Last week our speaker emphasized the importance of doing projects not for people, but rather doing them with them. Throughout the semester we’ve been collecting data with the hope that we can make a difference in Indianapolis. We’ve thought about what changes we believe should be made and what we think are the best ways to improve these trails. While the work we’ve been doing is great, it has neglected one important aspect that community service work needs to consider to be successful- the people.
I’m sure the people who live in these areas we’ve been analyzing not only have their own opinions about what the trails need, but also unique skills that would help us to make them the best they can be. Even if changes are made, if you don’t have the support of the people, they most likely won’t last very long. You have to find people who actually care and have a vested interest if you hope to make any lasting changes.
Even if I don’t go into city planning, this experience has given me a lot of insight into the best way to handle projects and work with members of the community. Everyone has something to offer, and starting to view these unique skill sets as assets is key to any projects success.
When you think about a neighborhood that’s in disrepair, the common thought tends to be why the people who live there don’t do something about it. I’ve personally been guilty of this. While driving through neighborhoods inhabited by individuals from a low socioeconomic class, I’ve caught myself wondering countless times why anyone would want to live like that. Paint your house, pick up the garbage, fix your mailbox. From the outside, the solution seems so simple.
Last week our class was challenged to think about the bigger picture surrounding neighborhoods such as these. We learned about businesses, who would rather pollute a neighborhood that’s already polluted because they can still come out looking like the good guy for bringing jobs to the community. We discussed bank foreclosure plans that result in abandoned houses and owners who don’t have the resources to make them livable. We also talked about lead pollution and its correlation with low IQ scores and high violence.
The main thing I took a way from this discussion was that the situation is a lot more complicated than most people realize. It’s so easy to blame a faceless group for being lazy or unmotivated. If we really hope to change things, we need to start considering the circumstances beyond these people’s control that may have led to their position in society.
Two weeks ago our class had the opportunity to listen to a speaker from the Nature Conservancy. When speaking about the main efforts of this organization, he mentioned how they had recently changed their mission statement. In the past their mission statement had focused on what aspects of the environment they hoped to impact, but they altered it to include people and our role in maintaining the environment.
I think this reflects a very important idea that environmental organizations should consider. The work they do is important, but unless the surrounding community supports these changes, a lasting effect may not be possible. Unless people start seeing themselves as connected to the environment that surrounds them it’s hard to raise interest and concern for these issues. Getting the community engaged and people actually interested in protecting their environment is essential for the success of any nature conservancy organization.
After Tracy Sims spoke to our class, I began thinking. I tried to imagine what would happen if more organizations adopted this collective impact structure. Think of a cause, for example providing aide to underdeveloped nations. Now try to think of the number of organizations that exist which all seem to have this goal in common. Just off the top of my head I can think of three different organizations at Butler that all provide opportunities for service work in underdeveloped countries.
I believe that an individual group can potentially make a difference, but I also acknowledge that they probably would be able to have a more reaching and lasting effect if they could combine their resources and knowledge with others who are working towards the same goal. It’s human nature to think that your way of doing something is the right way, but it also makes it easy to overlook the fact that others who do things differently actually want the same outcome; which may cause you to lose out on some potentially valuable resources.
I think the collective impact model has an enormous potential to create lasting change in countless areas. However, organizations need to be open and receptive to each other’s ideas if they hope to see this change actually take place.
I’m Sarah, a junior Spanish and Science, Technology and Society major at Butler University. To be honest, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect when I signed up for the environmental practicum class. I’d certainly never heard of R.O.W. before, and besides for the canal that runs near Butler I hadn’t really given much thought to the waterways in Indianapolis. I never understood how much was actually involved in making the waterways accessible to the public. Our first two classes have made me realize how little I really knew about the topic.
Despite my lack of prior knowledge, I’m very excited to collaborate with my classmates on this project. One of my favorite aspects of the project is that we potentially have the opportunity to see the changes that may result from the information we collect throughout the semester. I think this is a great opportunity for us to get hands on experience while also learning a little more about the city in which we live.