Q. What’s the big deal about capacity building?
A. Building capacity contributes to living in a vibrant community. To foster a truly vibrant community, leaders need to be intentional about and committed to engaging with all members of a community, not just those who reside in his or her level of comfort. It involves willingly and consistently reaching out to those who may not feel included, cultivating relationships that capitalize on diversity, not ignoring it.
Q. Why is capacity building my problem?
A. The demographics in our communities are rapidly changing, and many of the people in that rising population live in marginalized neighborhoods that have not been engaged by the mainstream community. Does your community need municipal bonds passed, such as for street and sewer repair? School bonds? Do you need people to sit on oversight and advisory committees? How will the nonprofits in your community sustain their donor base and recruit more volunteers? Do your schools need more parents robustly engaged in the education of their children? You need to build your capacity to engage with people who can transform the community while transforming themselves.
Q. How will this work?
A. You may want a roadmap, and step-by-step directions. But that’s not how capacity building functions. You work with people, often in their neighborhoods, to develop the process together. If you’re accustomed to always having control, you’ll need to have confidence in the process of sharing it. Capacity building doesn’t lend itself to any one person’s agenda or script. Be open to how other people see their world. You do things together, you learn from each other. You leave your expectations and judgments behind. Your goal is to build trust and confidence. You lead by serving.
Q. What if I make mistakes? I don’t want to feel stupid or incompetent!
A. You’re going to make mistakes, but that doesn’t mean you’re stupid or incompetent. It means you’re willing to admit you don’t know it all, and are willing to learn, willing to be vulnerable. Sometimes, getting out of our comfort zones is the only way to grow, and that’s no different with capacity building. It’s about accepting that you could be out of your depth when you approach people different than you. They could be frustrated, impatient with you or who you represent, distrustful, or maybe just plain scared. They’re feeling vulnerable, too.
Q. Will this really pay off?
A. That depends. Are you committed to the process? Are you going in with an open heart and an open mind? And are you willing to sustain the effort, to be resilient? The answer to that last question is especially important because of the need to model resilience. If the answers to these questions are yes, then prospects for success climb considerably.
Q. I already have an open door policy. Everyone’s welcomed here. Why is it my fault they’re not engaged?
A. That’s exactly the problem–thinking in terms of blame, and assigning it to someone. That kind of model leaves very little space for growth and progress. You’re applying your own paradigm, history and sense of reality to the issue.
We’re not a monoculture society. We live in a diverse democracy, enriched by different cultures, traditions, nationalities, and beliefs. It’s the America we’ve always been, but didn’t always see. Just as people are diverse, they think in different ways. Cultures, value systems and traditions mold our way of looking at the world (even the home you grew up in had its own culture). How we think about each other affects how we act towards each other. Poor or dysfunctional relationships may be the result of not listening to what people have to say.
Q. Isn’t this just another touchy-feely, trendy, fluff approach?
A. Here’s a question about whatever approach you are currently using: How’s that working for you? If it’s not working particularly well, if you long for more community participation and engagement, maybe you should adopt a willingness to think entirely differently about building bridges to people in your community.
Contact J. Andrew Rodriguez at:
Phone: (206) 938-6707