Working for the common good

“Democracy is not something you believe in or a place to hang your hat, but it’s something you do. You participate. If you stop doing it, democracy crumbles.”(Abbie Hoffman)
By Solveig Leland
One of the sessions in iLEDA’s Citizen Leadership Training for African community leaders deals with the question of what a citizen is. Citizens can be seen as voters (recipients of government services), volunteers (the neighbourly citizen, favouring interaction with other citizens) and co-creators (citizens working in partnership with government to solve societal problems). The notion of the citizen as a co-creator is emphasised in the training, and the participants learn how they, as citizens, can work together to identify specific issues in the community that need to be addressed, develop strategies to solve problems and create things of public importance.
Instead of being a passive citizen complaining about the services government provide, a co-creator will engage both government and other citizens in working to find ways to improve the services. Active citizenry enables bottom-up decision making. Some problems are just easier to understand and to deal with when you’re close to them. When government is unaware of or unable to solve a problem in a particular community, ordinary citizens can choose to solve the problem themselves. When everyone partipates – with their own sets of skills, talents and insights – solutions can be developed that will be of lasting, public value. In short, citizen participation builds a better democracy.
In Norway, where I grew up, democracy has been around for quite some time, most prominently in the form of social democracy. We have a well-functioning welfare system, people have equal access to education, health- and social services, and it’s all very comfortable. Yet, we complain. We have become used to a system where we pay our taxes (though not without grumbling), and in return we expect the state to provide us with excellent services. Perhaps it is the strong individualist focus that is making us behave more like customers than engaged citizens. Perhaps democracy has become too matter-of-fact for us, and we have forgotten that we have to participate in order to solve societal problems. We have forgotten how to be active citizens.
Or have we?
Although individualism is on the increase, and the every-man-for-himself mentality seems to be growing, the spirit of solidarity and community is still present around the country. In fact, we have long traditions of community organising in Norway. Our concept and practice of ’dugnad’ is a manifestation of this. ‘Dugnad’ refers to work that is done on a voluntary basis, unpaid, and that has significance either for individuals or the greater community. In short – community service.
The concept of ‘dugnad’ is inherent to the Norwegian language and culture, and even little children will talk about going to ‘dugnad’, proudly carrying spades and buckets in their hands. ‘Dugnad’ is such a familiar and dear word for Norwegians that we voted it the national word in Norway in 2004.
In the village where I grew up, which has just about 800 people, there is little more than an old-people’s home, a primary school and an upper secondary school, a grocery shop and a church. The biggest building by far is the sports hall. It seems almost too large for a village of this size. You might be wondering what 800 people – of which 20% live in the old people’s home – might be doing with a giant sports hall, but you’d be surprised.
The people in the village decided they needed a space for the youth to play sports and for cultural events. The school hall was not big enough, as people from neighbouring villages would often show up for events as well. In cooperation with the municipality, the villagers took it upon themselves to construct this huge building. Funds were provided by the municipality, but this was not sufficient to cover all costs. Every weekend, for months, villagers would donate their time and resources and spend hour after hour at the construction site, contributing where it was needed. Some would build, some would provide food and others materials.
All around Norway, even in the cities, this phenomenon is present. When spring finally comes after a long winter, residents of apartment blocks will gather on a Saturday to clean up the garden and put a fresh coat of paint on the building. The local football club needs a new pitch, and players, parents and the rest of the community show up to help. The man next door is having a new garage built, but is short of resources, so neighbours come to help with the construction. Or, in the case of my village, we needed a place where the children and youth could play sports indoors, and all the villagers donated time and money and spent every weekend helping out at the construction site.
In 2007, Statistics Norway estimated that the value of this work amounts to NOK35 billion a year, or 3,8% of Norway’s GDP. But as much as this is about pooling resources and contributing time or money, it is also about creating a sense of community and building relationships with neighbours and community members. And – it’s about solving problems.
The tradition of dugnad in Norway shows that although Norwegians at times may take the role of a passive, complaining customer, most of us will not hesitate to participate in these activities that help foster change at the local – and sometimes national – level.
This tradition for community organising is not unique to Norway – barnraising in the US, talkoot in Finland and naffir in Sudan are all traditions that bring the community together to carry out tasks for the common good. It is the essence of these ‘traditions of change’ that iLEDA is trying to communicate to civil society in Africa through its leadership programme.
People have to come together – not just to protest – but to solve problems and build their own futures. Participation and active involvement from the citizenry is immensly important for the deepening of democracy, but even in democratic countries this cannot be taken for granted. In societies where traditions of communal work are present, people must be made aware of the democratic significance of this type of work, and the importance of keeping the practice alive. These traditions are essential to preserve democracy, and will – if cultivated – be a valuable resource for people in coming to terms with what it means to be an active citizen. Ultimately, democracy does not come from the state, but from the people.
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Dugnad – Working for the common good

