Civic engagement is not an option, it is an obligation!

By Farah Achbabe, LPV Fellow from Morocco

There is an amazing quote hanging on “Leadership Pioneer Valley” office that caught my attention since my first day and pushed me to question the answers I have managed to arrive to during the years I spent considering myself as a person “civically Engaged” in Morocco. This quote which seems to be a simple motivating quote is, actually, more to it  than that.

The quote from Margaret Mead said:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has. “

Farah at Franklin County CDC

In fact, this quote undeniably stresses the importance of  civic engagement in small groups that are aware by their responsibility and roles towards their communities and how working hard, continually and consistently as teams could do miracles and touch positive change.

De facto, I have learned from the people I met during official meetings and Galas in West Massachusetts that they have become civically engaged when they realized that having a good job and a salary are not enough to feel good about themselves.

Civic Engagement lunch discussion with LPV Alumni from left: Adam Gomez ’18, Kelvin Molina-Brantley ’12, Will Reichelt ’17, Giselle Vizcarrondo ’17, Lorenzo Gaines ’12, Shayvonne Plummer ’18 and Farah Achbabe (not pictured Justin Hurst ’17)

Civic engagement is an inclination to periodically question reality, look for alternatives and try to figure out new solutions for what matters most.

In fact, people who are civically engaged have the guts to implement positive ideas, to bring positive change and solve the social issues they may encounter in their Neighborhood, Town, City or state given that  they are all concerned. It obviously goes without saying but what is good for the community is good for the individuals and vice versa.

Civic engagement is not an option, it is a moral obligation towards the nation we belong to.

Farah with Margaret Tantillo, Dress for Success

On the one hand, civic engagement is not at all about hoping to change the world but it is about taking your courage in both hands and going from grand to the ground: It is time to stop waiting for someone to save us and get involved in community.

On the other hand, being civically engaged is about to set the bar in a high level, keep anyone engaged, being mindful of the differences, cross boundaries and most importantly try continually to overcome ourselves by bringing positive and concrete change to the table. That goes hand and hand with challenging the process while sharing inspiring vision with everyone who wants to help at this time.

Civic engagement includes communities that are  taking advantage from their differences and diversity and working together in both political and non-political actions in order to address public concerns and promote the quality of the community.

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” Martin Luther King Jr.  the most visible spokesperson and leader in the civil rights movement once said to an audience in Montgomery, Alabama in 1957. The man who sacrificed his life  to lead one of the most successful revolution in the 20 century in order to free people from segregation and slavery stressed that civic engagement is all what makes a life worth living. Indeed, it is the only thing that matters .

Community Building

lpvThis month, we are talking about the leadership capacity of community-building.  Good leaders build their communities, leaving them in a stronger place.  Communities exist at many different scales including a work department, organization, neighborhood, or town.  How do we build better communities? Well, community building begins with its first and foremost foundation: the leader. Ultimately, leaders are the principle architects in building communities. For successful community building, leadership must become a force. A variety of leaders must link together, willing to address each other’s concerns and take action. Through this cohesion a community can be formed. A community is not a phenomenon that just happens. It requires the time and energy of those who step up to lead, calling on others to join in process. Without their engagement, the efforts of a leader can easily miss their mark or be detrimental to the community.

A leader must be able to recognize that a populated place is not necessarily a community. To be characterized as a community, a place must have leadership, communication, comfort, safety, authenticity, purpose, advocacy, resilience, and diversity. Communities possess all of these traits and a leader that sets the tone. Through community building, leaders strengthen those around them. Positive communities have proactive leaders willing to exemplify through their actions and build spirit. Without the successful development of a community, there is no driving force for positive change. A community is a place driven by will power, where people want to work together over time to address common needs and common problems. Positive communities are characterized by active leadership. Often, passivity is what characterizes the regression of a community.

Building a community requires serious assessment. Who are the people in your community? How are they represented? What goals do they have, and how are those goals being addressed?

Potential leaders must put themselves in positions to bring their own skills to the community. Cumulative, one-on-one interactions between community members help build community. In making these micro-interactions a priority, community members feel a connection to the group as a whole, making them more likely to be proactive in making decisions and taking part in positive activities. The more people are willing to take action under their own accord, the more leaders a community will have striving for positive growth.

Lastly, community-building takes a continual striving for positive growth.  If a community isn’t improving, it is likely weakening. Setting goals and clear benchmarks for improvement will allow the community to make progress and celebrate victories along the way.  Leaders help to set that direction and involve others in the goal setting and accountability.   The leader is essentially the most basic unit to build the foundation of a community upon. The more people in a place that are willing to be proactive, the stronger the foundation will be. The stronger the foundation is, the more a community can continue to build into a positive, efficient environment. The great thing about being a leader, however, is you’re not simply a cinderblock to be built upon. Leaders are constantly part of the community building process at all stages, architecting a brighter future.