2015 is going to be an exciting and challenging year.

In 2015 I want to find out if we can establish a diverse network of people that support each other. It might not sound that difficult, but I know we’re going to face lots of challenges.
It’s going to be a year full of problems and questions:

We’re going to face the creativity problem:      Cultural exclusion affects us all. We are all born creative but without access to our creativity none of us can realise the creative potential that is our own unique contribution to society. What’s more, when any one person’s creativity is stifled our shared society suffers.
    We’ll be asking: How can everyone become empowered by art?

We’re going to face the collaboration problem:   None of us can know what is best for any other person. In the long run we cannot create change by doing things to, for, or without each other. We can only create change together.
  We’ll be asking: How can we create collaborative community projects?

We’re going to face the capability problem:      To build social justice we need to create communities where everyone has the capability to fulfil our potential. Since, we all fulfil our own potential by building our capabilities.  We need to find ways to build capability together.
  We’ll be asking: How can we build social justice?

We’re going to face the context problem:          art has the power to transform our lives and our communities but there is only so much any of us can do. It’s only when everything we do is in the context of a long-term that we can say every little helps.
    We’ll be asking: How can we create sustainable social change?

It will be a challenge because we’ll need to recognise that we can all contribute, that we all have something to offer.
It will be a challenge to find ways for us all to engage in equal creative collaborations where we explore who we are and who we can become, together.
Perhaps above all, it will be a challenge for us to accept that we can all be open to our own creativity, and engage with our own vulnerability and weakness – that none of us have all the answers.
  We’ll be asking: How can we build equal, diverse and inclusive networks that recognise the creative contributions of each every one of us?

We’ll be doing this through a series of problem posing forums and network events at which we’ll explore these questions and learn how we can support each other to fulfil our creative potential – as individuals and as communities.

I hope you’ll be able to join us.

 

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How the arts can create sustainable social change.

I’m constantly meeting fantastic people and hearing about amazing projects – in the last week alone I’ve had conversations with people tackling violence, increasing access to the arts and exploring identity and mythology in a wide range of settings – none of these projects are currently connected yet they all have a huge amount in common. 

We all want to be part of something bigger than ourselves. We all want to make a difference not just now but in the future. However, there is only so much any of us can do. Ultimately we all have to face the same question – how can we create sustainable social change? What we need is a sustainability service that can connect all these great projects and initiatives.

After all, the problem of sustainability is not the projects themselves – or any individual, organisation or initiative – it is simply a lack of context. When we do things in the context of a strategic plan they are no longer isolated activities but steps towards a long-term goal.

We need an organisation that can provide this context for us and hold that long-term vision on our behalf. This is exactly what art + power is setting out to do – to build communities where everyone has the capability to fulfil their potential. It is a big vision but one we cannot realise without your help.

Sustainable social change is something we can only create together. We need to build a network that enables a diverse range of people – disabled and socially excluded people, practitioners and policy makers – to support each other through equal, shared collaborations where everyone contributes and everyone benefits, equally.

Adopting an equal, collaborative approach will be a challenge to us all. Just as some of us will find it hard to break out of dependent relationships and realise that we all have something to contribute, so others will struggle to recognise that we cannot create effective change unless we are also prepared to embrace our own vulnerability and engage with our own creative potential and collaborate on an equal basis.

We would need a lot of support for this, but the more we work together the easier it will be to find people that understand what we’re trying to achieve, that will work alongside us, share our anxieties and help us develop the shared language which is the lifeblood of any successful collaboration.

We are excited about the potential for tools and capabilities to become the language of sustainable collaboration not least because it demonstrates how the best way for any of us to contribute is to do what we do best – by building our capabilities

Capabilities are the building blocks of all human development they support:

  • Personal development by helping us all to both identify our goals and take steps to achieve them.
  • Collaborative development by enabling us to develop equal collaborations in which all parties support each other to build our capabilities.
  • Community development by providing a shared framework that provides the context for all we achieve together.

For example, the shared nature of tools and capabilities can help us make connections between all those fantastic projects people are working on. We could even create an inclusive, collaborative project in which people from diverse and disparate communities support each other to create sustainable change in our lives and communities!

