in community empowerment. One such example is the the Youth Empowerment Programme which was implemented by a group of students from the University of Mauritius and the Force Vive des Quartier Reunies.

The project had the objectives of developing leadership skills among children and at the same time encouraging community service by University students (MEF, 2011).

The Government is actively involved in many such initiatives, and as we can see community empowerment begins with the common man. All we need is an idea and the will to bring about change.

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3.0 Community empowerment strategies

Community empowerment strategies include community development, community engagement, community participation and capacity building (Peter, 1996).

Community development helps people to recognise and develop their abilities and potential and organise themselves to respond to problems and needs which they commonly share. It supports communities that control and use assets to promote social justice and help to improve the quality of community life (SCDC, n.d).

In Maritius, the Community Development and Poverty Alleviation Project has been implemented by the Government and its budget extends to approximately 4 million Rupees. Community development requires the knowledge of people, their values and culture. People should be empowered to generate their own knowledge and use it to improve the quality of life. Therefore participation is necessary for community empowerment. Community development walks in hand with management. Community Services Management is a relatively new approach and it aims at empowering community workers and stakeholders to better assess and implement community based projects efficiently and cost effectively. Community Development also requires General Organisational Skills - including financial skills. The emergence of professional management in such organisations denotes power. Community practitioners should be aware of the structure of the organisation to develop the required skills to effectively achieve its objectives. Finally, we cannot ignore the concept of Sustainable Development when speaking about development in Mauritius. The Government, NGOs, and the private sector recognise recognize that the environment, the economy and equity are irrevocably linked (Community Development and Poverty Alleviation Project, 2005).

Community engagement is the process of involving people in decisions that affect them. This can mean involving communities in the planning, development and management of services. Moreover it consists of empowering the community to make decisions and to implement and manage change (DSE, 2011).

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The Government envisioned the creation of a sustainable society with the implementation of the project Maurice Ile Durable (MID). In this regard, the Government encourages community members to initiate partnerships with multiple stakeholders and facilitates community engagement that supports people to express their vision for the community and initiate shared responsibility (Anneleos at al, n.d).

Community participation refers to active engagement in designing, implementing and evaluating strategies to address a particular problem (Debra, 2002).

The Government stresses upon the integration and participation of the youth in many aspects of the society. The Government also provides the opportunity for youngsters to engage in voluntary activities. One such programme is the National Youth Award which was launched in Mauritius in 1996. It is a sort of training programme which encourages personal delivery and growth, self-reliance, perseverance, responsibility to themselves and the community (Ministry of youth and sports, 2012).

This programme under the Ministry of youth and sports supervised numerous activities which involved the participation of many national projects, namely ''Jeux de L'avenir'', Jeux de L'espoir'', Environmental Projects, Community Services and special vacances (Ministry of youth and sports, 2012).

Capacity building involves strengthening the skills, potential and abilities of people in developing societies so that they can get out of their misery.

Capacity-building programmes were established in Mauritius in view of poverty reduction. Since 2000, the IFAD (Funded Rural Diversification Programme) has been reaching out to more the 15 000 poor people. The programme has helped the poor to diversify their incomes and improve their standard of living. Under the Community Development and Poverty Alleviation Project, the Government adopts an approach to help the poor to get out of their own misery, by providing them with opportunities to generate their own income - by empowering them (Community Development and Poverty Alleviation Project, 2005).

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3.1 Limitations of community empowerment strategies

Community empowerment strategies encompass several areas and require the participation, involvement, and commitment of various stakeholders. Implementing empowerment strategies also demands much time and effort. However they are good initiatives to empower the community, as explained previously. Community empowerment strategies have brought about numerous improvements in sectors such as poverty, health, environment, and society in general.

The major obstacle to successful community empowerment is the lack of training in leadership development and organisational capacity building (Peter, 1996).

