THE POWER OF COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT/OWNERSHIP – (PART FOUR): THE ROLES OF INFLUENTIAL AND OPINION LEADERS IN THE COMMUNITY

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This fourth article of the series centered on the necessity and strength of community engagement considers the roles of opinion leaders of the community. Leadership is key to the survival and success of organizations and institutions. If community engagement is to be initiated and sustained it has to be led by all who play influential roles in the life of the community. These community influential leaders include chiefs, pastors, imams, teachers, leaders of men, women, youth, and heads of wheelbarrows and motorbikes associations. Community ownership can be successfully engineered by shared leadership. The third article on the necessity of effective communication in engaging and maintaining ownership made the following points:

A required element of community engagement is appropriate communication. Communication is a two way activity. It requires both speaking through verbal and non-verbal means and listening. One speaker speaks and the other listens and the other speaks and the one listens. Keen listening means the listener attempts to feel what the other feels, hear what the other hears and to put one in the other’s shoes.

An effective communication is absolutely vital to any attempts to persuade people to do something, especially if it involves asking them to change their mental attitude and behavior. Any kind of propaganda (whether it is a war of any kind, a political platform, a new policy, a marketing strategy, an evangelistic undertaking, or any human endeavor that asks the voluntary involvement of other people) requires the right kind of communicating if it is to succeed. In fact, communication is a necessity for all who lead or influence others in one form or the other. Sometime the difference between success and failure depends on how one communicates his/her vision.

If communities are to find self-generating solutions to their problems and improve their total wellbeing there must be effective communication at every level and stage of a continued process. Those who initiate and remain with community engagement have to be effective communicators.

This requires an entry into the community. Community entry is about the strategies employed to get the community open herself up and disclose its true needs, concerns and aspirations. There are all sorts of ways of doing this depending on each particular community. Whatever means one chooses has to include involving the local leadership on the ground.

Effective communication takes a lot more listening than talking. It means honestly and earnestly seeking to understand and learn from the community as opposed to telling her what one wants to communicate and coming to teach the community something. When one listens empathetically very often one learns something valuable from and about the people that one desires to engage. Effective communication overcomes barriers and creates countless opportunities for community participation and ownership.

This kind of communication should bring on board everyone in the community. The drawing in of everyone is best done when the influential and opinion leaders of the community catch the vision. They in turn can spread and involve those they influence. Therefore chiefs, zoes, pastors, imams, teachers, leaders of the women, men, and youth, and heads of motorcyclists and wheelbarrow boys associations are to be involved in formulating the vision of whatever the community wants to do and in motivating everyone to come on board.

The chiefs and zoes are the leaders of the people and what they say and do carries a lot of weight. Community members are likely to listen to them more than outsiders. Likewise religious leaders (pastors and imams) wield a lot of influence. Through their preaching, teaching and other forms of ministry (service) they engage members of the community at different levels on daily or at least biweekly basis (most likely on Sundays, Wednesdays, and Fridays). Their members believe them and often do what they say and do.

Teachers too influence what their students think and do. The kids listen and trust them more than their parents and others. Motorcyclists, wheelbarrow boys and leaders of the women, men and youths also can influence those who make use of their services. They all are to catch and drive community vision, projects and help solve problems and challenges that inevitably come from time to time. They all must play their parts if the community is to attend to its problems and make progress. They ought to help the community generate its own solutions and drive development. The importance of each one of these opinion leaders must be recognized and tapped into if communities are to see themselves as responsible for their own problems and coming up with visions for its own betterment.

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