How do we start?


The first thing to do is to connect. Community projects are nothing if not a continual process of connecting with others to explore and pursue opportunities for collective creativity. The quality of human connections is so central to projects as to be virtually synonymous with “success” in many cases. We often take connecting for granted because it is such a part of what we do and have always done in our life. However, it is rich, and complicated and play out in often fraught interpersonal dynamics that are framed by people’s ideas, interests, motivations, creative styles, etc. These are challenging enough concerns in relatively familiar and homogenous organizations, but are especially central when faced with the kind of social, cultural and historical differences that separate us from many of those we work with in Cape Town, but also often our partners who come from across the spectrum of South African fractious society.

“Connecting” runs a wide gamut, beginning with the evolution of team dynamics within your project student group itself, and extending to engagement with faculty, librarians and other on-campus support staff, project sponsors, community members, researchers, community members, government, NGOs, contractors, media, and other students. We hope you will develop a working appreciation of how such classic ethnographic dynamics of engagement, positionality, gender, and power shape your project experience, and grow in your capacity to exercise patience, compassion, and goodwill toward yourselves and others, especially under pressure and when things are “not going well”. The harsh views many community members hold for academics, NGOs, and government (and that those groups hold for one another) center precisely on a perceived lack of connectedness, particularly in setting the agenda for development or research activities, but extending also to basic questions of human comfort with one another, listening, and negotiating the boundaries of what will and won’t be shared. So rather than take connecting for granted, it is well worth thinking and talking about how you will connect with others, how you do connect, and in what ways you are not connecting. Share with each other how you connect to your project and within your project team talk about how you connect with each other. Don’t expect it to happen effortlessly, nor should it be undiscussable when it doesn’t happen in the way you hope. Connection is the foundation on which everything else happens. It is the grease that makes the whole project function smoothly. Invest in it. And then re-invest in it.

Connecting Resources