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Partners for Possibility

Learning the Art of Community Building Learning th Art of Community Building review

Change starts with each of us. One conversation at a time.
‘Learning the Art of Community Building, conversations that change the world’ – it had intrigued me enough to take two days off work in order to ‘work’ on aspects on my being as well as my greater global understanding. Under the broad spectrum of ongoing self-improvement, I pursue these types of workshops because no matter what the subject, I always find it enriching, and often enlightening, to be in a shared space of awareness and learning.
A breakfast table of muffins, fruit, juices and more greeted us on arrival. A theme soon to be shared was how essential it is to provide a gesture of food when in an environment of establishing community, and how the offer of food can start to bring people together. Such a simple concept, yet so vital an approach! This was a confirmation how it is often the simple things done beautifully, and with care, that impress and impact on us greatly. 
So the workshop began, two days structured around six conversations, created by six powerful questions. I was reminded again about the art of powerful questions. And I was enamoured all over again by how one seemingly simple yet beautiful, bold question – with adequate space created for it to settle and inspire – can do so much. 
Six big questions inspiring six bold conversations. Four food snack breaks a day (very important don’t forget). Three fabulous facilitators. Two days of time away from the routine world to discuss and engage with fellow South Africans of all ages, cultures and backgrounds. One common purpose. Conversations that change the world.
The words of South Africa’s ultimate education ambassador and ex-MD of the World Bank Mamphele Ramphele still ring through my mind from that video clip on the first day. She said, “Africans have a subject mentality rather than a citizen mentality.”
The concept of active citizenship within the democracy of South Africa, created over 18 years ago, was presented in a subtle yet powerful way. As South Africans we have the world’s best Constitution in place to support the freedom we fought for all those decades ago. Yet here we are ‘waiting for superman’. Waiting for someone else to start something. Waiting for someone else to deliver. We have become consumers. We expect. Instead of creating what we need and want. It is this compulsive materialism which erodes the power of our very own citizenship privilege.
Leadership as a concept was presented as a way of being, an attitude rather than a role or a position. Along with this, principles of self-responsibility were read out like a manifesto of desire and delightful expectation. A manifesto we wanted to aspire to, to uphold, to be our best for ourselves and to respect and honour the best from those around us. To be aware of the stories we tell and how we are in our conversations. The facilitators spoke to the highest within each of us collectively in the 50 strong participant group and they created the space for us and invited us to take part in a shared purpose of experiencing conversations that can make an immense difference.
Many impactful quotes were shared which landed with new meaning in context of the workshop. From Tolstoy’s “Every man wants to change the world, but nobody wants to change themselves!” to one of my renewed favourites from Plato “Be gentle with everyone you meet, for you never know what battles they are fighting.” 
The essence of Symphonia, the NGO behind these Community Building workshops, became clear and resonated within me – a coming together of everyday South Africans to make a difference. Symphonia for South Africa began as a passion project inspired by Ros and Benjamin Zander’s book The Art of Possibility by the now returned expat Louise van Rhyn. The focus of Symphonia for South Africa is on education, with schools being at the heart and centre of the community.
As a recently returned expat myself, I too feel the desire and urgency in Louise’s need to see and make a difference in South Africa.
I also learnt about Symphonia’s Partners for Possibility Programme as I sat amongst a majority of school principals and their ‘partners’, each of whom is an active citizen adding their time, experience and insights to assist our country improve and succeed. One school principal at a time.
As the conversations unfolded, I listened to stories I’d not heard before. I heard how it was from all angles of the rainbow family. I listened with awe and inspiration to some, and with shock and sadness to others. One teacher expressed the challenge of getting parents involved in their children’s homework and development as well the difficulty in getting these parents to attend meetings or join the school’s governing body. He said how most parents in his area merely saw school as a place to leave their kids during the day while they went to work.
It was these intimate nuggets which opened my eyes the widest. It reignited in me that to get the right conversations started all we need is a little bit of courage, and a big bold beautiful, sometimes scary, question and then the safe space to speak, listen and hear others out.
The two days were gently facilitated and tools were provided to take part in and take away the conversations that can build community. From the importance of inviting people to participate (not telling them to do so) to looking at the things we are moaning about and thus what we are subconsciously perpetuating in our disempowering dialogues. We looked at the value of acknowledging the gifts people bring of themselves, and recognising within ourselves our own gifts. The theory of the six conversations is based on the methodology and work of Peter Block who has written three books, Community: The structure of belonging, Flawless Consulting: a guide to getting your expertese used and The Abundant Community.
Peter captures the essence of his work eloquently in saying, “Most sustainable improvements in community occur when citizens discover their own power to act… when they stop waiting for professionals or elected leadership to do something, and decide they can reclaim what they have delegated to others!”
I left the two-day workshop assured and certain of my need to step fully into being an active citizen. I will use my gift of writing to share the sentiments, insights and inspiration of how a few beautifully placed questions along with creating and allowing a safe space and adequate pauses and silences for authentic responses, how we can each and all contribute to uplifting each other, and our communities, our country. One powerful gentle conversation at a time.
Conversations can change the world. 
By Sue Northam
30 November -1, 00:00

