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Serving Sri Lanka

This web log is a news and views blog. The primary aim is to provide an avenue for the expression and collection of ideas on sustainable, fair, and just, grassroot level development. Some of the topics that the blog will specifically address are: poverty reduction, rural development, educational issues, social empowerment, post-Tsunami relief and reconstruction, livelihood development, environmental conservation and bio-diversity. 

Saturday, April 30, 2005

Redefining Community Service: Challenges post tsunami

Daily Mirror: "27/04/2005 By Chandra Jayaratne

I am privileged to be able to present before this gathering of worldwide business and professional leaders, some thoughts that redefine community service- challenges following the tsunami disaster. These may be termed as the ten new golden rules of community service.

Rotarians are committed to provide humanitarian service and to maintain high ethical standards in vocations, whilst helping to build goodwill and peace around the world. Within the objectives of developing acquaintances and dignifying one's occupation as an opportunity to serve society, new paradigms of thought and action with new definitions may now be necessary to be embedded within the Rotary commitments.

The great Asian disaster of 26th December 2004, as a consequence of the earthquake that generated a vertical displacement in the sea floor with a tsunami of no real precedent, has meant new challenges to all stakeholders of Sri Lanka in providing relief and re settlement support to the victims of the worst ever natural disaster facing the citizens of the nation. Although in terms of cold statistics, the disaster may not be the worst faced by any country, it is unique in that, more than one country has been affected simultaneously and large extents of land have been devastated. The devastation has impacted the rich and the poor, elderly, young and children, without discrimination by way of religion, race or nationality.

It has been said that "Waves of destruction have been followed by Waves of Compassion". The latter has pervaded the whole nation, and in fact the whole world. It is reported that 46% of all American households, nearly 50% of the European households and over 58% of all households in the United Kingdom have been involved in some way in supporting those impacted by the tsunami, including at times even the welfare of the surviving dogs and cats. How many Sri Lankan families amongst the 50% of households living above the poverty line joined in supporting some aspects of the relief and resettlement initiatives? A new challenge in the process of community services is for the Rotarians to enhance the level of participative penetration of the Sri Lankan society. With many clubs spread across the country, expanding the groups engaged in community services must now become a priority.

On the dawn of the new year 2005 there were no dinner dances, festivities, and when not even one cracker was lit at mid night, the time during other years when crackers were a substitute for thunder and lightening, there appeared hope with prayers for the awakening of a new nation, rising from the ashes to build one knit in peace and harmony. As the months have faded these hopes may have now begun to wane, as division, selfishness and hunger for power may be leading the nation in a different direction. At the same time some remote villages in Ratnapura and Moneragala have organize themselves on the 19th and 26th of each month to visit tsunami affected villages of the South of Sri Lanka to support ongoing relief efforts and care for the grieving brothers and sisters in the manner of visiting close relatives - "Ne gam Yanawa".

Paradigm change
The first paradigm change denoted as Rule I of community service, relates to a change required in the manner in which community services are organized. Community services must henceforth be led by the people and society to serve society, seeking to embed an improvement or enhancement in the quality of life, productivity, skills, and options of the people served. Therefore, a mere repair, re-build, replace, re equip and re provide what was lost in its previous state, especially by competent local or foreign contractors will not suffice. Here it is important to examine whether the national planners of the north and south have taken a similar strategy? By examining the two documents compiled by the respective planners, the separate approaches in dealing with the need to address the damage and destruction to physical infrastructure, livelihoods, social infrastructure and psychological framework of the people can be clearly seen.

Rule II relates to the need to focus on building a new Sri Lanka Incorporation through the tsunami related community services. The physical re-construction which is more tangible should be accompanied by the personal and social transformation of ALL leading to the "Awakening of the Nation". Therefore can the Rotarians hereafter call their activities not as community service projects but as community re-building processes!

The country needs a VISION which not only motivates ALL stakeholders but also directs all efforts at Relief, Rehabilitation, Re Construction, Reconciliation and Reawakening, that binds all individuals, societies, the state, private sector, Non Governmental Organizations, international agencies etc. The Vision must be long term, people based, involve, empower and engage society and must deal with the society itself improving and enhancing the life styles and living standards and thus creating a new society and a new nation knit together by oneness and one purpose.

A community service’s new vision appropriate in the current context is to "By 2015 ensure all stakeholders of the Sri Lankan society enjoy a sustainable living standard and a lifestyle that assure to them

-Peace and Harmony amongst communities

-A secure and disciplined society with good governance

-Law abiding and law enforced environment

-The surpassing of Millennium Development Goals

-Opportunities for personal advancement through knowledge and skills development

-Opportunities, facilitation and support for growth and development of private enterprise and entrepreneurship

-Quality housing, with water, electricity, and sanitation

-Easy access to education, health, and recreation

-Means of transportation to access with ease the national infrastructure

- A sustainable environment and ecology

- An environment that fully empowers and engages the village community to achieve the desired level of political, economic, social and consciousness empowerment

-That the lowest 10% of the income earning households in society derive at least a per capital income of $ 1500."

The focus must be the raising of the living standards and life styles and not only economic indices and the national income per capita. The new focus must be on the lowest segment of society, full engagement versus full employment and full empowerment of people and society (in areas of freedom, economic, social and spiritual) versus centralized power and from a directed nation focusing only on economic numbers to one addressing national human happiness (Subjective Well Being) indices.

