Don’t start from problems. This is one of the characteristics of community organising: a method for shaping and strengthening civic coalitions, developed by the American sociologist and activist Saul Alinsky in the 1940s, which is also becoming increasingly popular in Europe.
Barack Obama argued for “power before problems” in his famous 1988 paper Why Organize? Problems and Promise in the Inner City.
Obama, who had also worked as a community organiser before becoming the 44th president of the United States, explained that organising is based on the premise that
The problems facing inner-city communities do not result from a lack of effective solutions, but from a lack of power to implement these solutions.
Heather Booth, founder of the Midwest Academy and one of the world’s best-known community organisers, has coined a formula: the three “O’s”:
“OOO = Organisers Organise Organisations”. First “O”: Organisers. Second “O”: Organise. Third “O”: Organisations. The process of the community organiser is therefore a process that leads “organisers to organise organisations”.
The community organiser method is based on three guidelines:
- listen to the community;
- define the minimum aspiration of that community;
- create the internal and external conditions to meet the expectations of that community.
Using a metaphor, the organiser can be compared to a mechanic working on a car engine. The community is the car, but the people make up the engine. The aim is to set that car in motion, making it ‘competitive’ and capable of gaining respect.
Community organisers are the primary actors of social policy change in relation to specific groups. Their work requires precise skills in terms of communication, ability to move to action, leadership and organisation. Today there are schools, courses and training courses to prepare for this very real and proper profession.
The average operating community organiser in the United States today earns $43,000 per year. There is a steady growth in remuneration and also a chance to scale up, not only in the non-profit world, but also in the for-profit and institutional worlds
The job of the community organiser runs along four lines of strategies: community organisation, advocacy and service delivery capacity. In particular, notes Alberto Alemanno, a lawyer, expert in civil affairs and author of the recent The Good Lobby (published by Tlon, 2021), advocacy and civic lobbying are taking on an increasingly important role in community organising.
Civic lobbying, explains Alemanno, “helps mobilise citizens and organisations, who all too often feel powerless and discouraged, by involving them in decision-making processes and creating a new link between civil society, institutions and businesses.
It is precisely the latter that are increasingly realising the importance of constructive dialogue with communities. That is why they rely on community organisers not only to mitigate conflicts, but to implement processes of cooperation and sharing. Especially after the pandemic, which has seen the theme of community re-emerge strongly, community organisers are a profession that is now in high demand: in logistics, home sharing and all activities that have an impact on a territory. Platforms have been the first to realise this and are betting heavily on this role as a key pivot between local hosts, the community and the company itself. How? With the method of community organising: inspiring, promoting, making the community’s voice heard and devising strategies to bring value back to the community by generating impact and an inclusive economy.