Partnerships that rely on shared goals in the realm of food access often revolve around a target community, the food insecure population or the low-income population. Often, these two communities overlap.
In general, a suggested first goal for an organisation serving historically marginalised communities, is to improve the lives of the target community overall. However, it’s easy to create harm in a community if assumptions are made about what a community may need. This is why it’s imperative to allow the community to speak for itself. Creating a space to listen to marginalised groups will help guide successful efforts to create shared goals.
There are a couple of things you can do to ensure that a community is granted the space and attention they deserve to speak for themselves.
- Ask to meet with known community leaders that work for an organisation associated directly with the community of interest.
- Ask to meet with prominent community advocates.
- People within and a part of the community of interest that will benefit from supportive actions taken.
- Request to survey individuals within the community of interest.
Community advocates, for example, are a great way to connect with the community without burdening community members. Community advocates are people that are very well connected to the individual members of the community. It’s through them that we can ensure we are creating space for the community to share what they think would be the most supportive. Organisations that work directly within a target community can also give advice on how to communicate or reach out to members of the target community. Asking for a community to answer surveys is a great way to learn what the members of a community believe will be the best ways to reach a mutual goal. However, before survey questions and format are even created, community leaders should be consulted. This is because some questions that identify demographic information could be uncomfortable to answer.
When this inside perspective guides shared or set priorities and actions, communities not only become stakeholders in their own future, they become their own advocates. This can be incredibly powerful and build resilience and strength within a community. When goals are informed from the community itself, members of the community have a better chance at getting the help they really need, instead of the help that someone else believes they need. No one understands the problems that a community faces better than the community members themselves. Always remember to bring humility to this work, and know that no one person has all the answers.