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Expert Advice: HILARY – Community Engagement

Expert Advice: HILARY – Community Engagement

[Expert Advice Series] [CIVIC LEADERSHIP
In this lesson, you’ll gain an understanding of what community engagement is, and why it’s important, [2. BECOME FAMILIAR WITH DIFFERENT WAYS AN NGO CAN FOSTER COMMUNITY
become familiar with different ways an NGO can foster community engagement, [3. LEARN THE BENEFITS AND CHALLENGES OF COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT]
and learn some of the benefits and challenges. [Hilary Binder-Aviles, Independent NGO Consultant]
[Binder-Aviles:] NGOs exist to serve the public good — to make people’s lives better and communities stronger. Too often, we think of community members only as people in need of
Community engagement is about involving the people you serve, not just as beneficiaries of your projects, but as partners in
accomplishing your mission. Almost everyone — young or old, rich or poor, with or without formal
education — has something they can contribute to an NGO’s work. Some might have special knowledge or a unique skill to offer. Others might have the means to donate money, materials or
supplies. Others still can give their time and bring their enthusiasm. When people are actively engaged in efforts to
improve their own lives and their neighbors’ lives, they become
more aware of and committed to solving problems. [ACTIVELY ENGAGED] They also learn new skills and gain confidence in their ability to
effect change. In short, engagement is empowering.
[ENGAGEMENT IS EMPOWERING] So how can an NGO actually practice community engagement? You can start by involving community members in your projects. You might already conduct some sort of needs
assessment where you ask, through surveys
or focus groups, your target population about their needs. That’s a great start, and you can take that one step further. Consider creating a community advisory committee
[“COMMUNITY ADVISORY COMMITTEE”] that meets regularly to provide input feedback on project plans and
progress. A group like this can be a bridge between the NGO and
the community, bringing valuable insights to your NGO and serving as champions of
the project in the community. Take time to learn more about members of the community you serve —
both those who participate in your projects and their families,
friends and neighbors. [COMMUNITY NEEDS ASSESSMENT]
In addition to doing a community needs
you can also conduct a community
“assets” assessment. Through surveys, focus groups or community meetings, ask people
what they know and what they know how to do. You’ll find people with all kinds of knowledge, skills and
experience they can contribute. For example, if someone likes to talk to their neighbors, they might
be just the right person to help you carry out a survey or join your
project advisory committee. When the people you serve are involved in your NGO, your NGO will be
more successful. Not only will your projects be more relevant to their needs, but
you’ll build collective ownership of your NGO’s mission. [BUILD COLLECTIVE OWNERSHIP AND SUPPORT]
Your community members will be more willing
to support your NGO and its work in the future. When NGOs don’t engage community members as partners, you miss
opportunities to develop the assets that exist right in your own
backyard. Over time, you can invest in building the skills of community
members who are most engaged and provide them with opportunities to
step into leadership roles. By cultivating new leaders, you expand the pool of talent to help
you carry out the mission and ensure that your NGO’s work will go on
long after the founders are gone. The leaders you cultivate can amplify your NGO’s work in any number
of ways. They can educate others in the community about the issues. They can serve as messengers in public education
campaigns. They can mobilize others to get involved, speak out and take
action. Think of community engagement as an investment in the NGO’s future. By building the capacity of the people you serve to be more involved
in efforts to improve the community, you might just find your next capable staff members, volunteers,
board members, even donors to your organization. [NGO’S CAN BE EMPOWERMENT ORGANIZATIONS]
NGOs are humanitarian in nature, but they also
can be empowerment organizations that facilitate the ability of people to realize their
own visions for better lives and communities. [Expert Advice Series
Produced by the U.S. Department of State]

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