09 August 2018

The Iron Rule of Community Organising

My subject for this month’s post is the Iron Rule of Community Organising. The Rule is ‘Don’t do for others what they can do for themselves.’ I believe this is a very powerful statement, and it is part of what differentiates organising from other community work. To me, this is strongly about Trust, not to mention capacity and power.

Last month, I wrote about listening. One of the many things so powerful about listening is how the act of being open, to truly hear someone else, builds trusting and respectful relationships. Just the types of relationships that are needed when individuals come together to move ideas forward into actions. This trust must run both ways between the organiser and the community members as well as between the community members themselves.

I feel one of the greatest aspects of that trust is displayed by the ‘Iron Rule’. I trust that through their experience living in the community local people know both what is great, but also what needs to change to make it even better. I ultimately believe that with support people can collectively bring about the sustainable changes they want, when they analyse to understand the root causes of the circumstances that needs to change. I couldn’t work as a community organiser if I didn’t believe in the inherent capability of people to understand and change their world.

My role is to facilitate a process of listening, connecting people and enabling them to take the lead in exploring what actions are possible. They will pool their collective knowledge, skills and experience to design and build a better future. This collaboration will build confidence that together they will be able to influence and work with those who hold the key to the change they want to make for themselves.

This is a learning process that relies on individuals listening to themselves and realising they have the skills and talents needed; they then listen to each other, then begin to organise and lead on actions using the strength of the collective to make change.

Keeping the Iron Rule as my guide ensures that I support local people to organise themselves, take the lead, plan and tackle the challenges they face. I have listened in a community, noted what people want to change and what individuals can do. This includes noting things they may not believe they can do and things they aren’t able to do alone.

When people in a community recognise the skills needed for the change they want are missing, but people with the capacity to learn are present, a community organiser supports the process of learning. We say, ‘You can do it, I won’t do it for you, but I am here to support you!’ It is always my goal to work my way out of an area safe in the knowledge that I am no longer needed there anymore.

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About the author

Keith Brown Community Organiser

Keith Brown is the community organiser for Nationwide. He has been working in organising for 6 years. Keith hails from Baltimore, Maryland, USA, and he’s been told he has an accent, but he doesn’t believe it.

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