Valuing and Empowering Community


An Emergent Framework for Cultivating Resilient Communities in the 21st Century 2012 series: excerpts from SAGE 2012 publication.

Restorative leadership demonstrates a fundamental belief in human potential and the power of community. There is resolute faith in universal basic goodness and the wisdom of collective intelligence. In essence, as Meg Wheatley says, “Whatever the problem, community is the answer.” Embracing an ethic of community, restorative leadership is guided by core values to do no harm, to serve collective wellbeing, and to bring the highest benefit to all. It is leadership that utilizes a community-centered approach, engaging social networks to forward and sustain hopeful possibilities.

The work begins with a foundation of trusting that people “do the right thing when they have the information and when they are not attacked,” as Molly Melching, a practitioner of restorative leadership and Skoll Foundation Social Entrepreneur, believes. Indeed for Molly, “If there could be a movement towards really trusting people, respecting people, giving them the information they need, then I see this as a way to really bring about change not only in certain areas, but in many areas: the environment, governance, gender issues, health, even education . . .” Trust extends to believing that people come with good intentions as an opening for communities to return to their core values. In that space of social interaction, there is freedom for communities to adjust or change when they discover that existing practices are incongruent or in conflict with core values. For example Molly explains,

“Traditions like female genital cutting are not the end values, they are a means to the end, and as people start realizing this more and more, they are then more open to being analytic and critical, of ‘Wow, we could do this, and not do this’ . . . and that comes when we look at, ‘What is our vision for our community? What are things that are important to us? What do we want our community to be in five to ten years?’ This is what’s critical, to get people discussing values and principles and human dignity issues in those terms. . . . Where has the gap been? It’s been with the social norms. It’s been with those social constructs that were thought about and put in place 2,000 years ago that no longer stand up. . . . it’s more of a holistic approach.”

As a result, Molly has witnessed over 6,000 communities across ten African countries voluntarily abandon FGC.

Both holistic and asset-based in approach, restorative leadership empowers participants to see and apply their knowledge and skills, and to recognize their collective assets as valuable and transferable to addressing a diversity of community priorities and problems from a foundation of mutual trust and respect.

Read more about valuing and empowering community in our recent blog post and develop your restorative leadership abilities with RLI.