NGOs

NGOs have the possibilities to pass on information either by directly providing them to the public or helping the community to acquire access to information sources. NGOs can improve organisational assets by establishing new community organisations or improve on existing ones. They can also help people to get financial aid and material assets based on their needs and rights. Moreover, they do a great job in sensitizing and gathering people through health and education activities - community engagement. Finally, since NGOs work at the grassroots level, they are more experienced and have genuine knowledge of the difficulties people find themselves in (Selibu, 2006).

However, very often many obstacles hamper the empowerment process. Limitations to empowerment activities of NGOs arise from many sources. To start with, NGOs are constrained by the fact that they have little access to resources and less influence on policies and the law. Another factor would be that most NGOs are dependent on the developments made by the Government. NGOs are in most cases not in good terms with the Government, and this directly impacts their actions. Moreover, NGOs are limited by local factors such as inefficient institutional frameworks, weak relationships with the community and organisational problems within themselves. Consequently, in trying to respond to donors, the Government often lose sight of genuine empowerment needs of the community and cater for other demands from stakeholders (Selibu, 2006).

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Risks factors

When implementing empowerment strategies, risk factors should be anticipated and well-managed. The risk factors include time and planning limitations, possible lack of cooperation from stakeholders, incompatibility among methods used, diminished interest from community leaders, lack of additional funding and possible lack of resources for community leaders to impart their knowledge and skills (Community Development and Poverty Alleviation Project, 2005).

Community organizations face enormous obstacles to repairing the social fabric of their communities, especially if society faces serious issues (e.g. high crime rate). This limitation is due in part to organizations' inability to develop strategies and due to lack of resources (Peter, 1996).

Moreover it is quite difficult to foster community participation and engagement, because people are not always free to participate in activities even if they can benefit from them. The community is also reluctant to form partnerships with stakeholders due to lack of trust. The community sometimes expects too much from the Government, and therefore is left with only aspirations and dreams. People have responsibilities and other concerns and they view community engagement and participation as an added burden. It can also be that information and whereabouts of campaigns and workshops are not evenly spread, considering low-budget organisations. Sometimes community leaders themselves are not committed to the project. Very often community activities are merged with politics, and are a means to monetary gain and enhanced image. As a matter of fact, community empowerment strategies fail their very own purpose due to lack of community involvement/participation/engagement.

3.2 Alternatives to increase community engagement and participation

If an organisation wants to be truly accountable, it needs a strong system of organisational governance. Without a clear focus, it is impossible for community organisations to achieve significant impact. Hence, community organisations should be able to develop the element

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of trust with the community (ICD, 2005).

They should implement creative strategies so that the community is motivated to work with them. Both NGOs and Government organisations should address the different strategies including - capacity building, physical projects, research and information and networking (ICD, 2005). Organisations should also display reliability, leadership and transparency. Empowerment programmes are not always easy to achieve. This is why organisations should review their own strategies.

Participation and continuity

It is necessary to work with the community in bringing awareness of the proposed activities and their benefits. It is also of significant importance to maximise community participation in planning, design, and implementation stages so that people develop sustained interest and ensure continuity of the particular project (Community Development and Poverty Alleviation Project, 2005).

Management, supervision and monitoring

The success of the projects will depend on proper management, supervision and monitoring. Practitioners should be given appropriate training in the field of project management. Progress should be monitored, to ensure that objectives are being fully achieved (Community Development and Poverty Alleviation Project, 2005).

Engagement

Community engagement is achieved if projects bear better outcomes. It is also very important to strengthen the relationship with the community. Community organisations should project the reputation of the organisation through their actions. Moreover they should develop increased understanding of community issues to form partnerships and broaden their networks (DSE, 2011).

Leadership training

Social workers and staff should possess the right skills to be able to reach the audience. Some practitioners often feel a lack of motivation and discontinue their service. Dealing with

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people can be exhausting and frustrating. Therefore the Government should provide access to training sessions, information and networks. More than 20 training centres have been successful in teaching community organizations the skills needed to develop leaders and build strong community organizations in the US (Peter, 1996).