There are lots of ways to get involved…

  • Please share anything that can help people build sustainable change into our lives and communities – maybe something that inspires you, a collaborative project or opportunity or a useful tool. Everything helps.
  • Share your ‘Five Questions’ using this quick survey.
  • Sign up for our newsletter for the latest news and opportunities from the network.
  • Come along to a forum
  • Ask for an art + power membership form (purchase a £1 share) and we’ll add you to our collaborative website where we all share and support each other – dave@artandpower.org.uk

Our shared project will be what you make it – what will you do?

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Tool Shops – The sustainable way to create social change

Britain faces a crisis of opportunity. Too many people do not have the capability to fulfil their potential. Too much talent and potential is going to waste as too many people find themselves trapped in a deepening cycle of low expectations, minimal opportunities and increasing dependency. This is a difficult and complex problem, but one that we can all help solve.

However, one thing is certain. We will never create sustainable social change if we continue to act as if there were two different kinds of people: those that know what is best for others and those that can be treated as problems to be solved. Building sustainable social change relies on accepting both that we are all different and that we share a common nature.

Diversity is the core strength of any community. We cannot possibly know what is best for each other because each and every one of us has a unique set of experiences and capabilities. However, we do share a common nature and we can, and must, learn from each other. Trying to change without each other is as useless as trying to change others. We can only change together.

The key to unlocking human potential is creativity. If we want to fulfil our potential as individuals, organisations or communities then we must all be prepared to explore our own creativity, to embrace our vulnerabilities and engage with our own potential. We cannot create social change unless we are prepared to change ourselves.

art does indeed have the power to transform both our lives and our communities but there is only so much any of us can do by ourselves. Just as the real value of learning is becoming aware of how much more you don’t know, so with social action, the more you do, the more you realise how much more needs doing. Tough problems like dependence and social exclusion require a broader, more concerted commitment than any one individual or organisation can provide.

We need a long-term approach. Short-term projects often raise expectations that they can’t fulfil and throw light on problems they cannot resolve but the real problem with projects is their lack of context – that they are isolated activities. However, when what we do takes place in the context of our long-term development then every little helps because real development is a long-term (and incremental) process.

It is this long-term context that is missing from our isolated attempts to create broader social change. We need a sustainability service that can provide that context for each other. Then every little thing we do can help towards our long-term development as communities as well as individuals.

art + power is uniquely placed to fill this gap because it is a not-for-profit society that anyone can join and because it has a long-term strategy to build communities where everybody has the capability to fulfil their potential. It’s a big vision, one that it cannot deliver! This vision can only be realised by the shared and concerted efforts of a wide range of people.

So we networks of people that use the arts for sustainable social change. The true value of the arts is that it fosters sustainable development and social justice. Social justice occurs where everyone has the capability to fulfil their potential. The reason that art should never be seen as a luxury for the privileged few but as the birthright of every one of us is because it is by building our creative capabilities that we all fulfil our potential.

Capabilities are the building blocks of all human development. They are the tools that enable us all to live increasingly independent, purposeful and creative lives. Capability building is an equal, open and collaborative process by which we all support each other to fulfil our potential. Every time we do something new we build our own capabilities and we can also provide opportunities for others to build theirs. Every activity can become an opportunity for collaborative capability building.

This is what we hope to achieve with our plans for community tool shops. a range of spaces in the community where people can support each other to fulfil our creative potential. We want to see Tool Shops in lots of different spaces – cafés, galleries, community centres etc – so that everyone – and particularly disabled and socially excluded people – can help build more creative, inclusive and sustainable communities.

If you’d like to explore what a Tool Shop could look like in your community do get in touch – or better still come along to: The Tool Shop.

Tool Shops, like art + power, will be what you make it. We can’t make change for you and we can’t do it without you. Sustainable change is not something you do to others, or without others, it is something we can only create together by striving to become the people we want to be and build the communities we can be proud to live in.

Creativity is essential to the business of living. We are all unfinished business, but creativity, inclusion and sustainable development are the essential principles that underpin all meaningful development. So, please help us start the conversation about Tool Shops in your community – the sustainable way to create social change!

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What is a development organisation?

How could we go about implementing a social justice approach within an organisation?

I think there are two things to say at the outset. Firstly, I don’t think we should adopt a social justice approach as an afterthought or even because we feel we ought to. I think we should adopt a social justice approach because we genuinely believe it will help us fulfil our potential.

