Often, people who want to make social change think of themselves as leaders, or are referred to as leaders by others. In many senses, doing working together in communities does require leadership. However, most people’s model of leadership comes from hierarchical communities where leaders have power over others. This kind of leadership is counterproductive for working together with your community (and also causes problems in other contexts!). In community mobilization, leadership encourages working with other people and taking responsibility for ensuring that everyone can be a leader.
Mozynah Nofal is a graduate student, and has worked to support refugee communities in Lebanon, Turkey, and Canada, as well as internally displaced communities in Syria. In this video, she discusses how she learned new ways of being a leader through working together with others.
So I learned a lot from being a leader in different communities. I learned that sometimes I’m so focused on the action, so focused on the ends, that I’m not very concerned about the process, and I became more cognizant of that. I became more cognizant of that the means are actually sometimes the tools that we built communities with, the kind word, the bonding over social activities that comes prior to the project right all that helps in building the relationship and sort of the friendship that project leaders and community leaders need.
And when I was in, you know, my undergrad, I was told that sometimes I give orders, and I’m very, you know, I’m very bossy. I was told that actually repetitively until it kind of, you know, it resonated with me and I didn’t want to be that person. I didn’t want to be the person who everyone kind of ran the other way when they saw, even if I was getting the job done and people knew that about me. But I learned that about myself and it made me so grateful for the people who shared that with me, and I learned that feedback is the best present you can give to a community worker because they start to learn more about themselves and that’s one of the beautiful results of community work; it makes you learn more about yourself, and it makes you learn about all the qualities in you that will benefit this community, but also all the qualities in the community it can benefit you, right.
So it’s kind of a two-way stream but people think of community work as you being the superhero that’s gonna, you know, carry the whole group on your shoulders, but that also all the group will carry you on their shoulders. It should work like that, ideally of course. So that’s what happened to me. The community held me on their shoulders because they made me grow as a person and as a community worker.
Chris Dixon, an American-Canadian activist and scholar, identifies three key principles of anti-authoritarian leadership. Leadership roles in these organizations should be clear, meaning everyone should know who actually holds leadership; choices about leadership should be conscious, meaning that we should think about and plan who holds what form of leadership and for what purpose; and leadership should be collective, divided among people and changing to reflect how circumstances have changed. (Link)
In this video, you will hear from Mohamad Rabah and Louay Misleh, two members of Bait Byout, talk about how their group practices this form of leadership. Bait Byout is a LARP (live action role play) group based in Ramallah, Palestine, which uses play and creativity to explore social issues and mobilize people to think differently about their situation, as well as to reclaim play and leisure in the context of the occupation. Both Muhammad and Louay discuss the way that leadership works in Bayt Byout.
Leadership that we try to focus on is the leadership that gives capability for the people, the participating leadership, a leadership that is built on people’s decisions, what they can do, and the involvement of people to do something. There is the distribution of clear roles to the majority of people; there is no omission of opinions and importance of things that have to be done. There is more of consultation of what each person would like to do and what they would like to learn. We also focus on the matter even in the projects that we do, we try to let the people show us what their needs are for education, throughout the project. It is not very important whether the project succeeds or not, what is important is the process of the journey that we go through to reach the end of the project.
So we focus on the leadership where we try to be involved with and support is the leadership that promotes enabling individuals and their development, more than looking at the results, results at the end if everyone was involved in it and the journey experiment had participation and values that gathers everyone, and the majority accepts others and enables people in the end, the results will most likely be great, but the results are not important, what is important is the process we went through to reach the results.
Here in Bayt Bout there is a space for mistakes and learning from these mistakes and the repetition of mistakes and learning from it until the individual reaches a stage where they are able to lead and develop them-self and improve from their capabilities, in dealing with others and their thinking in projects and how they can be a leader that runs these projects the way they see best with the group that they are leading. So, essentially the idea of leadership depends on group leadership with topics, until they reach an advanced position and affect more people and give the role to the rest to try and in this same position and they will then decide if I am capable of being a leader or if I am not able to be a leader.
In the end, everyone will live in and try this role and no one will punish them if they make a mistake. Contrary, mistakes teach you lessons on how to improve your capabilities and skills in management, communication and so on.