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Empower our Aardvarks Printable Version PRINTABLE VERSION
by Ian Bailey-Harris, Canada Jun 11, 2002
Human Rights , Culture   Opinions


Hi my name is Ian and I’m global co-coordinator for “Striving for Quasi Excellence.” We are a group of like minded individuals working towards the personal betterment and empowerment of all quasi-humans. Our goal is to empower all quasi-humans in the universe so that every individual Quasi-man (Quasi-Human) will be able to grow and utilize their own potential. This will enable Quasi-human society to reach the zenith or apex of their existence.

Cool eh? The only problem is that statement is absolutely ridiculous and extremely patronizing. Most of all though, it is impossible to achieve or measure. This statement is another example of using ten words or phrases to describe an ambiguous, unorganized and therefore non-effectual goal.

This is a common trend in organizations. To overstate their goals using flowery words that really mean nothing to the individuals who would benefit from the activities the group will perform. Many grass roots organizations have gone to the wayside because of this unfocused approach, often marginalizing through their absence, the very people they meant to assist.

For example let’s look at one of the words commonly used in social groups today. ‘Empowerment’ appears to be a popular buzzword of late. Its general use usually has three general foci:

1. To give official authority or legal power to
3. To promote the self-actualization or influence of a specific individual or group.

The actual meaning of the word empowerment is very simple but is commonly used to describe a set of complex activities. The use of the word should always be followed with a specific goal or activity. For example the statement “Our goal is to empower Quasi-Humans” is meaningless drivel. Empowering quasi humans to do what? Plant turnips? Sit around and eat cheese? Sleep till 4pm everyday? Cut off their pinkie toes?

By being specific about how you empower individuals actually promotes a common understanding of purpose and direction. It gives direction and hope for the individuals using the services, it gives clarity of purposes for individuals involve in performing the activities, it explains to other strategic partners, community resources, funders or newcomers exactly what the organization is there for.

TakingITGlobal is an example of an organization that has done an excellent job in fashioning a mission statement that is specific. Examine part of TIG’s general mission statement. “TIG also focuses on empowering young people by providing a database filled with organizations, events and opportunities pertinent to young people” It is simple specific and clear. The only thing I’m not sure of is how those activities empower young people. TIG would like to invite discussion regarding this. Send it to whomever.

So what? They are just words, what difference does it make?

Self identifying statements tend to be self prophesying. Like it or not TIG will be judged, utilized, criticized and funded by what they say (print and verbal) as much as they will by what they do. Quite often the decision to aid a grass roots organization (volunteers/funders) will be made by an individual who will only have a single flyer or phone conversation. It is important that it is entirely clear what TIGs purpose is.

The paramount reason though for clarity of purpose in self-identifying statements is so each individual who would benefit by the use of TIGs services will actually understand them and therefore use them.

The grass roots organizations who have survived for the longest are groups who, through clarity of word, print, action and purpose, have been vigilant in making their services and direction simple to understand. (i.e. Women’s shelters, Rape Crisis centres, hostels, etc).

A shot for the cheap seats.

This is where I rant for a couple of paragraphs.

First, I hear this ‘empowerment’ word so much I want to puke. My rich neighbor once talked and ‘empowering animals and giving them a voice’ More drivel. The last thing I want to do is give my cat a voice. It’s just a simple accident that we are not eating cat burgers instead of beef. In fact if I was really hungry, I would not hesitate to disempower my cat in a grinder or perhaps a soufflé.

I don’t really know if you can ‘empower’ anybody. I think you can assist people in realizing their goals, if this is ‘empowerment’ so be it. Let’s empower all the little children for a better tomorrow, so they can reach new heights and Blah, Blah, Blah…

Second, TIG should never use words that we don’t understand. It is patronizing and stupid. We should never sell out and use words that are popular or sound ‘cool’ just because it is easy to do so. The fastest way to become an organization that sucks is to start sounding like a crappy TV commercial.

Next article: Empowerment and Professionalism ..are they linked?



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Ian Bailey-Harris

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Ian Bailey-Harris | Jun 25th, 2002
This guy is brilliant. He is absolutely right about everything he says. Clearly one of the well written individuals I have ever read. TIG should give him his own section!

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