Learning the Art of Community Building Can building strong communities combat crime?

What is the secret to combatting crime? This question has frustrated me time and time again and as I've asked people in the police force, politics and business this question, no one has had a certain answer. 
This question has once again been in the forefront of my mind after attending a community building workshop by award winning author, Peter Block, who was in South Africa recently. 
For the first time, I think I've found a satisfactory link in the chain to overcoming our biggest evil, although that certainly wasn't the focus of the workshop. 
The Peter Block Community Building workshops were held across the country and were organised by Symphonia, a non-profit organisation that leads and initiates projects intended to engage South Africans in the process of nation building. 
With people from different tribes and races, ages and religions, the unemployed and executives, nuns and journalists, Peter Block set out to make a community out of all of us in two days. 
I was expecting to be spoken at, as most motivational speakers do, with little interaction from the participants. But Block is about as un-American as they come. He offers an alternative to the patriarchal beliefs that dominate many global cultures and his approach offered structure to interactive group sessions without being dogmatic. 
We all know that South Africa's communities are particularly fragmented given our racial history, but our fragmentation is also seen in the great divide between rich and poor, the high walls and electric fencing in wealthy suburbs, and the stark lifestyle differences between sectors of the population. 
This fragmented community context that most of us function in is one that markets fear, assigns fault and worships self-interest. This context supports the belief that the future will only be improved when government passes new crime laws, when there's more heavy-handedness and when we get stronger leadership. Isn't it true – we are so quick to blame government for crime and the problems in our communities! 
It's not that Block doesn't believe in accountable governments, but he helps us realise our inherent power as citizens. We become powerful when we choose to shift the context within which we act (always expecting authority figures to effect change) and realise that we have the capacity to exercise power rather than delegate it to others. As a community, we have all the resources we need to solve every problem that will face us. Good news indeed. 
Block's workshops are based on his book, Community: The Structure of Belonging, in which there are six key conversations that any group of people will have as they become a community. 
The first conversation to have is the invitation, where people venture out of their comfort zones to make contact with people they've never connected with before. 
The second, possibility conversation is one that focuses on what we want our future to be as opposed to problem solving the past. When we talk about the possibilities, we break free from conformity, embrace our creativity and take ownership for the ideals that will push us toward the future we want to create. 
The third conversation around ownership causes us to take responsibility for the role we play in creating the current realities in our communities, as opposed to playing the blame game, which doesn't bring any real change to the community. 
In real communities, people must have the space to say 'no' and express their doubts and reservations. The dissent conversation allows for true commitment, because unless people are free to say no, they cannot be truly free to say yes. 
No community can function properly without commitment from its members. Talking about 'what promise am I willing to make to this enterprise?' facilitates this commitment. This conversation is about each one giving to benefit the whole, as opposed to seeking personal gain. 
The last conversation revolves around each person's gifts. “What are the assets I bring to the enterprise?” Rather than focus on people's deficiencies and weaknesses, validating people with their essential core and contributions has the potential to make the difference and change lives for good. 
For Serena Naidu, from one of South Africa's biggest corporations, the workshop sparked a new passion to invest in South Africa. “When I saw the list of attendees, I thought what are all these different people going to talk about? I have often conversed in the corporate world, but here I connected. The key to the connection in our groups was the questions we asked each other. The questions didn't lead you to the “right answer” but to the unknown, which meant each one had to bring themselves to the conversation.” 
The reason Peter Block's tools work so well is because he is a genius at facilitating the process. The concepts are not new to any of us, but they have been used in such a way that when I saw groups of strangers get together to ask the key questions over two days, the group members found themselves willing to be vulnerable, feeling empowered by the recognition of their unique gifts and committing to make a difference. 
So what does all of this have to do with fighting crime? Well, since experiencing community building first-hand, I think it's a big key to combatting crime. 
My husband and I have just bought a house in an old suburb of Johannesburg that is free from electric fencing and snobbery. The community is far from perfect and lots of work needs to be done, which I'm excited about. But this is a community where the last attempted break-in in our street was thwarted by a neighbour who was quick to care. The local security company was there within minutes, frightening the potential crooks. 
I cannot guarantee that criminals won't walk our streets, but I can be part of building a community where we are all responsible for each other's safety. And this is exactly what I'm going to be doing. 
Julie Cunningham 
SA Good News
Tuesday, 23 March 2010 
30 November -1, 00:00