Fulfilling our potential requires a strategic approach, one that makes the best use of our resources to achieve our goals. A social justice approach sees our best resources as our people, and suggests the best way to achieve our goals is by actively supporting other people to achieve theirs too.

Secondly, I think it helps to remember that if social justice is our goal it is also a journey. Although the process is the same for all of us, the journey will be different for every individual and group. There is no way of knowing what we will learn before we start but we can only build social justice if we are open to finding out what we don’t know and are able to learn from each other.

We have to be prepared to venture into the unknown because social justice is something that can only be created together. We can’t do it for other people and we can’t do it without other people. Just as, any single individual or organisation can only fully realise their potential as part of an ecology of creative collaboration, neither can we know what social justice will look like for other people, we can only invite people to explore it with us.

Our role then is to make that invitation attractive, to make it easier for people to fulfil their potential. Two key things I recommend we can focus on are building enabling environments; and offering opportunities for capability development.

Building enabling environments is about creating the conditions that allow people to flourish. It involves consideration of all the physical, environments, social and psychological factors that help or hinder our development. It’s about helping to produce the conditions, offer the support and provide the tools for people to ‘Create Your Own’ development.

Offering opportunities for capability development is based on the understanding that it is by building our capabilities that we all fulfil our potential. This process of capability development is creative, collaborative and universal.

The universality of capability development has tremendous potential. It can break us free of the hierarchical, didactic process of banking education, of teacher/student, service-provider/service-user relations and replace it with an open conversation which respects, values and nurtures the unique creative potential in each and every one of us.

It enables us to see all our activities as part of an on-going journey in which each incremental step opens up new possibilities and in which all our activities can be understood in the context of our long-term development as individuals, groups and communities.

It also has the potential to change the way we experience our public space. Wouldn’t it be great if, instead of assuming a passive, empty public that need to be filled with the information, we all assumed an engaged, inquisitive public that are interested in exploring, developing, creating and sharing? Surely then we would be able to develop all our activities as opportunities for mutual creative capability development and creative exploration?

Also, If we recognised that the best way to achieve our goals is by supporting others to achieve theirs we would constantly seek out opportunities for creative collaboration; develop an active interest in finding out what each of us was looking for; and be keen to learn from each other’s experience.

OK, maybe I am getting a bit carried away! Let’s see if we can put some of this into practice. What might be some of the features of a developmental organisation that sought to foster social justice?

Here’s the start of a list – I’d be delighted if you would add to it…

A developmental organisation could:
– Seek to maximise the social benefit from all activities.
– Identify the people that can benefit most from what you do, work with them to develop creative collaborations and see how you can learn from their experience to help others.
– Encourage people to participate as people, not just in job roles etc., but as part of their own long-term development strategies.
– Develop practices that build capability and reduce dependence within the organisation.
– Devise a capability framework for the organisation and use it to identify development needs and opportunities.
– Carry out a capability/aspirations audit of key staff and team.
– Devise clear and relevant work packages for staff, freelance contractors, trustees or volunteers.
– Ensure good documentation of process so that every activity contributes towards both individual, organisational and community development.
– Design programmes as opportunities to acquire capabilities.
– Arrange peer support forums to help people identify and tackle constraints, and barriers to creative development.
– Create tool kits and resources to enable others to learn from experience
– Be flexible about the staff review process and employ people in roles that change depending on a regular review of the development needs of both the organisation and its people
– Establish closer links with similar organisations to help foster an an ecology of creative collaboration.
– Consider different measures of monitoring and evaluation. Perhaps, as Kofi Annan has suggested: ‘Development should be not be measured by income but by freedom’
– …

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An invitation to creative collaboration.

We’ve spent the last 15+ years learning about how art empowers. It’s not been an easy journey, we’ve made many mistakes along the way. If we’ve learnt one thing it’s that it is much easier to foster dependence than empowerment. Every time we think we’re getting close we find we have much more to learn. Again and again we’ve seen how short term projects can raise expectations but not sustain the change, we’ve seen projects throw light on long-term problems they can’t resolve. At best it seems that the more we do, the more we find out how much more needs to be done.

