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Gavin Anderson | How to inspire and sustain civic driven change in the Netherlands & South Africa

Civic driven change and self-organisation has been at the heart of every successful community organising project for decades. One of the renowned global experts  in unleashing the power of large scale self-organisation is South African dr. Gavin Anderson.

The influence of the large scale and very successful projects that Gavin and his South African colleagues such as Lebo Ramafoko has set up has spread well beyond the African continent. Their Kwanda way of working is also being implemented in Great Britain and Holland. In Holland organisations such as ASW & Diversity Joy has, with the help of E-motive taken up the challenge to make Dutch neighbourhoods and their inhabitants work better, look better and feel better.

E-motive & ASW have been delighted to host Gavin Andersson this week to inspire us and show us how you can use the full force of civic driven change. Rik Winsemius of ASW asked Gavin five simple questions about his drive and motivation.


Gavin, you've been to Holland several times to teach and inspire the principles of self-organisation and empowerment. Would you say you see progress if you compare it to your first visit here?

There's undeniable progress in the projects that I've seen here and the way people think about Kwanda and civic driven change in general. From the first visit until now it has gone from applying the specific method we use in South Africa to comprehending and using the underlying principles of self-organisation. This enables the organisation and people working with the principles of self-organisation to apply the theory in a very sophisticated way in Holland.

Holland & South-Africa

You've been working in an international and in a South African context. What are the similarities and difference in the way civic driven change is introduced in Holland and South Africa.

The similarity is the way in which the people in the two countries came to realise that the state is not up to the task of solving our societal problems. In the South African context, we paradoxically came to democracy  because of a big level of popular organisation. After democracy was installed, there was a complete faith that the government would deliver social and economic benefits. Because of this popular organisation faded. Only recently a widespread belief in South Africa has come up that government cannot fulfil this task on its own and that only by an active citizenry social, economic and cultural problems can be solved.  In some way you've had the same pattern here in Holland. For a long time in the welfare state the government provided for social benefits. And because of the high living standards and the availability of work it kept together quite a long time. But also with you it doesn't work out any more and an active citizenry is needed to help to solve the problems of your society.

The difference is the starting point on which to build. I think the conditions in South African society are harsher to reclaim the neighbourhoods. You have a basic public infrastructure that allows people to come and celebrate live together. Dutch parks are safe to enjoy together, you can walk safely over the street. Our public spaces where we can are only the shopping malls. So we have to work twice as hard. We do not only have to get the citizenry active, we also have to create the place in which they can be active.


You've been an expert on civic driven change and a practiver of large scale development for a long period of time, what was it that got you into this kind of work

What was it that got you into this thing... Well, in my twenties I've organised trade unions under great hostility. We've learned to organise very, very well against the state and the organisation of South African society. And then we came into a situation in which I could organise not against the state and the way society was structured, but organise for society and help to make it better. If you're in a position to do this, you're in a position to help society change itself. I don't think that there's anything more exciting in live. I call this potentiation. It is the phase you reach when you do not only empower people to make full use of their ability, but can lead them beyond themselves and let them create an organising and activity level which is bigger and better then what they themselves thought to be possible.

And what is it that keeps you inspired up until this day?

You can't step away from it, because in Every community you work with you come across these absolutely genius people, even if everything is against them. So I'm honored that I can work with them. They learn me so much, every time again. There's no situation in which I already know this stuff.


Source: Steunpunt Wonen (Rick Winsemius)
Read here the original Dutch interview