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Tom Smolich SJ
I am passionate about:
accompanying people as they engage the issues they want to change
A little known fact about me is:
a serious SF Giants fan
Show my name on the attendees list for events I am attending:
Rome, Lazio, Italy
Jesuit Refugee Service
Jesuit Priest for 32 years, life-changing engagement at Dolores Mission Parish, Boyle Heights/East Los Angeles from 1987-93. Worked as an affordable housing project manager with Mid-Peninsula Housing Coalition. 15 years in Jesuit province and conference leadership. Currently living in Rome as head of Jesuit Refugee Service.
Ashley, Thanks for your comments. I'm glad what I wrote made sense. The decision for a year of cash payments seems like the right one to me, and increases the chances of success. Speaking of which, all success in this project!
Congratulations on making it this far in the Challenge. I am the advisor matched to your proposal for feedback. I hope you and others who read this feel free to add to or challenge my contributions. 1. Today the space for civil society engagement is shrinking across the world. What can be done to expand civil society space in developing countries? The Wan Fambul project is a great model for expanding that civil space, as you are integrating it into existing personal and governmental structures which allows it to draw on existing spaces and ties to thrive and expand. Civil space is inhabited by people, so the more people know of it and participate in it, the stronger it remains. Two other thoughts which might be helpful: ** Social media: the power of a photo/image/video/personal testimony can be powerful when the communication is coordinated around a unifying idea like civil space. I'm sure you have met some young people who have a real flair for this kind of work: give them some structure, and put them to it! **Partners in social space: I was struck by Jill LaLande's comment as someone else working in Sierra Leone. No matter how good your project is, it won't be for everyone. Building coalitions with like-minded group is essential to keeping civil space open. Beyond this, I would encourage you to tap the power of faith communities across religious beliefs. Faith communities also function as civil networks, and they can help expand the one you are building. 2. How can our partnership with the government and others continue to ensure communities remain the main drivers of their own development? When things are scaled how do we protect the process so that it does not become just another business as usual process, where political expediency overrides community needs? **The civil space dimension of your work is critical to protecting and maintaining the process. If you can keep that dimension place, you are more than halfway there. ** Keep your process outcomes focused. We can all get seduced/thrown off track by inputs (satisfaction with gaining a government meeting) or outputs (promises from a government official, the beauty of Wan Fambul structure [which it is!]). Making sure that the conversation is outcomes focused from the outset (what will be the concrete outcomes/why will this make a difference in my life) is crucial. I like your image that the broken cop needs to be fixed before it can be filled. Keep a focus on what will ultimately fill it! **The project will need donors for financial (and possibly technical) success. Do your best to make these donors partners, people/organizations deeply invested in the process itself who can help keep the right focus when things get complicated. No one wants to say no to financial support.
3. Assume government and civil society are collaborating on a specific initiative. How do you ensure sustained engagement after a national or local election when there is a new government? Are there ways to help makes sure one does not have to fully start over again? Most of my work has been in the humanitarian sector, so I cannot offer specific experiences. But from a community organizing perspective, I think you want to make it easier for a new national government to engage you than to not do so. This is done by pulling together everything above: your structure, your coalition partners, people filling civic spaces, social media, partners with financial backing, etc. make it in the new government's "enlightened self interest" to engage you. Especially with the power of social media, I suspect this is doable in ways not imaginable in the past.
Congratulations on this effort. Your responses to Ashley and Gayanjith give a broader picture of what you are doing, and make the story even more compelling and real. I wish you all the best.
Congratulations on getting to this point in the Bridge Builder Challenge. I am the advisor matched to your proposal for feedback. To others who read this posting: please feel free to add or disagree with what I have said! I appreciate and admire your desire to do a "deep dive" into what is underneath the symptoms of poverty, exclusion, etc., the level at which most needs assessments take place. Looking at racism and the ongoing trauma that experience casts on Gert Town community members is a striking invitation to get at core issues. We can never solve problems at the level of the problems themselves; we must go deeper to get underneath them and understand them in that context. As to your specific questions:
What are some evidence based translational methodologies we could consider using to integrate feedback from our dialogues into programming toward the end of the process? I am not an expert by any means in this field. Let me suggest three ideas.
1. Translational methodology has been most commonly used in health research, and this strikes me as consistent with the trauma methodology you are using. Perhaps Xavier University or some of their partners could get you access to researchers using this type of methodology in other public health issues. See ( http://evidencebasedliving.human.cornell.edu/2010/08/18/what-is-translational-research/), which describes institutions doing this type of work in similar communities. I notice much of your initial cited research is drawn from the Native American community. Would that be another source of translational research models? 2. To use program language, you want to this study and reflection time to yield outcomes. May I suggest that you relentlessly talk about outcomes from the word go. Often we settle for inputs (meetings held) and outputs (how many people showed up at the meeting). Much easier to measure... Go deeper. 3. In your proposal, I was struck by the lack of a spirituality or faith dimension as a component of the experience. There is a growing body of research on the role of faith communities in successful outcomes of social service/educational interventions. You might find looking at the Joint Learning Initiative on Faith & Local Communities worthwhile. (https://jliflc.com/)
Help us understand better how our project translates to other forms of oppression globally? The best answer to this is to look at the proposals of other groups which have made it this far in the Challenge. Many are international, and they are dealing with the effects of structural racism and oppression in many forms. The community organizing dimension in several of them (SHOFCO's SUN project and Fambul Tok are two examples) are very insightful. Speaking of community organizing, you might connect with folks at the Micah Project in New Orleans; they are part of the Faith In Action Network (formerly PICO), which also works internationally. (Full disclosure...PICO was founded by Jesuits and I am a Jesuit...)
Can you provide us insight how we might better integrate the Bridge Builders process to ensure project success and impact sustainability? I think your first two questions answer this question. If you keep a focus on outcomes/applications of the research you do, you will be able to inspire the community itself to want and work for a successful and sustainable project. If you consistently tie this work with the need for justice---not charity, people will ask for their place at the table, not for the crumbs that fall off of it. Sustainability will always demand support from the outside. Staying faithful to this process will help you find folks/organizations who want to be partners with you, not just donors. Such partnerships can be more challenging, but I think are often more sustaining and enriching to all parties.
Good luck in this process, and keep up the good work.