This time we really think we’ve cracked it! We’ve worked out why art matters and how art empowers and it’s devastatingly simple: Art matters because it builds social justice (social justice is where everyone has the capability to fulfil their potential). It is through art that we all build the capabilities we need to live fulfilling, purposeful, creative lives. art empowers by building capability – and it’s very exciting!

It’s exciting because it means we can stop thinking about art as the privilege of the few but as the birthright of each and every one of us. It is by building our creative capabilities that we all become the people we want to be and build the communities we choose to live in.

It’s exciting because it means an we can now develop short-term projects in the context of a long-term, on-going, lifelong process of growth and development.

It’s exciting because it means we can stop pretending we know what is best for other people and instead design all our activities as opportunities for people to acquire the capabilities that they are looking for. People can decide for themselves if each activity makes it easier, or harder, for them to do the things they value.

It’s exciting because it means we can stop treating people as problems to be solved but as active agents without whose unique experience we cannot fulfil our potential either. Social justice is about valuing and nurturing the unique, creative contribution of each and every individual, because of who we are.

It’s exciting because we don’t have to pretend to be experts anymore, to make out we have all the answers or pretend to be someone we’re not. Social justice is not about what we’ve done but who we want to become, it’s not about what we know but what we want to find out, it’s not about what (we think) others want us to be but about what makes us who we.

It’s exciting because it means we don’t have to ask anyone’s permission. We build social justice by being ourselves and following our own dreams and passions. In fact we can only build social justice if we are prepared to explore, to engage with our own uncertainty, enter into our own unknown potential. We build the best communities by becoming the best people we can be.

It’s exciting because it means we don’t have to compete any more. Social justice is not about competing over limited resources but creating capability. Everyone has something to contribute, and everyone benefits. Social justice is something we can only build together, through equal, creative collaborations.

It’s exciting because anything anyone anywhere does to build social justice helps everyone everywhere become empowered by art, whether they (or we) know it or not. Just as an artist can find inspiration anywhere so we can take every opportunity to build capability for ourselves and each other.

Of course this is really just the start. we know the theory but how will it work in practice?
We know how art empowers but not what you’ll achieve. We’ve lots of ideas but only you can make it work in practice. We can’t do it for you and we can’t do it without you!

We need you to help us find out what social justice will look like for you, for your local café, community centre or gallery? For your organisation, group or institution? For your community? We need you to help us learn: How can art empower everyone? What are the enabling environments that foster creative collaboration? How can art empower communities?

We’ll be exploring these, and many related questions through creative challenges, in newsletters, online and in person at regular forums and events. But we need you, and the people you know, to help us explore the art of creative collaboration We invite you to help us find out how we can all build our capabilities by building capability for each other.

So, how can you get started?

Well, of course, you already have, you wouldn’t have read this far if you weren’t already building social justice for yourselves and/or others. So, please, keep doing what you’re doing; think about how what you want to learn can provide opportunities for others; and please share anything you think might help – simply hearing what others are doing can help and inspire us all and reminds us all that we are part of something bigger than ourselves.

Just don’t wait to get started, building social justice is a journey of discovery and increasing possibility in which everything you do helps you get a better idea of what you want to do next. So, don’t wait until you’re confident, after all you can’t really help others if you’re not prepared to be helped yourself.

So, please, join in on-line, come to a forum or create your own, but, before you do anything, have a look at these five simple questions that can help us all learn the art of creative collaboration…

1. What are you hoping to achieve?
2. What are you working on now?
3. What are you looking for?
4. What can you offer?
5. What will you do next?

Please share, everything people contribute will help build capability in the community – what will you do?

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Imagine a community where everyone has the capability to fulfil their potential

Imagine a place where each and every one of us felt able to fully be ourselves. Wouldn’t it be amazing! Can you imagine the collaborations we’d develop? The diversity and scope of creativity would be truly extra-ordinary! It has to be worth considering what we’d need to do to bring this about.

It’s actually remarkably simple. All we’d need to do would be to find a way for each one of us to be positive, active agents with a clear sense of our own narrative and to find a way to support each other.

We could do this by creating communities of capability – places where we all support each other to increase our capabilities.

