Community Facilitators: Want to help someone? Shut up and listen!

The title said, “Want to help someone? Shut up and listen!”.  The title got my attention.  It comes from a recent TEDx presentation delivered by Ernesto Sirolli, in New Zealand.  The title drew me in.  The content kept me.

Sirolli has worked for 40 years in the field of economic and community development.  His orientation is collaboration and social enterprise.  He speaks with passion.  Here’s the talk: (video not displaying? watch here, on TED)

Lessons for facilitators

Although Sirolli’s’message revolves around the facilitator’s role, in a community development context, it can be applied much further.  I’m a “facilitator”.  You may be, too.  Here’s some of what Sirolli asks of us:

  • let go; as facilitators, we need to let go of the idea that we know what is right; there are more than enough failures, lessons to lear, offered up by NGO’s who thought they knew best
  • the solutions are right there, in the person in front of you, it’s our role, as facilitator, to listen to them, to help them, nudge them, towards their potential, their way
  • rethink how to best involve business entrepreneurs in community meetings; it might be best to address their interests, one-to-one, be ready to meet people in the cafe, bars, kitchens where heart-to-heart conversations can take place
  • offer entrepreneurs confidentiality, dedicated and passionate service, and truth about the challenge of entrepreneurship; not a single person in the world can do all three (beautifully: 1) make a fantastic product, 2) market/sell it, and 3) look after the money/financial side

Most of Sirolli’s message is not new to me.  As a facilitator, in various contexts, I’ve been burned numerous times, when I didn’t listen.  So I know where he’s coming from.  I’ve also travelled enough to have seen first-hand, the negative impact of the “we know best” approach to community development.  In part, that sustains my involvement with CESO (Canadian NGO); to learn and apply a different approach.

Involving local entrepreneurs in public engagement

What’s new to me, though, is that I need to rethink the participation of business entrepreneurs, and their involvement, towards community-wide solutions.  Sirolli’s observations and approach (he created a facilitation methodology, Enterprise Facilitation, to support his approach) suggest value in a hybrid approach to public engagement; e.g., both big gatherings and one-on-one and everything in between? This no doubt adds to the complexity of ”good” public engagement. Yet, if you believe that there is no free lunch…

Do you agree that community development and public engagement is becoming a more complex process, to do well? How do address the interests of business entrepreneurs in a public forum? We’re all in this together!

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