“Democracy is not something you believe in or a place to hang your hat, but it’s something you do. You participate. If you stop doing it, democracy crumbles.”(Abbie Hoffman)
By Solveig Leland
One of the sessions in iLEDA’s Citizen Leadership Training for African community leaders deals with the question of what a citizen is. Citizens can be seen as voters (recipients of government services), volunteers (the neighbourly citizen, favouring interaction with other citizens) and co-creators (citizens working in partnership with government to solve societal problems). The notion of the citizen as a co-creator is emphasised in the training, and the participants learn how they, as citizens, can work together to identify specific issues in the community that need to be addressed, develop strategies to solve problems and create things of public importance.
Instead of being a passive citizen complaining about the services government provide, a co-creator will engage both government and other citizens in working to find ways to improve the services. Active citizenry enables bottom-up decision making. Some problems are just easier to understand and to deal with when you’re close to them. When government is unaware of or unable to solve a problem in a particular community, ordinary citizens can choose to solve the problem themselves. When everyone partipates – with their own sets of skills, talents and insights – solutions can be developed that will be of lasting, public value. In short, citizen participation builds a better democracy.
In Norway, where I grew up, democracy has been around for quite some time, most prominently in the form of social democracy. We have a well-functioning welfare system, people have equal access to education, health- and social services, and it’s all very comfortable. Yet, we complain. We have become used to a system where we pay our taxes (though not without grumbling), and in return we expect the state to provide us with excellent services. Perhaps it is the strong individualist focus that is making us behave more like customers than engaged citizens. Perhaps democracy has become too matter-of-fact for us, and we have forgotten that we have to participate in order to solve societal problems. We have forgotten how to be active citizens.
Or have we?
Although individualism is on the increase, and the every-man-for-himself mentality seems to be growing, the spirit of solidarity and community is still present around the country. In fact, we have long traditions of community organising in Norway. Our concept and practice of ’dugnad’ is a manifestation of this. ‘Dugnad’ refers to work that is done on a voluntary basis, unpaid, and that has significance either for individuals or the greater community. In short – community service.
The concept of ‘dugnad’ is inherent to the Norwegian language and culture, and even little children will talk about going to ‘dugnad’, proudly carrying spades and buckets in their hands. ‘Dugnad’ is such a familiar and dear word for Norwegians that we voted it the national word in Norway in 2004.
In the village where I grew up, which has just about 800 people, there is little more than an old-people’s home, a primary school and an upper secondary school, a grocery shop and a church. The biggest building by far is the sports hall. It seems almost too large for a village of this size. You might be wondering what 800 people – of which 20% live in the old people’s home – might be doing with a giant sports hall, but you’d be surprised.
The people in the village decided they needed a space for the youth to play sports and for cultural events. The school hall was not big enough, as people from neighbouring villages would often show up for events as well. In cooperation with the municipality, the villagers took it upon themselves to construct this huge building. Funds were provided by the municipality, but this was not sufficient to cover all costs. Every weekend, for months, villagers would donate their time and resources and spend hour after hour at the construction site, contributing where it was needed. Some would build, some would provide food and others materials.
All around Norway, even in the cities, this phenomenon is present. When spring finally comes after a long winter, residents of apartment blocks will gather on a Saturday to clean up the garden and put a fresh coat of paint on the building. The local football club needs a new pitch, and players, parents and the rest of the community show up to help. The man next door is having a new garage built, but is short of resources, so neighbours come to help with the construction. Or, in the case of my village, we needed a place where the children and youth could play sports indoors, and all the villagers donated time and money and spent every weekend helping out at the construction site.
In 2007, Statistics Norway estimated that the value of the work in the voluntary sector, paid and unpaid, amounts to almost 4% of GDP. But as much as this is about pooling resources and contributing time or money, it is also about creating a sense of community and building relationships with neighbours and community members. And – it’s about solving problems.
The tradition of dugnad in Norway shows that although Norwegians at times may take the role of a passive, complaining customer, most of us will not hesitate to participate in these activities that help foster change at the local – and sometimes national – level.
This tradition for community organising is not unique to Norway – barnraising in the US, talkoot in Finland and naffir in Sudan are all traditions that bring the community together to carry out tasks for the common good. It is the essence of these ‘traditions of change’ that iLEDA is trying to communicate to civil society in Africa through its leadership programme.
People have to come together – not just to protest – but to solve problems and build their own futures. Participation and active involvement from the citizenry is immensly important for the deepening of democracy, but even in democratic countries this cannot be taken for granted. In societies where traditions of communal work are present, people must be made aware of the democratic significance of this type of work, and the importance of keeping the practice alive. These traditions are essential to preserve democracy, and will – if cultivated – be a valuable resource for people in coming to terms with what it means to be an active citizen. Ultimately, democracy does not come from the state, but from the people.

