Namati’s Community Land Protection Co-Learning Workshop

October 2015

By Rachael Knight, Director, Community Land Protection Program

In October, Namati convened our new community land protection partner organizations for an intensive week-long workshop in Ağva, Turkey, on the shores of the Black Sea. The workshop, designed to rigorously train our new partners in Namati’s five-part community land protection approach, also became the site of innovation: a “facilitated co-learning” format to highlight and celebrate all participants’ expertise equally.

Namati’s new partners are five extraordinary NGOs with proven records of exemplary, pioneering work on community land rights: Bismarck Ramu Group in Papua New Guinea; the Karen Environmental and Social Action Network in Karen State (Myanmar); Petauke District Land Alliance in Zambia; and the Ogiek People’s Development Program and Kivulini Trust in Kenya. Because these organizations are already experts on community land protection in their own right, it felt inappropriate for Namati to “teach” them how to empower communities to document and protect their customary land rights. Rather, we designed the workshop to ensure that Namati staff spoke only 20% of the time, allowing participants to drive the majority of the workshop content and exchange their own best practices and learnings. To enrich the discussion further, Namati invited representatives from some of Namati’s other programs and existing partners to lead sessions and share their fieldwork experiences.

We began the week with “Opening Prayers” from each of our respective countries and cultures – leading one another in local prayers and songs in Nepali, Gabbra, Borana, Tok Pisin, Arabic, Swahili, Karen and English – and then presented special objects and clothing from our cultures. Opening the workshop in this way highlighted the diversity of cultures in the room and encouraged sharing and exchange over the course of the week. The cultural sharing culminated in a joyous dance party, with each participant DJ-ing a few songs from his or her culture and teaching us local dance moves – including Turkish dances from the wonderful staff at Robin’s Nest, our home for the week.

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Substantively, the workshop began with a full day of presentations of the partners’ existing work, past successes, and national legal context. Once familiar with each other’s approaches, we moved through the various steps and activities in Namati’s community land protection approach, alternating highly animated role plays with large- and small-group discussions covering such topics as:

  • A critical look at relationships between communities and NGOs;
  • Mapping, boundary harmonization and land conflict resolution;
  • The importance of good governance of community lands and natural resources; and
  • Strategies to integrate partners’ other work on ecosystem regeneration, livelihood supports, local economic development and cultural preservation into our community land protection efforts.

An overarching objective of the workshop was to cultivate a spirit of openness and vulnerability so that all of us could return to our field staff with that same spirit and support them to go into communities with vulnerability – not as trained “experts” but as humble, open-minded advisers who support expert community members. Ensuring that field staff enter communities with humility is critical to creating an environment in which community members can critically reflect upon the community land protection strategy offered and adapt it to address their community’s specific challenges and goals.

To bring us closer towards such vulnerability and open-hearted sharing, Namati introduced a daily exercise: the “Moment of Truth.” In this exercise, Namati introduced a question relative to the day’s agenda, then allocated two minutes for each participant to share his or her individual thoughts, feelings, hopes and fears about the topic without interruption. Over the course of the week, we learned of one another’s challenges, struggles, dreams, and lifelong goals: there were tears, much laughter, and a building sense of emotional and professional solidarity.

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The workshops ended with an intensive planning and budgeting process to ensure that all new partners would be ready to launch successful, well-structured pilot community land protection programs upon their return home. A key piece of this planning work was the highly participatory co-creation of a “Partnership Terms of Engagement” to set out clear terms, commitments and responsibilities for all community land protection partners, including Namati. In this document, as in all other aspects of our new partnerships, Namati invited all workshop participants to articulate their needs, interests, limits, and availability; we then wove our varying aims and objectives into a partnership agreement that was amenable to all.

The workshop highlighted for us at Namati the importance of breaking from rigid perceptions of “professionalism,” “technical support,” and “experts.” Every person at the workshop has dedicated their life to protecting community land rights. By creating the space for each of us to bring our hearts, minds, senses of humor, artistic talents, family histories, cultures, languages, and hopes and fears into the room, we were able to bridge the personal and the professional, imbuing all that we co-created with great depth and beauty. It was clear that the most important outcome of this workshop was something too often overlooked in professional contexts: the deep sense of community, solidarity and emotional connection that we created together. We will continue to nurture and cultivate this throughout all our partnerships, because after all, as one participant expressed: “A true partnership is not just about resources – we have resources. What we want are people who understand our problems, who can really share the problems and challenges, the painful moments. True partners who will be there, to listen, to acknowledge, understand, learn, and support.”