Creating Sustainable Change

In Making a Difference Winter 2017, we previously covered Real Communities Partnerships which create welcoming and inclusive communities where people of all abilities are valued equally and are active participants in making life better for everyone. Through a circle and collaborative approach, we can influence change to value and honor everyone in the process.

To achieve this, Real Communities uses two methodologies, Popular Education and Asset-based Community Development (ABCD), to create welcoming communities.

Popular Education, which was developed by Paulo Freire, offers several established practices to deepen the collaborative approach. Anne Hope and Sally Timmel simplified the Popular Education philosophical language into theory and practice in the book, Training for Transformation.

Popular Education is critical of our current education system, because the system is not relevant to most of society. For example, the curriculum in school is conducive only to students that function in a standardized system; however, students that learn differently such as visual or hands-on learners are labeled with learning disabilities. The aim of popular education is a radical transformation of culture where all of us are called upon to change our personal life, community, environment and ultimately the society.

The four basic principles of popular education are:
• People/Learner centered
• Self-discovery
• Problem posing
• Action producing

People/learner centered focuses on generative theme and dialogue. Generative theme is a common and strong feeling such as a vision the community has for itself or any aspect of each participant’s life. This principle allows the community to decide what is relevant to the group, rather than an expert imposing their opinion. A fundamental component is identifying a generative theme through dialogue. It is important to hear from everyone in the community when conversations are being held and decisions are being made about needed changes. Experience shows that an expert’s solution for a community does not bring about sustainable change. This methodology believes that the way to sustainable change is through listening to everyone because their input is just as important as the experts.

Self-discovery is part of the Popular Education process that allows community participants to learn about themselves through reflection and action. In the broader process of community transformation, people learn about their value, strengths, weaknesses, biases, motivation, personality … etc. The following quote from Witcher-Cottrell & Hilton describes it best:
“The learning process is one of self-discovery.

Information is not fed or handed out to participants. In this process, people come to their own awareness and understanding as they analyze the reality of their situation through codes, case studies, discussions, etc. People learn best what they discover for themselves.”

Problem posing allows us to raise awareness and consciousness around social issues and interconnections. We analyze the issues by asking why? Here is a great example from David Werner the author of Where There is No Doctor, who calls this method the
“But-Why Method.”

“ The child has septic foot.” – “But why?”
“ Because she stepped on a thorn.” – “But why?”
“ Because she has no shoes.” – “But why?”
“ Because her father cannot afford to buy shoes.” – “But why?”
“ Because he is paid very little as a farm laborer.” – “But why?”
“ Because the farm laborers have no trade union.”

Problem posing is not focusing on the problem – rather it encourages the community to act together to find solutions.

Action producing is reached when you use feelings to motivate and break through apathy. This inclusive process allows each community member to feel as though they are responsible. With each member feeling equally responsible, an effective and more powerful community is created.

Once the community is mobilized and empowered they are tasked with taking on their own challenges on a continuing basis which is the essence of a sustainable process.

Sumaya Karimi is the GCDD Real Communities organizing director.


Georgia Council on Developmental Disabilities' (GCDD) spring edition of Making a Difference quarterly news magazine covers a review of the 2017 Legislative Session; Talking Disability Advocacy at the Georgia State Capitol during Advocacy Days; the Future of Georgia's Medicaid Program; Georgia Options Leads the Way; tips on advocating for employment and more.

Download pdf version of Making a Difference Spring 2017    Download Large Print Version of Making a Difference Spring 2017