There is a new definition needed in community services. We need to define for whom, by whom, with whom, and with what strategies decided by whom. The only acceptable choice for all these appears to be none other than "the people and society" to whom the services are offered. Therefore Rule IV relates to community services being designed and delivered to people and society by the people organizing themselves, adopting strategies and action plans decided by them within selected risk levels acceptable to them. The role of the private sector, NGO's, International Agencies and community service groups like Rotary is only to network with the people and society and provide them with required resources in measures and in a way required by the community with the resources themselves being in the form of

-Capability (Knowledge/Skills and Attitudes)

-Technology and best practices

-Network facilitation to reach opportunities and options

-Money, materials and machinery delivered in a manner that brings out the best in the people and society, their creativity, quality, productivity, innovativeness, competitiveness and sustainability. Therefore Rule IV simply stated is people’s engagement and empowerment by facilitating a process and not a project.

The rule V relates to ‘whom and what to avoid" in the community service initiatives. In developing countries, all initiatives and attempts to provide community services are bound by the giant arm of government and politicians. If effective community services are to be provided, it is best to avoid networking and direct partnership with government and politicians. Their interests and actions generally are counterproductive and usually driven by personal motives. The voice of the community must be the beacon for community services. You need to open your computers and if the large screen you see in front of your initiative is a politician or the government, immediately minimize it and maximize the people power; people empowerment and people led initiatives developed according to the consensus reached following consultation amongst the community at village level. Paying heed to the voice of the community and their decided priorities and action steps must be the focus.

The rule VI relates to "how to do it" - the strategy of the initiative. Get the community to implement the initiative with your facilitation with your main task being empowerment and engagement of the community. This process of empowerment and engagement can be between you as an individual with another individual in a village, or your family linking up with a family in the village, you as a leader linking, leading and mentoring as a role model to a village leader, or your business supporting a village business led link up and finally village to a village, where your community adopt a whole village for engagement and empowerment.

The rule VII relates to the need to reverse the present process. Today the Rotarians are used to finding a project at a club level or at a donor and club level or between two clubs with one as a donor and other as an implementer. The new paradigm is the reverse, where you network with the community, find their needs, assess with them the best option of support and strategic support needs and engage them in to action, empower their capability with a resource plan and facilitative networks and then link with donors or club committees for adoption.

In this process it is important that you promise only what you can deliver and always deliver on your promises, recognizing that it is always better to over deliver on promises than under deliver. A classic example of what to avoid is the politician's way recently demonstrated in promising all tsunami victims permanent housing within three months. It would have been better to have promised tents within a month, temporary housing within six months and permanent housing within 24 months and over deliver.

The rule VIII relates to the new network partnerships needed to effectively discharge community services. Private business and organizations like the Rotary may not have the expertise and societal networks and understanding of the social, cultural and religious issues of the community. At the same time the community services NGO's lack the expertise, capability and best practices and also transparent accountable management processes. Therefore new partnerships linking the strengths of each of the network partners who together have the capability to optimize the delivered results has to be the way forward.

The rule IX shows the way to get power behind your initiatives leveraging the power of the multiplier effect. You should make every effort to involve others to engage with you in community services, multiply such initiatives and engage even their associates, to thus develop a chain reaction of support initiatives. You can begin with the friends and relatives and extend to visitors, business contacts, export contacts and import sources, your other business partners, internal and external network partners and especially the extended family of your movement, the other clubs both in Sri Lanka and overseas.

The need to engage are the many and not few, even preferring small contributing many to large contributing few, the task being to build a large network of caring, conscious and committed partners in large numbers across the world. Technology can provide significant links to make these contacts in multiple numbers. A web site with transparency, accountability which is also very user friendly can be a significant asset. The site should show project details, developments as the project progresses, costs, audit sign offs and comments of the stakeholders and options for a continuing network between the donors and recipients with the recipients' news and development being available to be tracked.

The film "play it forward" shows us the way and the power of the multiplier. When a child in a school suggests and organizes through the teacher for the entire class to engage in a "project for good", where a good deed needs to be done to five persons, with each recipients repeating it to five more, the end result is an unbelievable positive impact on society. It becomes evident that this simple chain of action for good can leverage a powerful force for community services.

The Social Marketing concepts can guide these initiatives. Here we remember some experiences in the USA, where accidents due to drink driving which resulted in 17 deaths in the previous twelve months reduced to none following simple positive action by the community. It was recognized that just saying "do not drink and drive" was of any use, so long as there were bars on the way from the city and people visiting the bars needed to get home driving their cars after the visit to the bars. The well meaning community organized the bars to provide transport to visitors or taxi services and arranged volunteers who dedicated their time to take the visitors to the bars and home thereafter. This shows how strategic positive social networked action can have a significant positive end result.

The rule X relates to a possible direction where and how to begin the process of community services within the new challenging paradigms, I ask you as leaders of society to turn to Confucius

"To put the world right in order, we must first put the nation in order; to put the nation in order, we must first put the family in order; to put the family in order, we must first cultivate our personal life; we must first set our hearts right."

The way forward therefore begins with looking inwards and transforming oneself to the new way of life and approach necessary for effective community service and then turning the attention to our occupations and businesses, our sector networks, and then to international NGO's and International Rotary networks. All this must be approached knowing that we are different in some ways only, but equal in most other ways from those whom we target to serve through community service and therefore the primary need is to further equalize by raising others ( the people in the community) through effective empowerment in political, economic, social capacity whilst enhancing knowledge and spiritual commitments as well.

I, like most of you Rotarians have been a fruit on an apple tree of business and professions, taking in sustenance from the society earth. As I am twisting my self away from the tree to fall on to the earth to sustain society that sustained me all these years through community services, I thank you for giving me an opportunity to get a deeper understanding of the tasks ahead, through my presentation.

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