ACT Council of Social Service Inc.

Justice | Equity | Social Inclusion | Reconciliation

Community Development - Celebrating its Hidden Strengths: Stories of Collaboration & Impact - Recap

20 July 2018

ACTCOSS, in association with Community Development Network ACT & Region (CDNet), were proud to present two stories from the community sector followed by a panel discussion and Q&A from our packed audience at a forum on 25 June 2018. 

ACTCOSS and the CDNet have co-facilitated a community development peer network over the past three years. The network has recognised the need to promote community development practice and expertise. The June forum was part of this desire to increase the visibility of community development and its contribution to positive community outcomes.

We were delighted to have leaders and practitioners from both community organisations and ACT Government participate.

Susan Helyar, Director of ACTCOSS, framed the afternoon by highlighting the seismic shifts taking place in our sector, such as changes in jurisdiction responsibility for social policies, shifting funding arrangements, and the consolidation of service provision and creation of different models of provision.

Having said that, Susan shared three things that are worth preserving in our sector to sustain a point of difference in this competitive environment for people-led agenda setting, decision making, and community-led service models. These three things are:

  • Assertion of and respect for human rights
  • Use of reflective practice to guide organisation, workforce, and service development
  • Community development as a core foundation for all involvement in communities. 

Indeed Susan reminded us that community development has a rich history of practice, and is recognised in the ACT Community Sector Industry Strategy 2016-2026 as playing a core function in achieving our vision of an inclusive, equitable and sustainable community service industry. 

Before hearing the two stories of community development that demonstrate transformative power, Susan presented us with some questions to ponder through the afternoon: if community development was more embedded in what we all did, how would our work be different? What would that enable us to do that we do not do now?  What new pathways or partnerships might open up?

Global Sisters

Sandra Lloyd from Global Sisters – an organisation that supports women to be financially independent through small business ownership – kicked us off with a personal reflection of her journey as a community worker through various phases of organisational uncertainty in her career, highlighting the value of personal resilience in this line of work. Sandra shared the unique skill sets she sees required in community development work: a patience and passion for investing in relationships to better facilitate the connecting of people with the broader community and infrastructure they are entitled to benefit from.

We then had an opportunity to hear first-hand of the trauma-informed approach Sandra draws on for the work she has been involved with as she has worked with CALD communities. There were some heart-warming examples of empowerment: from women-only swim groups, to simply fostering an accessible space for women of the same background to gather and connect.

ACT Reclink

Mark Ransome from ACT Reclink then candidly shared his journey working in the High Density Housing Safety and Security project – which aims to build resilience for these residents by providing a social opportunities and a safe space for residents to gather. Mark emphasised the cornerstone of his approach to community development: assuming there is value in every human being, regardless of their background or history, and bringing this strengths-based approach to the various efforts his team is engaged in.

This was best illustrated through the sharing of Mark’s experience with Community Gardens. First through his creative approach to ‘gender competent practice’ – namely with the men that come across his radar. Second, highlighting an example, one of many Mark has witnessed over the years, where a woman with no prior knowledge of gardening gradually developed a passion and deepened her knowledge such that she subsequently obtained a horticulture qualification and presently runs her own business.

Panel discussion

Following the two stories, Susan facilitated a panel discussion with representation from community development practice, the research sector and ACT Government.

The discussion raised the following points:

  • Metaphor of community development as the soil that underpins our communities
  • Importance of collaboration between government and community organisations to support community engagement and participation
  • Centrality of building trusted relationships – and that this takes time
  • Recognition of the role of government and the role of community development practitioners.

If you’re interested in learning more about CD Net, our community development peer network, or would like be engaged more broadly with our work in this space – please feel free to get in touch with our capability team.