Participation is increasingly important. Let me clarify that. Participation in design, development and sometimes implementation of interventions designed to improve a community’s wellbeing is increasingly important.
We have seen how the slogans ‘not in my name’ ‘not in our name’ ‘not without me’ ‘not for us without us’ and other similar rallying cries have crossed from the international development sector to the UK and European nonprofit sector. Social Impact organisations have realised that successful interventions need to be owned by the people who are most affected by them if the intervention stands any chance of being successful. This might sound self-evident, but has taken decades to be realised.
Participation also represents a threat to how we perceive ‘charity’ and the attitudes of people who work in the nonprofit sectors. For years charity bosses and workers had a paternal attitude towards beneficiaries: we know what is right for you, let us do this to you and you will be better for it. Ok, that’s a bit too blunt, but you get the point: beneficiaries were seen and not heard (except in case studies for fundraising purposes). But participation changes all of that, for both charities and social enterprises, in fact all Social Impact organisations, for one very simple reason. When you ask someone what they think about an intervention or what they think will most make a difference in their lives, they might tell you something that you don’t want to hear.
Participation is about equality, sharing control, building networks, agreements, consensus. All these things can seem challenging to the accepted way of doing things, but what they really do is enhance projects, build sustainability, accountability, and voice – all things that are crucial to tackling entrenched poverty, improving access to services and education and income opportunities, and ensuring buy-in.
Does participation challenge your business model? What would work better if you could build a network or share some of the control with others?