Moving from the periphery to the center

By Hancu Louw: Communication and citizen engagement officer and Mwazvita Machiri: Project strategist and evaluator

To better understand the needs and more importantly (according to Neil Campher) the assets of hyperlocal communities, requires Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) to move from the “periphery to the center”, when thinking of how to best engage and build lasting partnerships aimed at social development.

Speaking at an Eastern Cape, CSO Meet and Greet facilitated by the Eastern Cape Communication Forum (ECCF), Campher, Managing Director at Campher and Sebata Investments cc T/A CS Innovations, shared his insights regarding the need to understand and respond to the “voices” of socio-politically and economically marginalised communities.

Click here for social media coverage during the event.

To Campher social entrepreneurship, which is facilitated by Non Governmental (NGOs) and CSOs can act as force which allows for a more consistent space for developing citizens’ “voice” and in so doing assist in giving people the skills and confidence to engage a largely unresponsive and lackluster sphere of local governance.

Campher suggested that one of the most important roles of CSOs in local communities is to first and foremost pay attention to the context and nature of the lived realities of the people with whom they work, “seeking to understand who the man or woman is and how they are able or not able to use their political ‘voice’”.

For this context specific approach to flourish and lead to engaged and committed relationships between community partners and CSOs Campher suggests that there needs to be a shift from the peripheral to the center in the thinking and practice of CSO work. This approach seeks to promote the Constitutional rights and freedoms afforded to all citizens of SA in the face of inefficient and at times lacking service delivery as managed by local government. Therefore Campher suggest that it’s the responsibility of CSOs to work in ways which seek to revive local governance and implementation strategies.  The current strategies have become stagnant or unresponsive due to a range of structural and political issues which actively impede the state’s ability to support and maintain all sectors of service delivery and social development.

Using examples from his work in Helenvale, Port Elizabeth Campher explained how his approach to social development and building local accountability and a culture of social responsibility is focused on breaking the bad habits of local governance through sustained commitment to programmes which seek to identify and utilise local community based assets.

“I don’t want to come swooping in with a band-aid solution, rather what we do is identify what is good in the community and how it can be used or developed to assist in furthering our goals,” he said when mentioning a series of Fence Talks. Seeking to understand and build relationships with the community in which they were working, Campher and his team conducted a range of “over the fence” conversations with people which informed the approach and management of the Helenvale Recycling Initiative (HERI) which was launched in collaboration with the Northern Areas People Development Initiative (NAPDI) in July 2012.

The session concluded with a lively discussion on the roles and experiences of listening to the voices of local communities, whilst faced with the challenge of engaging and working toward finding solutions for pernicious issues such as lack of capacity and skills to address these debilitating social realities faced by CSOs.

During the discussion Campher used examples (which resonated with some of the experiences that the MobiSAM team have had) to indicate that relationships between stakeholders need to regarded as long term processes which require, “courage and commitment” from the side of local governance and municipal structures as well as CSOs and their representatives.

The insights gained and connections made and enforced with other CSOs which seek to further common goals in the Eastern Cape and specifically Makana has enabled the MobiSAM team to think carefully and more critically when working on the strategy formulation of citizen engagement and training initiatives to be launched in Makana during the next two months, starting with a
Makana Municipality Strategy Formulation Workshop on 19 September.

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