The Power of Communities - RSA

The Power of Communities has to be central to Health as a Social Movement


  • Communities
  • Health & wellbeing

First Lady Michelle Obama once said “we can’t do well serving communities …if we believe that we the giver, are the only ones that are half-full, and that everybody we are serving is half-empty…there are assets and gifts out there in the communities, and our job as good leaders is having the ability to recognise those gifts in others and help them put those gifts into action.” First Lady Michelle Obama

As part of a major project being undertaken by the RSA, nef and Nesta - Health as a Social Movement- Nesta recently launched a report entitled “Health as a social movement: the Power of People in Movements”. The RSA’s Ahmed Shaal argues that developing trusted relationships is vital if communities are to get actively involved in social movements that improve the health and well-being of its members.

The report shows how new community engagement practice can be the key to creating a successful social health care model. I strongly believe as a community activist and advocate in creating a new social health care model with the goal of empowering communities and community organisations. If people are to have a voice in the decisions about their health and care, then undoubtedly communities have to be at the heart of this movement.

Utilising existing community assets can make the movement successful and help them to reach their aims. But this only happens if communities are given the tools and skills needed to take control of their health and the care issues that matter to them. An asset based approach makes visible and values the knowledge, skills, connections and potential in a community. In this approach communities are seen as the co-producers of health and well-being, rather than the recipients of services.

So how do we achieve this? Before mobilisation and engagement can happen, connecting communities with the movements and building trust between communities and professionals are crucial. It is important that people can understand and digest the whole aim of the movement and how it benefits them individually in the long term.

Laying the groundwork to build trust and meaningful relationships with communities has to take place before anything else. Trust and good connection with the people you serve can create closeness, and can be the key to success for a movement to be successful. To build effective relationships between communities and social health movements, it is important that people in communities understand reasons why health movements are important for them, and believe that it will change their health service and care in a positive way. Also, it is important that communities should be given chances to be involved in decision making processes that affect their lives. This creates sincerity which is required for collaboration to work and bring together communities and health system leaders.

Community engagement is vital for a social health movement to be successful. Good engagement motivates and inspires individuals and communities to help shape the future of their neighbourhoods, with positive outcomes for all parties. Engagement is a two way process of openly sharing and exchanging information, understanding different views, listening and responding to suggestions, developing trust and dialogue to support effective working relationships with communities.

Good engagement is not only about providing insight, but also about empowering individuals and communities to play an integral role through participating in decision making and shaping the direction of the movement. It is important to ensure that underrepresented communities are included in the movements and that they have an equal opportunity to be involved and make decisions. In order to make sure that social health movements are fully inclusive they must reach these communities and their organisations to tackle marginalisation head on.  

Trusted relationships between social movements’ organisers and people in the communities can open new directions and give opportunity for communities to take a lead in the development of the movement. It is important to consider where there are barriers to involvement, to understand why they exist, and what kind of steps can be taken to build the community’s capacity to become fully involved.

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