As a part of my civic engagement assignment, I participated in a prospective member’s meeting of the ABC, a non profit organization. ABC’s mission is to develop leadership from the community by engaging in charitable activities. The meeting was about a plan to organize an event to raise funds and create awareness of ABC’s activities.
I was quite amazed by the professionalism shown by the mainly young participants at the meeting. By the first look, the meeting did not even seem to be of the concern of the old aged individuals. There was not a single person above the age of 30 which seems quite unusual. I had been in the past receiving invitations from the members. I presumed them to be old aged individuals however the meeting changed all my perceptions. I found that the organization is relatively new, and the key figures were the founders. I am still amazed by the social responsibility demonstrated by these young leaders. I am really inspired by their efforts and now pledged to emulate their example.
The event that was under discussion was a humorous play that was to be done in a local theatre. There were many prospective members who were introduced to each other. The idea of the play and the mission of ABC was communicated to us in such a way that there were many volunteers for different tasks. I did not hesitate to accept the task to make the draft rules and policies because it was some sort of a practical experience for my course. I was fully engaged in the discussion with one of the board members who appreciated my willingness to contribute.
Being Civically Engaged
I have learnt that being civically engaged is all about giving back to the society whatever you have benefited ever since. We are living in a world that was created by citizens before us. Someone had set up institutions such as schools and hospitals of which we are the beneficiaries. It becomes our moral obligation to provide to the society something which will benefit everyone.
Being civically engaged is essential feature of democracies like our country. Typically all player including citizens, government organizations, non profit organizations and even businesses, are usually found to be civically engaged. Usually a group of people come together to address the problem of their communities and make an effort to influence the decisions of the government through interaction. Civic engagement can happen from individual level to collective level involving the whole nation at a time.
Search and development of leadership through workshops, seminars, conferences and other events is also a part of civic engagement. The leaders produced are the very people who actually become successful leaders in their respective areas in the future, and can help the community by fostering unity and collectiveness. The civic engagement that I went through is no different from the leadership development programs above.
Civic engagement with ABC
I went to the meeting arranged by the board members of ABC who are involved in planning for the play which was to be held in the coming month. ABC is a volunteer organization that develops leadership skill of the volunteer through engagement in different social and charitable activities.
There is a spectrum of activities that the organization is involved in. These include creating awareness of the environment, helping the old-aged citizens, moral education to reduce crimes and raising funds for different charities. These activities often help encourage people to take responsibilities of different issues, which ultimately take out the leader within them. Thus the benefits are manifolds.
The benefits are received by different sectors of the society as well as the leadership potential of participating individuals also benefits. For example, once the organization worked on a fellowship program where different people from the community were invited to donate for a charity. Through this project, the awareness of a new charity was developed and this charity is now working towards its goal.
In the meeting that I attended was a great learning experience. The team leader made a presentation of the proposed play. The way he presented such a trivial event was such a success that we were on the same wavelength as he was. We fully understood the mission of the organization, and the reason behind the play. He presented the history, the mission, and some success stories of the organization. He also provided us with past leadership examples, that we often find in newspapers and I am proud to be in the same program as they were.
The he provided five minutes for the participants to brainstorm about the proposed play. Then he asked each one of us to introduce ourselves and provide our input and commitment to the project. Then he showed us a list of task that needed to be done and asked us to pick one or more of the tasks. He encouraged us to create teams and collaborate with each other. I was quick to select the task of charting the policy for the event. I found that there were two other individuals opting for the same task as mine. He allowed us more time to interact with individuals of the same and different task.
Then he began a discussion where each team participated and presented their issues pertaining to the play. Some individuals provided brilliant ideas such as bringing a sponsor especially an entertainment company that was searching to sponsor a similar play. One individual, a passionate musician provided us an idea of arranging a choir and background music for the play from a group that specializes in this task.
I and my team created the positions and provided legal advice for the activities. For example, we proposed that the sponsor should not be a sole proprietor or a partnership, because these business owners have unlimited liability and in case of a nonpayment of pledged sponsor, we may have to incur high legal cost. We created the positions of event manager, and two assistant managers in order to make the hierarchy of the organization flatter. We asked the volunteers to confirm their acceptance of the responsibilities that were attached to the positions. We also proposed that these positions should remain intact for any possible future events.
