by raphael dennis
"There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about." Margaret J. Wheatley
This quote could not resonate more with me. Recently, I facilitated a two-day prototyping event in Shinyanga District, Tanzania. This very special event brought together over 80 community members who are committed to ending violence against women and children, including teachers, junior council leaders, government representatives and the district’s most connected citizens; people who were identified by their fellow community members as the most trusted and influential individuals.
The event was the third stage in a two-year participatory action research project, which is being conducted by Citizens 4 Change in collaboration with Women Fund Tanzania Trust and Shinyanga District council. The aim of this project is to understand the complex system in which violence against women and children arises in Shinyanga District, and to create the conditions for citizens to promote protective norms.
I had met some of these prototyping event participants during the previous co-sensing stage of the project, when I travelled to 18 wards of Shinyanga District with my colleagues Sia, Janeth and Mathias. During the previous stage, we facilitated dialogues at the community level that focused on exploring the root causes of violence against women and children. Even during this initial stage of the project, when we were only trying to learn about the problem, I could already feel a strong urgency for change coming from the local community. It was clear they all wanted to challenge the negative social norms that put women and children in their community at risk of harm. "Ukatili Sasa Basi” was the phrase often used during the conversations, which, translated into English means “End Violence Now!”
The Shinyanga community’s urgency for change was even more evident when we brought them together for the third prototyping stage in October 2022. The event aimed to:
Provide a space for participants to make sense of the system in which violence occurs,
Give the C4C team a deeper, heartfelt understanding of the participants’ intention for change,
Generate ideas for low cost, low effort actions - or prototypes - that cultivate peaceful social practices in the community, and
Envisage how these prototypes would function in real life.
Although it was my first time facilitating such a large-scale event with very diverse participants, I easily got over my anxiety, partly because of the supervision from my mentor and the project’s lead, Dr. Kate McAlpine, and partly because the participants had demonstrated so much passion and commitment to creating new social practices that allow women and children to thrive - which was the event’s key objective. I wanted to harness this passion and make the event as successful as possible.
While working in groups, I guided participants through the process of describing a peaceful society that they all wish to be part of. Together, we then identified potential supporters and blockers to accessing this ideal society, and we developed a set of measures - prototyes - that the community are willing to take in order to make their desired future a reality. Despite their age, gender and power differences, I was moved to see all participants in their groups coming together over a common agenda: building a safe and inclusive society for women and children!
On the last event day of the event, we finished with a wall plastered with ideas for low cost and low effort prototypes that were collectively identified by the participating community members. They are now all busy on the ground implementing these prototypes in their local communities.
Check out a summary of the community-developed prototypes here, and keep an eye on our social media @C4CEastAfrica for updates on how these ideas unfold.