Four weeks ago, I left a cold wet Australian winter and arrived in the heat and hustle and bustle, of Delhi. In the month of July undertook a research project for Haiyya in order to investigate the types of methodologies, tools and practices utilised by some of the top youth-led activists, movements & community organizing groups in India. The aim of this project was to identify the community organizing practices activists and campaigners are utilising in their work and to disseminate the findings with Haiyya’s networks. The hope is that this in turn will provide the community organizing sector with a resource to support campaigning and leadership initiatives in India.
Which is the most common approach of community organizing being utilised?
The survey revealed that all participants utilised community organizing framework in one way or another. The approach varied, some participants utilised peer education and others took a participatory approach. However, the most common theme was the use of narrative. The sharing of stories and experiences with others in order to create relationships, empower people to lead and create lasting social change. When deciding the types of campaigns that the activist or community organizing group should undertake, participants largely responded that they or their organization were guided by social justice issues impacting communities.
Is an organizing plan necessary for campaign initiatives? And if so, what should this plan consist of?
Seventy-five percent of participants felt that an organizing plan was essential for campaign initiatives. These participants stated that a good organizing plan should incorporate interest and input from the community volunteers, mentoring and supervision of volunteers and new leaders, and agreement on goals of desired impact. In addition, participants stated that in order to build a campaign on the right foundation, it is important for a plan to include participation of all stakeholders, how progress will be monitored and to always consider the social justice issue you are working towards in the approaches you undertake.
So why do people mobilise to act on social justice issues?
Activists and community organizers stated that people are predominantly motivated to act or lead due to oppression, the social justice issue at hand or the immediate consequences of the campaign. For example, one particular activist was working on a campaign to normalise and reduce embarrassment surrounding women’s undergarments, the campaigner hung bras on a wall to protest an issue and also to normalise women’s undergarments. In addition, the survey revealed that activists and organizers felt that people are also motivated to act through a sense of belonging, relationships of trust built with campaigners and community, and hope for a better future.
What are some key challenges community organizers face when mobilising people to act?
Participants stated that some of the key challenges surrounding mobilisation to act involve the stigma surrounding the issue, inaccurate knowledge about issues,and fear of repercussions of participating in campaigns from community, family, authorities or religious faith. For example, one participated stated that the main purpose of their campaigns was to end the practice of female genital cutting. The participant stated that their “main challenge is countering all kinds of pro-cutting arguments that are rooted in religious faith and convincing our target audience that we do not wish to antagonise the community or critique the religion or their faith.”
What makes for successful campaigns?
Participants in the study stated that a successful campaign should take a grass-roots, bottom up approach that incorporates open communication, a functional and proactive feedback loop and be process orientated as opposed to outcome orientated.
What makes for unsuccessful campaigns?
The study revealed that most activists and community organizing groups found that a campaign that incorporated judgemental language, was antagonistic towards the community they were working in and one that used a ‘cookie cutter’ model of campaigning with no flexibility was destined to fail.
By Karen O’Reilly
Karen is a student at University of Sydney pursuing Masters of Human Rights. She worked as a researcher for Haiyya for the months of June – July.