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The Meaning of Empowerment

"I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand."

Confucius (Chinese philosopher, 551 BC - 479 BC)

Much of our work is concerned with empowerment- the photo shows three participants emerging from one of learning circles in Sierra Leone, proud of their education packs and the progress that they are making. We have explained below what we mean by this term. In essence, empowerment is about having or taking more control over all aspects of your life.

Much of our work is concerned with empowerment. Here, three women emerge from one of our learning circles in Sierra Leone.

Individuals: On an individual level we see empowerment as building confidence, insight and understanding, and developing personal skills, for example, being able to analyze situations and communicate more effectively with others. Being empowered presupposes some level of common sense and emotional maturity and access to appropriate information and know how; it also implies someone who cares about others and is tolerant of other's views and behaviour (within limits!)

Groups: Within a group or community, empowerment can be taken to involve building trust, co-operation and communication between members, and a prerequisite for this is that there are appropriate structures, protocols and procedures in place, with effective sanctions against those who default or abuse the system. There must be opportunities for people to meet and exchange views and opinions, and ways of recording what is agreed and done; and there must be scope for having fun and celebrating achievement.

Indicators of Empowerment

The evidence for empowerment is often anecdotal in nature, but this is still valid, especially when set alongside quantitative data. We have listed below some possible indicators that we consider useful:

  • Confidence & Understanding: examples of people taking on new responsibilities e.g. chairing meetings, organising events and initiating new activities; or keeping clear records and good accounts, or the level of contact with local officials concerning issues that are of concern/interest to the local community;
  • Skills in Analysis & Communication: development and refinement of group aims and objectives; meeting with officials and talks to local schools; letter writing, and contributions to local group newsletters; preparation of group strategies and action plans;
  • Trust, Caring & Tolerance: evidence of the delegation of responsibility within the group; initiatives by groups to involve/contact disadvantaged or vulnerable people in the community; initiatives that encourage open debate and represent minority interests; providing additional facilities for members of the community e.g. organising regular breast cancer screening or visits by specialists in healthcare, youth work, planning, law or community development;
  • Communication & Co-operation: attendance at meetings; local group newsletters; telephone trees established for alerting members to important events/developments; evidence of links developing between villages/communities; new joint ventures; and
  • Access to Information: acquisition of material on group development, running small businesses, legislation etc., perhaps held in the local library or resource centre; development of a database of contacts; and use made of the Internet.

For an insight into how we put all of this into practice, see our programme for rural women’s basic education in Sierra Leone. You might also like to look at some of our most recent work on empowering local people; or return to Home Page.