Engaged stakeholders can be key to addressing specific problems in their community. But it is engaged citizens that are agents of transformative change in the community, making the solutions sustainable.
Community development efforts usually focus on the most visible problems such as unemployment or crime. Getting to know the dynamics behind these problems, however, invariably points to the community’s inability to bring about and sustain solutions. Popular sentiment blames this on the stakeholders’ limited engagement and limited empowerment. Everybody agrees that the concept of “empowerment” is a necessary part of the community development toolkit. But the problem is that the toolkit contains may tools, few of which are widely understood or properly used.
A stakeholder, by definition, is focused on a specific set of issues, irrespective of community. A citizen, however, works among a wide set of issues and relationships in a community. The two most important, and perhaps least used, tools in the community development toolkit are citizen engagement and our respect for that engagement. While a stakeholder’s engagement is with the topical dimension of a problem and is built on concern with a set of issues, the citizen’s engagement is with the systemic dimension of a problem and is built on addressing the problem in the citizen’s specific community. Engaging with people as citizens of their community, rather than simply a stakeholders of an issue, is needed to bring about community transformation.
Civic education and the concept of citizenship are therefore necessary for individuals to be truly empowered to bring about transformative change. The engagement of the stakeholder helps to solve problems, while the engagement of the citizen is needed to transform a community so that change is sustained. When working to bring about sustainable change in a community, we need to start with the values of citizenship, i.e. the individual’s role in maintaining change.
Being a stakeholder means having an interest in an issue. Being a citizen means being engaged in addressing the issue, with a particular focus on a specific community.