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What is Empowerment?

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empowermentI used to roll my eyes at the word "empowerment". I've seen "empowerment" used so many times in different contexts, that it seemed like a meaningless buzzword. Most people have a vague idea of what empowerment means; but specific questions- like how empowerment differs from self-reliance, or if empowerment is a process or a goal- are tough. So, what does the Community Empowerment Network actually mean by "empowerment"? How does that definition influence our actions?

Empowerment is the process that allows somebody to gain the skills and knowledge they need to find success in the world. Empowerment is a process and can vary from learning a useful skill to completely shifting attitudes and behavior. CEN works to empower people to the point where they become self-reliant. When people are self-reliant, they use their own judgments, skills, and resources to solve a problem, rather than depend on someone else for help. Self-reliance is a state of being; empowerment is the process that gets people there.

Each specific step in an empowerment process falls into one of three categories: helping people access resources, helping people learn skills and positive mindsets, or removing obstacles to success.

In order for rural communities to create businesses that can function in a global marketplace, those communities must have access to resources. Those resources could be financial capital, a better workspace, or information and communication technologies. Whenever you help somebody access resources that provides more options and efficiency, you are empowering them.

Empowerment and education go hand-in-hand. You can give people access to the best information technologies in the world, but unless those people have the knowledge of what that technology can do and the skills to use it, the technology won't help them much. Teaching people an entirely new skill or helping them refine a previous skill is another way to empower them.

hands_empowerment_circle_webAlong with skills come mindsets. Mindsets such as: lack of confidence, dependency on others, or hopelessness are huge obstacles in the way of empowerment. The people in rural communities must realize that they are in a better position than any outsider to make positive and sustainable changes in their own lives. If somebody doesn't believe that they have the power to make positive changes, then they will never become self-reliant. One of the easiest ways to help somebody overcome those sort of mindsets is to help them accomplish short term goals. Once they see that they can succeed, they will naturally become more confident and self-reliant. Shifting mindsets is one of the most important forms of empowerment, but it is also the one step that is attainable for any individual, regardless of their access to education or resources.

Though mental barriers play a huge role in preventing people from becoming self-reliant, there are physical barriers too. Some examples of the physical barriers to success would be isolation, poor health, or political limitations. The category of removing non-mental barriers allows us to empower people in ways that don't fall in the other two categories. If you're helping somebody take control of their life, but not giving them access to resources nor teaching them skills or mindsets, then you would be removing barriers towards self-reliance.

When you think of empowerment in terms of these three categories, it becomes a concrete, more meaningful idea. CEN uses these three methods to help members of rural communities along the path of empowerment, eventually arriving at the final destination: self-reliance.

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Guest Tuesday, 23 July 2019