(I find it helps to think of capabilities as a catch-all term for anything at all that makes it easier for people to achieve their potential. Skills and abilities are important but they are only part of the process, there are plenty of people that are capable of doing extraordinary things but are prevented by a vast range of social, psychological, political, environmental, or technological barriers. So we also need more tools and resources to help us deal with difficult situations, stronger networks of support, a supportive and encouraging environment, easier access, inspiration opportunities and much more).

Focussing on developing capabilities makes us better able to tackle the barriers we face and increases the opportunities and possibilities available to us. Whatever we want to achieve it will be easier if we have more possibilities to choose from.

The beautiful thing about capability is that we can use anything at all as an opportunity for capability development. We can design all our activities as opportunities for each other to build our capabilities – then everything we do will open up new possibilities for each other.

Finally, and crucially, capability development is not something we do to, or for, each other but something we create together. It is an equal and universal process which enables us to build true collaborations that value and nurture the unique contribution that each and every one of us has to offer.

But before we can realise this vision we do indeed need to find a way for everyone to engage with their own creative potential. We all need to find the tools, the capabilities that enable us all to tell our own story and begin to shape our own destiny.

There are already lots of tools out there that can help us do this like, for example, the excellent DIY Development toolkit.  The Guide to Capability Development we’re working on will help people find these and more like them and most importantly help people develop their own tools and capabilities so that each one of us can fulfil our potentials as individuals and communities.

So, do please share, tell us your stories, tell us what works for you and what you think might work for others, or, better still, sign up for our newsletter and join a growing community of people that build our capabilities by supporting each other.

Then maybe one day we will be able to use our whole communities as resources for us all to explore, create and share together.

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How can the powerful effect social change?

It is not easy for powerful individuals or organisations to effect social change. Even with the best intentions power still tends to flow towards the relatively powerful. This problem becomes even more marked when the stakes are higher, when projects are more complicated and a range of different interests are involved. Interventions can lead to even greater concentrations of power, influence and dependence.

The organisations that are the immediate beneficiaries of these actions can themselves become dependent upon this income, which can lead to them become risk averse, spending increasing amounts of time and resources on justifying what they’ve already done rather than doing more now or in the future.

Increasing dependency amongst the relatively powerless is also a big risk. Even when social projects do have some short-term successes they can still raise expectations they can’t fulfil, merely throwing light on long-term structural problems that can’t be solved in traditional ways. Sometimes it seems the harder people try to resolve problems the more entrenched they become.

People can easily become frustrated about the inability of their initiatives to effect meaningful change. This frustration is often exacerbated by a lack of clarity. There may be for very good reasons for this as people trying to effect change are naturally reluctant to dictate terms to the people they work with. However, this very openness means that people can easily find themselves locked into a situation where they are trying to second guess what other people want. After all, how can people know what they want if they don’t know what is possible?

I’d like to suggest a solution to this problem but it will require a different approach, one that we may all find challenging. I suggest it is time to ‘ask not what you can do for your country, but what your country can do for you’ – and yes, I do mean it that way around.

I suggest that whilst most of us don’t fully know what we want to do we would all like to have more possibilities open to us. So why not make our communities into places of possibility and social justice?

Social justice occurs where everyone has the capability to achieve their potential. We don’t actually need to know what we want to do if we make it our goal to build social justice as we will find out along the way. If we start by undertaking activities that increase our capabilities then everything we do will reduce dependence and open up new possibilities.

However, it does mean that we have to explore and engage with our own creative development – social justice is not something we can do to others but something we need to explore, create and share together. A commitment to social justice means that rather than thinking about how we can help other people we start by thinking about what we want to achieve and then design our activities as opportunities for others engaged in the same process.

As we all achieve our potential by building our capabilities (by increasing the opportunities or possibilities available to us) and since any object or activity can be used to build capability we can use our communities as resources for mutual capability development.

Actually, it’s not really that JFK was wrong when he suggested we ‘ask what you can do for our country’ but that he was asking the wrong questions. Social justice is not a competitive process, it is not a zero sum resource to compete over but something we build together – through a collaborative process – simply by supporting each other to be positive and learn from our experience.

With social justice, everyone benefits. We can build our capabilities by building capabilities for others so there is no need to squabble over whose cake it is. With a shared commitment to social justice we can all have our cake and eat it.

 

 

 

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What’s the best job in the world?