We also advised everyone that we should consult a lawyer to get some legal position for such an event in order to prevent any policy conflict. Our advised was seriously considered and one of the board members told us that he will look at this matter with the organization’s own lawyer. In the event, I was responsible to see whether everything was being done according to the policies charted. I advised an individual who was selling tickets not to reserve some tickets for someone who talked to him on the phone, to prevent artificial shortages.
The organization was extremely well organized and as a student of political sciences I saw that was a near perfect implementation of the policy that my team charted. The individual were totally dedicated toward their commitments and I am sure that some did more than what they were required. Minimal resources were used and we all were astonished to really see such a good response from such a small budget by comparison. Seeing such a efficient organization as a practical example, I am feeling passionate to continue to work with the organization. I am really feeling that I can be a good leader because my policies were effective.
Change through activism
Such organizations which are committed toward producing leaders and changing the minds of people can help in bringing about a political and social change. Change is something that cannot be brought overnight. It is a gradual process that involves a lot of dedication, competence, activities and participations. Human nature resists change until it is absolutely necessary. But when people are made aware about a possible happening that will make the change imminent, then people may opt for a change by their own will.
Activism is about bringing a change through various ways of convincing the people and the government about a realized need of a community or the entire country. It is a voluntary and intentional action toward the change.
Through civic engagement, the organization can perhaps best bring about a political and social change through involving the media. For example if we had asked the media to come and cover the event, we could have gained more publicity. This publicity could have led to people thinking about an area which they have overlooked. Making people think about something which is inappropriate or is not present despite the need, can make people believe that change is important or even inevitable.
We can also invite community councilors and policy makers to such civic engagement programs to observe and understand the importance of a change. This is an effective method however, it may happen without the participation from the people unless the councilor and policy makers themselves make the people aware. If the people are not made aware of such a change, they might oppose it. Thus it is in everybody’s advantage that the people are made aware of a change beforehand and their approval shall be taken.
Nelson Mandela’s Movement
One great historical example of a public policy change, that took place in the late twentieth century, is the end to the apartheid that was practiced in South Africa till the 1990. Nelson Mandela was, from the beginning, committed to the movement of ending the apartheid. For this he had to bear imprisonment for much of his lifetime, just according to the apartheid policy that asked for imprisonment for any protest done by the same race as Mandela. Apartheid was a policy which called for racial segregation against the majority natives of South Africa who were blacks.
They were not allowed to participate in election. Several places were demarcated exclusively for the British settlers. The blacks were not given the fundamental human right of access to education and health care. The system of apartheid increasing became unpopular amongst the blacks and later it was raised in the international forums. Even, in the 80’s, there was a dissent to this policy amongst the new generations of whites.
Nelson Mandela organized a movement against the system which involved protests, lawyers support, guerilla activities and negotiations. In 1990, when was released from prison, he proposed in his negotiation about multiracial elections, which he was successful in bringing a change in the policy. The apartheid system was abolished and in the 1994 elections, Nelson Mandela became the country’s first black president.
Such public policy change requires the devotion of a large number of individuals. The activism employed in polity change often requires mass movements and the movement leaders ability to change people’s mind. In my opinion, the activism shown by Mandela was leadership oriented but it was a little extreme in the sense that it involved guerilla warfare. This could have been done using a more peaceful model such as Mahatma Gandhi’s Civil Disobedience movement. Peaceful movements may be yield results slower but with a more ethical way.
Community Challenge Communications Team, http://www.thecommunitychallenge.org/ civic_engagement.htm, 2007
The Free Dictionary, http://www.thefreedictionary.com/activism, 2008
Monal Chokshi, CS 201final report, http://www-cs-students.stanford.edu/~cale/cs201/ apartheid.hist.html, 1995
Chhaya Rai, (Dean, Faculty of Arts ,R.D. University, Jabalpur), International Seminar On Conflict Resolution, http://www.mkgandhi.org/nonviolence/role_in_relevance.htm, 2003