Types of Community Mobilization
Community mobilization is a technique that can be used to meet many different goals. That is one of the reason that community mobilization skills are so useful: as communities and individuals have different goals and desires, they can use these skills in different ways.
However, it is important to be able to differentiate between different types of community mobilizations, in order to understand better how they work and what is similar or different from your own work. You can always learn from mobilizations that are different from yours, but you can usually learn better when you understand how they are different.
Activist and social work professor Eric Shragge, in his book Activism and Social Change uses two different scales to divide up community mobilizations. Any organization can do work that overlaps between them, but the categories in general explain a lot about what organizations do. The two fundamental divides, he argues, are between development and action and between integration and opposition.
Development is focused on improving the material and social conditions for a community. It can mean working to support economic growth or improving the housing, education, or health care available to people in a community, for instance. Most NGOs do development work primarily. By contrast, Action is focused on organizing people to demand change and get powerful systems, like employers or the government, to change what they do. Social movements, unions, and activists usually do action work.
When an organization chooses to do work that is focused on improving how people work with the systems that currently exist, then the work they do is integration. This includes work to help people access resources, do better in educational or work systems, or to benefit from an improved environment. Some common types of integration work are humanitarian aid, scholarships to private schools or universities, or helping people register for government benefits. When a mobilization aims to change how the systems that currently exist work, then the work it does is opposition. It can do this by building alternative systems, by leading protests, or by trying to change people’s minds.
Examples of the four types
Most NGOs do work that is focused on development and integration: helping people’s material wellbeing through improving the functioning of the systems that exist. This is an important function that can help people with immediate needs. But it leaves the systems in place without making much change, and often means that the root problems of people don’t change. Zeinab Mokalled started an all-women initiative in her village Arabsallem in the south of Lebanon to deal with the trash problem her community was facing. In this video, Zeinab, alongside other women involved in the initiative, talk about their work and its importance in the village.
Some groups try to do work that focuses on development, but is oppositional. This often means building up alternative economic or social systems that people can use to do better, but with different prevailing conditions. Dalia Association, a Palestinian community foundation mentioned in other objects, is an example of a group that does development work in an oppositional way.
Political parties and unions do a lot of work that is action in an integration way. So do groups that make demands against the government or powerful local figures to better meet their needs, but without challenging how the system is set up. For instance, Jai Sen, an activist, architect, and scholar, worked with urban poor people in India to improve their access to services.
Social movements are the obvious example of a group that does oppositional action. However, you can also do oppositional action without holding protests. For instance, Huellas de la Memoría (Footprints/Traces of Memory) is a Mexican organization that uses art to oppose forced disappearances.