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Connecting communities through community-led development

Amazing things are happening in Kiwi communities but most of the time we don’t hear about them, and often other communities don’t get to benefit from knowing what’s working and why.  This is why Inspiring Communities was created – to help fill the gap and to connect people and communities working in locally-led ways and build a national movement for change.

A decade on, Inspiring Communities is recognised as the ‘backbone’ for New Zealand’s community-led development (CLD) movement, with its core roles focusing on learning, connecting, capacity building and influencing. They continue to work at national, regional and sometimes very local levels and operate a mixed-source funding (grants and enterprise funding) model to support its financial sustainability.

“We currently support a network of around 3,000 people, organisations, and CLD initiatives both in Aotearoa and beyond,” says CLD coordination and practice lead Megan Courtney. “In 2018, 2,528 people were part of Inspiring Communities coaching, mentoring, training and events throughout Aotearoa. We also co-hosted and presented at 105 events, with 422 influencing and collaboration meetings to further promote and build understanding of CLD.”

In early 2019 Eastern & Central Community Trust granted $13,000 to Inspiring Communities.

“Using this, so far we’ve co-hosted highly successful CLD skills training workshops in Palmerston North (Leading Community-led Change with Palmerston North Community Services Council), in Hawke’s Bay (Connections and Collaboration with Volunteering Hawke’s Bay)  and the recent Facilitating Community-led Change workshop in Masterton alongside Wairarapa REAP,” she says.

“This year’s ECCT funding support enabled Inspiring Communities workshop facilitator travel and programme delivery, as well as some follow-up support for workshop attendees to help embed their learning.  It helped us make workshop attendance affordable and accessible for the 52 participants who have attended sessions so far in 2019. Across Palmerston North and Hawke’s Bay sessions, 97% of workshop attendees have rated their Inspiring Communities training a 4 or 5/5 in terms of its usefulness and relevance to their work in community,” says Megan.

“We also worked with ECCT to bring USA-based Paul Schmitz to New Zealand in April this year. Bringing his international lens to CLD practice, Paul worked with communities from Auckland to Invercargill. He ran two workshops in Hawke’s Bay focused on building collective leadership of organisations and communities to achieve greater social impact.”

Communities and organisations embracing a CLD approach and tapping into the five principles developed by Inspiring Communities are finding that they are better able to use the local wisdom, assets, and the leadership that already exists in their place.

“The benefits are many and varied,” says Megan. “For some, it’s seen them joining together with partners and stakeholders they’d never considered before – which has brought new resources and ideas that cut through long standing community issues.  In others, building community confidence and local leadership has resulted in people’s voices being heard and respected – sometimes for the very first time – and that unleashes all sorts of potential. We notice the power that comes with communities inspiring each other about what’s possible.  From starting up new food co-ops, to building bike tracks, to tackling youth unemployment in new ways – the power of storytelling and sharing across communities is huge! Hearing people say, “we could do that too” is the best part of our job at Inspiring Communities.”

Making progress takes time, with changes tending to happen in small steps, rather than giant leaps. In CLD, one positive action or outcome frequently builds on and leads to another. This has certainly been the case with the work done by Inspiring Communities.

“Community-led development (CLD) is a collaborative approach that taps into existing local wisdom to unleash community capacity and build ownership of local situations and solutions,” says Megan. It’s about strengthening the vitality of local communities by activating and weaving the contributions of everyone connected to a place.  However, while hugely rewarding, working in community-led ways is challenging, messy and requires new skills and mind-sets for everyone involved.”

As for the future, Megan says they’re keen to do more to help support communities and share fantastic community-led ideas and lessons coming out of the hugely diverse EECT region.  “We are expanding our CLD training, as more people offer suggestions of what will help them in their work.  In 2020, we’re considering a story-telling workshop. How often do we hear people and communities say ‘if only people better understood what we do’? This is such a strong pillar of locally-led change, not only understanding the change we are seeing but sharing and learning from each other.”

“Creating and supporting connections across communities, people and projects is really important so we’ve recently set up a new capacity building programme called CONNECT.  We know that working in the community can be lonely, so CONNECT provides a way for smaller groups of people working in communities around Aotearoa to meet, learn and share together on-line. It’s a way of getting specialist CLD support without having to leave your office.”

To find out more about Inspiring Communities see www.inspiringcommunities.org.nz or contact [email protected]