Welcome address by Om Dhungel, Chief Executive SEVA International

Welcome address by Om Dhungel, Chief Executive SEVA International and the Coordinator of the SEVA Empowering Communities Project at the Project Launch on 6 December 2014

Good afternoon!

I would like to start by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land, of Elders past and present of the Wangal and Wategora people of the Darug/Eora Nation on the place which we are meeting today.

Choosing Possibility over Problem Solving

We have gathered here today because we want to choose Possibility over Problem solving. We want to create a future and not just define a future. Our goal is to build social capital and to change the way that citizens are engaged with each other. We can’t do this with traditional strategy and problem solving approach alone, which generally involves defining problems and needs and then recommending actions to solve those needs. The challenge for community building is the continued engagement of citizens and to build interdependence and strengthen the social fabric. Citizens who are willing to self organise can bring about a fresh future.

 

When migrants and refugees settle in a new country and a new environment, they face a number of initial settlement challenges. The way we approach these challenges will mean a community completely relying on outside help or on the other hand, a community which will harness its own resources.

 

If we think in terms of needs, problems and deficiencies such as lack of education and training or local experience and services are designed and delivered by outside experts, people will be positioned as passive, powerless and dependent on outside help and assistance.

 

On the other hand, we can start on the premises that people are resourceful and gifted and will be more likely to draw upon the skills from within the community to address issues and solve problems. Outside assistance and resources may still be required but the people are more engaged and capable of setting the agenda and shaping their futures.

This is what is popularly known as Asset Based Community Development. It also shows the role that community leaders and residents can play – be it service providers or community organizations, educational or religious institutions and businesses to contribute towards sustainable community development.

From a service providers’ point of view, collecting information about a service recipient’s skills and abilities is the essential first step in moving that person toward productivity and active citizenship. As long as people are defined solely by their needs, problems and deficiencies, they will remain recipients and clients. Once we start focusing on their capacities, new possibilities for connection and contribution begin to appear.

Similarly, local businesses and other employers can provide valuable information about local opportunities for reconnecting with the economy – be it through direct employment or business opportunities.

Let me now briefly talk about how SEVA Empowering Communities Project fits in.

It was aimed at producing a collaborative resource for community development, utilising the strengths and assets within the target communities. It explores ways to mobilize the resources that are already present within the community and then working with external partners to complement and fill any gaps. The focus is on empowerment – by providing people with resources, opportunities, knowledge and skills to increase their capacity. It is about building leadership, developing and nurturing local champions and role models. Broadly, the objective of the project is to address the issue of social exclusion particularly of recent migrants and refugees through community capacity building. This project is funded by the Australian Government Department of Social Services through the Diversity and Social Cohesion Program.

The project brought together seven community organisations from South Asian and African backgrounds and ranged from newly emerging communities to more established groups.

Through a number of workshops and discussions these organisations had the opportunity to showcase their successes, share their experiences and provide input to develop a collaborative resource for community development that can be used by the wider community.

We were fortunate to avail the services of Dee Brooks from the Jeder Institute to facilitate the workshops and provide guidance. Dee is an Asset based Community Development (ABCD) trainer and consultant and also an International Faculty Member of the ABCD Institute at Northwestern University, Chicago, U.S.A.

The highlight of today’s gathering is to release this community development resource tool kit that we have developed, which is a major output of the project. Dee and I will provide a quick snapshot of this tool kit shortly. Other outputs from the project include an updated SEVA website through which the resource tool kit will be available and the Harmony Day celebration in March next year.

We look forward to working together with you all – be it government, businesses or the not for profit sector – to choose Possibility over Problem solving, to Create a future and not just Define a future and finally to Build social capital and Changing Community through citizen involvement and not through increased services.

Thank you for your attention.