In the last few months, I have had deep and fulfilling discussions with our trainees about dependency, helplessness and empowerment. It’s both heartbreaking and inspiring to look at the complexities of why people and entire communities get stuck in a cycle of dependency and helplessness, which is a contributing factor to their inability to overcome the extreme poverty and oppression they battle daily. It is easy to look in from the outside and tell someone to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, to find the willpower to change, to look at the bright side and possibilities, and to quit waiting for handouts. But what is it like to be the one experiencing this cycle? Can they be blamed or held responsible for the deep, complex factors which are causing their poverty or oppression? Wouldn’t most of us also lose hope and motivation in these circumstances?

In the midst of this, how can we support people in finding ways to overcome their dependency and learned helplessness even when they are not the ones to blame? I am learning that the process of overcoming helplessness and dependency starts with the heart and mind, and is anchored in hope. Someone must be able to see that a different way of living is possible. Regardless of their role or responsibility in their current circumstances, the resources available to them, or how extreme their circumstances actually are, they must first be inspired. This builds the hope in them for change.

Once hope takes root in the heart and mind, then empowerment can actually take place. Empowerment is also primarily a change of heart and mind. It is an internal change which creates the fertile soil for the external change which overcomes poverty and oppression. I share this often with our trainees. Empowerment happens when someone has a strong sense of their identity and purpose, when they live in deep connection with others, and when they have built up their resilience to keep fighting for the change of which they dream. An empowered person then manifests this in eight different ways:

Once these eight critical aspects of empowerment are manifested in someone, the possibilities are endless. We all long for the external change they create. An empowered person can overcome some of the most complex and extreme hardships in life. An empowered person inspires others to follow in their footsteps. This is what will create the social change our world needs.

As I continue to learn, I am growing more convinced that change is possible and it must start with hope. Hope is the anchor of change. Hope is the spark that starts a forest fire. Hope is what keeps us alive.

-Elaine, Executive Director

* These concepts and many more are taught in our Introduction to Asset-Based Community-Led Development & Community Empowerment course. For more in-depth learning, enroll now.