EMPOWERMENT AND CULTURAL COMPETENCY What do they mean? Definitions of Cultural Competency: According to Lum (1999), cultural competency is “the set of knowledge and skills that a social worker must develop in order to be effective with multicultural clients. The culturally competent practitioner helps the consumer bring together values and beliefs from the consumer’s own culture and those of the dominant culture” (p. 3). According to Rivera & Erlich (1995), the culturally competent organizer must be able to: Be familiar with the customs and traditions of constituency group members. Have knowledge of language style and subgroup slang Be aware of community leadership styles and development. Understand how members of the group have been oppressed (or excluded from decision-making) and be able to identify sources of institutional discrimination Have knowledge of past organizing strategies as well as the strengths and limitations of these strategies. Facilitate empowerment through collective decision-making. Assist people in developing a critical consciousness about sources of oppression. Know patterns of community and organizational decision-making. Use participatory methods of social research and evaluation Be aware of one’s own strengths and weaknesses. Examples of culturally competent actions for multisystems or organizing practice Hang pictures and posters that use cultural symbols from a culture other than your own in your workplace. Learn to greet people in a language other than your own. Use ethnographic interviewing to learn about a culture other than your own. Participate in cultural or multicultural events. Engage in practice with humility, acknowledging that you do not know everything about someone else’s background or culture. Become an active learner – engage in mutual learning. In working with oppressed or ethnic communities, be aware of the primary decision-makers. Consult with them as necessary, but also engage in activities to bring others into the decision-making process. Encourage the use of cultural symbols and music in the organizing process. Rivera & Erlich argue that an organizer should only work in communities or within ethnic populations of the same cultural background as the organizer . Do you agree? What are the strengths and weaknesses of this argument? Empowerment Defined o Solomon (1976) defines empowerment as: “the process whereby persons who belong to a stigmatized social category throughout their lives can be assisted to develop and increase skills in the exercise of interpersonal influence and the performance of valued social roles” (p. 6) o Zimmerman & Rappaport (1988) define empowerment as: “a construct that links individual strengths and competencies, natural helping systems, and proactive behaviors to matters of social change. It is thought to be a process by which individuals gain mastery or control over their own lives and democratic participation in the life of their community” (p. 726). Zimmerman & Rappaport believe that participation in organization decision-making not only is a central component for bringing about social change, it also helps the participants develop a sense of self-efficacy derived from their ability to bring about social change. E Take steps to provide on-going education and training in advocacy, voting, decision-making, leadership, and other skills to clients, community constituents, and staff members. M Find appropriate methods to motivate and mobilize clients, constituents, and staff members for skill development and political action. P Increase the participation of clients, constituents, and staff in local, state, and national politics. O Conduct outreach to local constituents, informal networks, and institutions in order to develop an adequate constituency base and to strengthen local networks. W Provide opportunities to staff workers for participation in organization decision-making in order to improve worker perceptions of personal self-efficacy and commitment to the workplace. E Evaluate service outcome, processes and quality on a regular basis with significant input from clients, constituents, and workers. R Conduct voter registration drives and provide voter education and training. Recruitment of new voters and organization participants. Limitations of Empowerment Practice Staff members in organization or existing elites may not want to give up power. Conflict may occur due to gender, cultural, or class differences. It is difficult to empower mandatory clients. Decision-making roles may be largely cosmetic – advisory only rather than delegated power or community control (Arnstein, 1969). Empowerment Outcomes The recruitment of volunteers who bring new skill to the organization. The acquisition of leadership skills by these new constituents. Clients and constituents find ways to resolve personal problems and develop an improved sense of self-efficacy. Strong linkages to community networks and institutions are developed. A stronger organization response to client needs is achieved. Constituents provide a strong base of support for the organization. Improvements in service effectiveness, quality, and client access are made. Improvements are made in the quality of the life of the community The organization and its constituents acquire political power. Resources needed for cultural competent and empowerment practice Commitments and leadership by administrators and board members. Training for board members, staff, and constituents. An adequate funding source that is committed to and promotes culturally competent and empowering practice. Tangible rewards and outcomes associated with participation in organization decision-making Use of appropriate cultural symbols such as music, dance, and celebrations.
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