Learning the Art of Community Building Building communities one room at a time

This week I learnt that building a community is difficult. And I learnt that it is so very easy.
I attended a workshop that was conducted by Peter Block, an American authority on the reconciliation of community.
Over two emotionally draining, yet invigorating days, I experienced how quickly a community can be formed. We were challenged to pour out our deepest fears, hopes, sadness and joy to people we had never met. It was so hard, yet we, as individuals and then as a collective, persisted. And as we did, it became easier and easier, deeper and deeper, until it was hard to believe that we don't communicate like this with everyone, all the time.
Peter Block believes that this is how social fabric is built, one room at a time, and that the small group is the unit of transformation. Large-scale transformation then occurs when enough small groups shift towards the larger change that we wish to experience in our societies.
He maintains that the existing community context, in countries like the United States and within certain communities in South Africa (my presumption), is one that markets fear, assigns fault and worships self-interest and that this context supports the belief that the future will be improved with new laws, more oversight and stronger leadership.
The new context, one that restores community, is one of possibility, generosity and gifts.
Block challenged us to ask questions, instead of offering answers. He encouraged us to declare a possibility that we could create, a future beyond reach, that has the power to transform our communities. He urged us to recognise our gifts and the gifts of others and to make use of these gifts in everything we do. He inspired us to open our hearts.
It is an incredibly hard process to describe, but it had immense power. In the space of two short days, a community formed out of a room of strangers from all walks of life. In hindsight it was so easy.
The workshop was organised by the remarkable Louise van Rhyn of Symphonia. Louise is a phenomenon, a dynamo with a passion for this country that is quite beautiful.
When I emailed her to say thank you for making the workshop a reality, she replied by saying: "When the Dinokeng Scenarios were published, I had such a strong sense of being called - to do what I can to make the Walk Together scenario a reality."
"This week was a further refinement of that calling; walking together will only be possible if we are able to reclaim our humanity and become connected as human beings.  So my commitment is to develop the capacity for community building in South Africa so that we can ignite communal possibility. 
"Imagine if we can be a country where we are able to move away from a focus on individual achievement and truly live our Ubuntu heritage!"
She continued: "(Earlier this year) I expressed an intention to recruit a million South Africans to commit to walking together. This last week has made me re-think this. I think the task is to create opportunities for a million people to experience a deep sense of connection with fellow South Africans. I have no doubt that this will automatically lead to walking together but the starting point is connection and community rather than focusing on the work that needs to be done."
Louise is striving to give a million South Africans the beautiful gift of connection and community. She is striving to make an immense positive difference in the land that she so loves. 
She is doing it, one room at a time.
By Ian Macdonald
Friday, 16 October 2009 
30 November -1, 00:00


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