Imagine someone said to you that they would pay you to do whatever you want and that if instead of having to play a role they would pay you to be yourself. Imagine if they said you could do anything at all and that the more you did what you want the better you would be doing your job. 

Imagine if you could work with anyone you want and help those people do anything they want. Imagine if everything they did helped you do your job better. Wouldn’t that be the best job in the world? 

I have the best job in the world. I work with some truly remarkable people and I get paid to support them to be themselves. What’s more they get paid to support other people to do whatever they want. We can work with anyone in the world and everything every one of us does helps others. 

There are no wrong answers when it comes to social justice. None of us are not good enough. Every one of us has something unique to contribute. None of us has to pretend to be something we’re not. We can fail and fail again because our weakness is also our strength. We help each other best by being ourselves and we help ourselves best by supporting each other. 

Everything we do is an opportunity for social justice and creative collaboration. The only thing we can do wrong is not to try. 

Imagine you had the best job in the world too – what will you do? 
I look forward to hearing from you.

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Why art matters to me

One of the most compelling ways to understand why art matters is to try and imagine a world without art.  When you think about it it’s actually hard to see what life would be like without it.  A few years ago art + power made a film about a world in which art was banned: Condemned to Darkness makes a forceful point about the value of art in our lives and communities with humour and pathos. It is also an excellent example of how art can be more eloquent than mere words.

This film and others like it demonstrate how the arts are central to who we are as people. It is through the arts that we that we make sense of the world around us and define our identity. This is perhaps one of the reasons parents get excited when they see a child’s first painting  as it indicates a stirring of this identity, an early indication of who the child will become.

As well as being deeply personal, art is also a social process.  Art is how we represent ourselves to ourselves and to each other. Just as it is through our creativity that we understand our own uniqueness so it is through our culture that a community represents itself to itself and to the world. This is why cultural exclusion is such a blot on our humanity and our communities. Each and every one of us has a unique creative contribution to make to our collective culture and only when our  our culture truly reflects this enormous diversity  can we be comfortable with ourselves as a community or nation.

Fortunately the arts are more than just an indicator of the health of a nation they are how we build social justice. Creativity is an active process, it is the process of becoming, of creating and shaping who we are and how we choose to live.

When people discover their creativity later in life it can be a completely transformational experience. This is particularly true for people with personal experience of disability or social exclusion whose identity may have been consistently expressed in a negative, who have become accustomed to being described as a problem to be solved rather than an individual with a positive contribution to make to the social and cultural life of the nation.

There are many examples of how discovering our unique creative voice can be the catalyst that enables us to create change in our lives and in our communities. Surely recognising the innate value of every individual and finding ways to release the latent creativity is the key to building build more creative, inclusive and sustainable communities? If so our collective challenge must be to create the conditions by which each and every one of us can fulfil our creative potential.

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A creative approach to social change

Anyone attempting to address social issues or increase public engagement faces a double bind. Attempts to help people can easily end up creating greater dependence and even when you try to listen to people you find they often don’t know what they want. This shouldn’t really come as a surprise, after all, how can people know what they want to do if they don’t know what is possible?

I’d like to propose a potential solution to this problem: that we stop trying to help people! Instead of focussing on other people’s problems I suggest we adopt a positive and collaborative approach to ensuring that everyone has the capability to fulfil their potential.

Let’s be honest none of us know exactly what we want to do but we would all like to have more possibilities open to us. So, rather than try and second guess what other people might want to do, let’s all build capability in our communities.

Building capability is about extending opportunity and possibility, it is not just about what people have, or how they feel, but about what they can actually do. It requires us to focus on what helps and hinders our capability to achieve our potential as individuals and communities.

Every time we acquire a new capability it opens up new opportunities for us, a focus on our creative possibility can reverse the vicious cycle of low expectations, poor quality services, and increasing dependency and replace it with a virtuous cycle of self worth, achievement and recognition.

Building capability is a long-term process, it cannot be dependent on a single person, project or place, instead it requires a community wide commitment to increasing possibility and building capability.

But the great thing is that everything we do can build capability, we can design all our activities so that they increase the possibilities open to us, we can all learn from every experience and use every opportunity to create tools that foster further development.

Building community capability means our entire communities can become a creative resource where everyone can explore, create and share together.

 

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