Local Women's Group Releases Grassroots Guide

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Local women's group releases grassroots guide, New community facilitation book to enable social change

EMC Oct 4, 2012    
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Laura Mueller, Metroland 

EMC news - Ottawa women who have made the journey from being disenfranchised to leading city-hall consultation groups want to tell you their secrets. 

Members of the City for All Women Initiative are a diverse group of women with varying cultural backgrounds, many of whom are refugees or have overcome abuse and now hold an ear at city hall. They have worked on a consultation strategy for the city's recreation master plan, which is underway, and they helped develop an equity and inclusion lens that is used to judge how city reports address diversity and inclusion issues. 

The initiative's latest project is a new book, Community Facilitation Guide: Weaving Threads of Change. 

Members know better than anyone that encouraging change at city hall is as much of an art as a science.

"Now in the City of Ottawa there are many changes in policies," said Valerie Assoi, a staffer for the initiative who helped author the book. "When there in change in policies, the city wants to know what the community feels ... How (is city hall) going to know that if they don't have people there (in the community)?" 

That's where the City for All Women Initiative's training - and the book - come in. While the city may not have the resources to reach out to every facet of the community, the initiative can train and give people the skills to become facilitators in their communities and take those issues to city hall and decision makers. 

After refining their approach through community facilitator workshops run by the initiative starting in 2010, the members decided to compile their knowledge into a practical guide in order to offer it to other community-based organizations, governments and companies that want to learn how to facilitate community engagement and build skills at the grassroots level. 

"This is helping to empower ourselves, our communities and future generations," said Tina Viscent, one of the book's authors. 

The book provides an overview of the initiative's approach to social change education and includes tips, exercises and handouts for facilitating workshops. 

Most importantly to the City for All Women Initiative, the guide offers straightforward and practical tools for including the voices of a diverse population, including immigrants, aboriginal peoples, francophone, people with disabilities and those living in poverty. 
"This book is the story of threading all of the experiences of the people who contributed," said Terri-Lee Rayvals-Mele, one of the authors who contributed to the guide. "It is a weaving of diversity, expertise and learning."

Community engagement professionals who had a hand in advising the project said they were very impressed by the practicality of the book and the level of detail. 

Aaron Burry, the city's general manager of community and social services, said the initiative's approach has proved beneficial for the city and he is happy to see the guide made available to other groups who could have the same impact thanks to the initiative's advice. 
"We have had a chance to try really innovative forms of community consultation in partnership with CAWI," Burry said.  

Aleksandra Milosevic, a community developer at the Centertown Community Health Centre, said the guide has really excited her fellow community development professionals across the field. 
"I flipped through it and I'm already ecstatic," she said. "Looking at it, I see lots of possibility. It is truly a gift of learning." 

Status of Women Canada and the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union provided seed funding to print the books, but the initiative is relying on book sales to produce more and make it widely available. 
Print copies in English or French are available for $20 through the website at www.cawi- ivtf.org.