Leaders that can make a difference

Democracies do not function well without leaders. But democracies do not function well with only a chosen few providing leadership either. Common citizens can be leaders, and should take up leadership roles in civil society for democracies to prosper, argues Auburn Daniels from iLEDA. See his article here.

AIDS in Africa – the political cost

See the presentations made by Idasa staff at the international AIDS conference in Vienna on 18 July here. Governance and AIDS Programme (GAP) director Kondwani Chirambo, manager Marietjie Oelofsen, and unit heads Phoebe Machere, Vailet Kowayi and Jaqueline Nzisabira looked at the state of leadership, state budgets and the challenges people living with AIDS face when they take part in political, social and economic life. They also discussed HIV and AIDS advocacy and communication as developed and implemented by GAP to effect policy change.

Building community leadership in Malawi

iLEDA Volunteer Amy Eaglestone from the Netherlands visits Idasa’s iLEDA School for citizen leadership for democracy in Malawi. She travelled to the southern African country with iLEDA School head Noxolo Mgudlwa and trainers Auburn Daniels and Lesley Adams. She discovers several development challenges and argues for citizen leadership training.
By Amy Eaglestone
It was raining when my colleagues and I landed on the only flight that day into Lilongwe International Airport in Malawi. It wasn’t the tropical rain that buckets down to offer a short respite from the African heat and humidity, but that European drizzle, that does nothing but make your clothes and hair damp and uncomfortable. So as we ran across the tarmac to the shuttle bus, I mentioned to my colleague that this wasn’t exactly what I was expecting in the heart of Africa.
But to a westerner like me, Malawi met my expectations. The women wear colorful traditional African dresses, they carry heavy buckets of water and other necessities on their heads, food is sold from small stalls or just off the ground along the main roads, the red soil stains everything, coca-cola in little glass bottles is so sweet it makes your teeth stick together, you need a 4×4 to get from one town to the next and the best place in town to eat is the café behind the petrol station. But above all it is where natural beauty, cultural diversity and extreme poverty go hand in hand. Continue reading

What drives government and politicians?

By Mvuyisi April

As Tanzania approaches its national elections in a years’ time, it is worth looking back at what holds our democracy so that moving forward as a nation we can strengthen our loose ends and build on the pillars that our liberty was found on. We have seen a number of politicians campaigning and mobilizing voters for the recent local elections that took place in Tanzania. With little less than a handful of campaigns in the urban areas one can only assume that very few people have come out to exercise their constitutional right and voted, while in the rural areas  where there’s lack of education and information one can also assume that the voters only voted for whom ever promised them milk and honey.

With the newspapers full of stories on corruption and lack of accountability of leaders, one just can’t stop asking as to whether voters are conscious of what their votes mean, and whether they really understand the power that lies in their hands as they cast those ballots? Can they feel the democracy they are voting for during each election?

Many countries profess to be democratic with democratically elected governments while the majority of their citizens live in poverty and underdevelopment. Definitions of democracy vary from country to country and so does its meaning from person to person. Many believe that a simple casting of a ballot serves the purpose while others believe that voting alone is not sufficient for democracy to hold.  Despite these differences, the word democracy is much used around the world with comparisons being made between democratic and undemocratic countries.  Continue reading