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Empowerment – What Does It Really Mean?

(from the Journal of Extension web site)

 
     What is empowerment? How can we recognize it? Evaluate it? Talk about it with others who are interested in empowerment? Our recent literature review resulted in no clear definition of the concept Many using the term employ the concept very narrowly. Others do not define the term at all. As a result, many have come to view "empowerment" as nothing more than the most recently popular buzz word to be thrown in to make sure old programs get new funding.  We maintain that empowerment is much more than that.

Empowerment is a process that challenges our assumptions

about the way things are and can be.

 
     Empowerment is a multi-dimensional social process that helps people gain control over their own lives. It is a process that fosters power (that is, the capacity to implement change) in people, for use in their own lives, their communities, and in their society, by acting on issues that they define as important.
     To create change we must change individually to enable us to become partners in solving the complex issues facing us. In collaborations based on mutual respect, diverse perspectives, and a developing vision, people work toward creative and realistic solutions.
     The focus is on the connection between individual action and community action, encouraging individual change through training sessions and discussions, and supporting community action through participants' efforts to change their communities. While we cannot give people power and we cannot make them "empowered," we can provide the opportunities, resources and support that they need to become involved themselves.   
     Empowerment occurs at various levels, such as individual, group, and community. Empowerment, by definition, is a social process, since it occurs in relationship to others. Empowerment is a process that is similar to a path or journey, one that develops as we work through it. Other aspects of empowerment may vary according to the specific context and people involved, but these remain constant. In addition, one important implication of this definition of empowerment is that the individual and community are fundamentally connected.

We strive to teach people skills and knowledge

that will motivate them to take steps to improve their own lives –

to be empowered.