As Victoria’s Warrandyte community plans its first community-wide conversation – a vital part of its Green Map Project – Africa has suddenly appeared on the scene!
Albert Mutasa, who works with the Swedish Cooperative Centre (SCC) is also involved with deliberative/participatory approaches to democracy which seem to growing here in Australia. Through the net he has discovered the Australian Study Circles movement which has inspired the Warrandyte Neighbourhood House’s community-wide conversation.
Created by the Swedish Cooperative Movement in 1958 this organisation undertakes long-term development work and ‘help to self-help’, equipping poor people with the tools needed to fight poverty themselves. They work in Latin America, Africa, Eastern Europe and Asia, and Sweden.
Through advocacy the Centre strives to convince more people to take stand for a world free from poverty and injustice. The Centre’s projects are financed through fundraising and by Sida, the Swedish Agency for Development Cooperation.
Mark Brophy, Fulbright Scholar and leader of the Australian Study Circles Association, was contacted by Albert who learnt about Mark’s fledgling Study Circle initiative here while researching the workability of his own Study Circles Global Net idea. Albert wrote saying:
I have had an idea of sharing about study circle issues world wide. I am an employee of the Swedish Cooperative Centre (www.sccportal.org). We implement study circles among our methods for transferring development education. However we face challenges on new and even old topics. I feel since study circles are about sharing why not do it globaly like in other methodologies such as Farmer Field schools. I am writing this mail so that I get your support and possibly the number of partners you have so that we will be able to do an inventory on who to include on the mailing list where we can share our experiences and Ideas. Why not have a global conference sharing the impacts and experiences about study circles in the future?
Charles Boyle from Claremont posted this very interesting observation some months ago in response to A new ‘deliberative’ approach to planning our lives… and although I can quite comfortably speak about the ‘new’ deliberative approach to democracy that’s raising its head here at the moment, it is certainly NOT new!
FYI Here is some info about the Australian Baha’i Community.
Without wishing disrespect to anyone’s views or beliefs, it is interesting to note that the Baha’i community world wide uses study circles to great effect as a means to develop spiritual insight and better understandings of both the history and nature of the Baha’i community, its aims and teachings as well s prepare participants for service-orientated activities.
There are a series of 8 study circle guides which were originally developed by the ‘Ruhi Institute’ in Columbia and which are sequentially based on developing an increasingly mature grasp of the Baha’i Faith. Each is linked to serve-based activities – for example holding a devotional meeting or running a children’s class; and whilst these may be things of importance only to the Baha’i community, of equal importance might be the structure and character of these study circles (and yes, they have always been referred to as ‘study circles’) which sees them as sequential, based on developing a spiritual motivation (a recognition that one’s responsibilities extend beyond one’s immediate needs) and linking this to a specific activity.
Equally the Baha’i community operates on a process of consensual decision-making: there is no individual leadership, no clergy in the community, and decisions are made through a process of ‘consultation’. Small as the import of those decisions may presently be, nevertheless, the skill and discipline that develops as a result of this is having a profound effect on the participants, which of course is the purpose of religion – to provide daily habits and practice (prayer, meditation and participation in community activities) by which one can acquire spiritual virtues – love, compassion, humor etc that distinguish us all as human beings – and which in turn support, sustain and propagate civilization. For the Baha’is the ultimate outcome of this being a global society: ‘The world is but one country and mankind its citizens’.
The effect these study circles have had on even the most impoverished and remote of participants (from my own experience in Papua New Guinea, and accounts from Africa, India and S.America) has been remarkable in galvanising them into service-driven activities, self-development and self-improvement.
It is worth then examining this community and its methodologies and democratic processes more closely. Study circles, children’s classes and devotional meetings in particular are open to public participation.
Over 90% of the children attending children’s classes offered to Secondary schools are not Baha’is, such is the regard that parents have for the programme offered. Interestingly because these classes are offered by volunteers, study circles are an important means of increasing the number of teachers and assistants required.
Don’t we do more and therefore achieve more as a community if we feel we have a voice and our contributions make a difference?