IACD Practice Exchange

ETF is usually all about the local. Connecting tenants’ groups across Edinburgh and influencing citywide housing issues. And we don’t usually report on our staff’s annual leave either.

However we are delighted that connecting our local work to global  communities is an aspect our Development Coordinator, Clare MacGillivray explored during an international study visit to India in March 2016.

Clare was one of 22 people from 9 countries around the world taking part in a programme visiting grassroots community projects with the International Association for Community Development (IACD).  Clare explains, “This sustainable communities practice exchange programme was a real opportunity to think about our place in the world. How ETF is already contributing to the UN Sustainable Development Goals and what else local communities in Edinburgh could do to self-organise and learn from grassroots communities in North India.”

For Clare, this trip was also a chance to reconnect with her roots as her she started her community development career in India with World Exchange 20 years ago.

Charlie McConnell, President of the IACD said, “It was excellent to see a representative from the Edinburgh Tenants Federation participate in IACD’s recent Practitioner Exchange trip to India in March. Clare brought huge insight, as well as past experience of working within an Indian context of often absolute poverty. Whilst homelessness, rather than social housing, is often the lot of the Indian poor, we also saw hugely inspirational community action in the rural and urban areas we visited. There is much to learn, especially around the impact of climate change, but also much to share between North and South.”

Here’s an interview with Clare about the trip.

Why did you get involved in the IACD practice exchange?
My work is usually all about the local. But having started my community development career in grassroots work in India 20 years ago, my passion for connecting local practice to global issues remains strong. The practice exchange programme was a real opportunity to think about my place in the world; to learn about how grassroots communities are contributing to big global issues at a local level and to reflect on this aspect of my work as a community developer.

So what are the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and what has this got to do with tenants in Edinburgh?
The SDGs are a global commitment by countries of the world to end poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and tackle climate change by 2030. Edinburgh’s tenants are already involved in making change happen on the SDGs – they just don’t know it yet! Much of what the Federation already does is connected to these global goals. Look at our work about improving housing conditions, tenants’ campaigns against rent increases, looking at ways to end poverty and increasing real and genuine tenant participation. All of these fit into the bigger global picture. And volunteers in Edinburgh are making change happen by their local actions. It’s about time they recognised the global worth of their efforts.

Tell us about the programme. What were you actually doing?
We visited Delhi, Ranikhet (in the foothills of the Himalayas) and Jaipur finding out how communities are thriving even when faced with real difficulties, like poverty and climate change. We spoke to local folk and practitioners as well as meeting with heads of Non-Governmental Organisations in a conference in Delhi.

What is different about community work in india compared to Scotland?
Three main things:

1. Women are leading the change in communities in India. It is the women who are making positive change for whole communities – like bringing water to villages, creating social enterprises and helping each other. Their self-help groups make money collectively, and strengthen community connections. And that means they can dream big and achieve positive change. The women’s movement is passionate and it’s growing. The progressive realisation of human rights for women is key to successfully challenging the problems the SDGs hope to resolve locally and globally.

2. There is a belief that investing in long term programmes works better than short term projects. We often run on annual contracts in Scotland – so it is difficult to plan for change in the long term. It seemed like programmes in India talked about “change in a generation… or two”. That’s what communities were working towards. Change was at the pace of the communities themselves.

3. People understand community development. They just get it! Organisations take a holistic approach to enabling sustainable communities. That means they work on health issues, housing, education and the environment. But it always starts with the needs of the community. Empowering communities makes change happen. People know what the issues are and get technical help with solutions. Sometimes in Scotland it feels the other way round – the Government, Councils, NHS provide what they think is best for people rather than giving up power and control and enabling local people to lead.

Did anything you learned blow your mind?
Great question. Many things! Being in India felt like going home for me because I lived there for two years. It was a bit of a revelation realising just how at peace I felt being there.

I loved meeting inspiring people who are making change happen on their own terms in their own communities. I saw brilliant and selfless leadership in action.

I learned about the Sustainable Development Goals and saw that climate change is affecting people now – especially the most vulnerable people in the most vulnerable environments. But even in this hardship, communities are taking action to counter the effects with fantastic reforestation, hydrology and biomass fuel projects.

I was really inspired by the women’s micro-finance movement where small groups of women save Rs100 per month (about £1), then loan money to each other for healthcare, school books or to make home improvements like installing toilets and solar panels. That movement is now worth more than £1.5 Billion to the Indian economy. That is mind-blowing!

It really only takes a few people with fi re in their hearts to make big things happen. That was awesome to see in action.

Connecting with IACD participants on the journey was a real highlight for me. Individuals who are making their mark in community development in universities, government organisations and grassroots work round the world. I learned a lot about work in New Zealand, Kenya, USA, India and round the UK. They were lovely people and I enjoyed their company.

I had the conversation of my life about the “soul” of community development – about how we bring much more to work than just professional skills. We bring our whole selves. Our authentic selves. And the joys and risks of openly connecting with others in exposing the self in our work. I never talk about things like that in a professional capacity, so it was mind-blowing to have those conversations with other Community Development professionals.

What do you bring back to your work at ETF?
I learned about different approaches to community development – finding technical solutions to tricky problems. I learned about using human rights in community development and how this links to the Sustainable Development Goals. This stuff will fit nicely into our project with the Scottish Human Rights Commission (SHRC) and tenants in Leith.

I definitely have a renewed passion for community development. We need to hold on to that approach at ETF, because building connections between people is one of our greatest strengths. And it’s what makes communities passionate and ready for change.

A reflection about the holistic approach; what could we be doing differently to really serve the needs of people in communities in Edinburgh?

Thoughts about leadership; about whether we should have a revolution of leadership training at the grassroots to support people with fabulous ideas who just don’t recognise their own brilliance or know how to get started?

Thoughts about individual involvement and the collective; it seems obvious that a collective tenants’ movement will provide strength, and yet so much focus is placed on individual participation. What does that mean for the future of the tenants’ movement?

Finally, I rediscovered that I must come to my work with heart. Bringing my whole self to community development practice. Believing in people. Believing in change and believing in the power of the collective. It only takes a few passionate people to make real change happen and if their action is taken with heart… anything is possible. I feel renewed.
That’s what I am bringing back to ETF.

Hear Clare talk about connecting the local to the global in this short film when she spoke at the Community Development Journal 50th Anniversary Conference at Edinburgh University in July 2015.