Target vulnerable groups

The Government should display involvement in the community. It should tackle issues that are of concern to the community - education, emancipation of women, poverty, etc, and provide support by empowering them. E.g. Implementing poverty alleviation strategies. The Community organisations should also work with those who are potentially weak in the social structure. For example by educating the illiterates, providing economic support to vulnerable women, reduce vulnerability to HIV/AIDs and other health issues, and by collaborating with other organisations (SEM, 2012).

Community organisations should themselves be empowered to adopt the best suitable approach to deal with people. The Government should promote community access to technology and information and also allocate a budget for community organisations to implement community empowerment programmes, for sensitization campaigns, workshops and working committees. Moreover, since media plays an important role in conveying information, media coverage of community initiatives should be improved. The common man should also be empowered to initiate action on a small basis and eventually be monitored for potential innovative ideas. It is also primordial to promote laws and regulations that give communities a voice (Peter, 1996).

The Government of Mauritius has implemented the National Empowerment Foundation in this regard and has extended support and empowered numerous people. Some examples include; The Integrated Social Development programme setting up housing units at La Valette Bambous accounting to a total cost of Rs. 205 million and benefitted 200 families ;

around Rs 1.1 billion allocated for programmes which include facilities for unemployed women, Integrated Social Development, circular migration, technical assistance to Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) (NEF, 2009).

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4.0 Critical Analysis

Community empowerment strategies are effective measures to empower a community. Through community engagement, community participation, community development and capacity building, people are able to identify their potential and discover their abilities, participate in group discussion and activities, engage in implementation of important projects and can empower themselves so that they can overcome difficult social situations.

As mentioned in the previous sections, community empowerment can benefit the community on a small basis as well as nationally. Community empowerment enables people to initiate actions based on their day-to-day experiences. It also creates a chain where the empowered individual in turn helps others to empower themselves by sharing experiences and forming partnerships. Community empowerment is a means for the community to broaden their networks and meet new and influential people. An empowered community can influence the social and economic aspects of a country to seek their rights. Moreover, when working with others for a collective cause, individuals acquire a sense of worthiness. Those actively involved in community work and community service can eventually become tomorrow's leaders.

Since community empowerment strategies deal with people, unforeseen events may arise. It is true that community empowerment is beneficial to the individual and the community, however people are not always free to engage in community activities. Moreover people are reluctant to indulge in community activities due to lack of trust, because very often activities are based on selfish grounds. For example; political parties showing interest in social activities for the sole purpose of enhancing the image of the Government. Other limitations of empowerment strategies include lack of cooperation from stakeholders, lack of funding and diminished interest from community leaders themselves. Finally, NGOs are limited in their actions due to lack of resources and dependence on the Government.

Many alternatives have been put into place by the Government to address the issue of lack of community involvement. For instance; give social workers access to information, encourage training among practitioners, increase awareness of social phenomenons, improvements in media coverage of community initiatives, among others.

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Conclusion

Community empowerment strategies are good initiatives to empower the community. However, there is always room for improvements. So keeping in mind the complex nature of society, community empowerment strategies should be geared towards people's respective needs and should aim at protecting their rights as citizens.

NGOs are assets for community development because of their proximity at the grassroots. But since NGOs and the Government are not motivated by the same grounds, they adopt different paths to reach the same objectives - empowering the community. In this regard, it is therefore very important for the Government to provide support to NGOs and other community organizations.

Moreover, the Government should provide training to social service practitioners and allow access to relevant information, technology and resources so that effective strategies are put into place. More campaigns and workshops should be organized, but making sure that information about their whereabouts reaches maximum people.

When people are empowered, they rediscover their abilities and potential and also bring small community projects to national level. They develop new skills such as community service skills, leadership skills for some, managerial skills, develop empathy, broaden networks, form partnerships and bring about social cohesion.

More importantly people and organizations should be empowered, so that they in turn help others to empower themselves.

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