Reos Johannesburg is facilitating a community activation project in what is known as the “Northern Areas” of Port Elizabeth, an industrial city in the south of the country. Communities in this area have been hard-hit by a shrinking economy, job losses, and political infighting, resulting in increasing gang and drug activity, xenophobic attacks, and other social challenges.
The North Star Scenarios is the brainchild of the Northern Areas Peoples Development Initiative (NAPDI) and has been championed by local businessman Neil Campher, who grew up in the Northern Areas. The project aims to engage the residents of this community of roughly 250,000 in a common, purposeful conversation about possible futures. The initiative has brought together a wide range of community groups, including professionals, retirees, faith-based organisations, local city officials, and NGOs, and has partnered with the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University’s Centre for the Advancement of Non-Racialism and Democracy (CANRAD).
The project ran for most of 2011 and included a process of training 30 volunteers to conduct interviews, focus groups, and surveys. A local researcher wrote a synthesis report based on these findings.
A specially convened group of high-level leaders, researchers, and community stakeholders participated in two-day workshop sessions in August and September to create several scenarios for the future of the Northern Areas. A team of writing volunteers produced drafts of four scenarios called Fallen Star, Lucky Star, Shooting Star, and Bright Star, which represent a range of possible outcomes informed by two primary driving forces: the integrity of local leadership and the extent of local economic development.
A month-long dissemination and public call-to-action campaign kicks off in January 2012, aiming to spawn high-priority projects across a range of issues for cross-sector teams to tackle. The scenarios will be used as conversation starters to inform creative responses to the different stories. Volunteers trained by Reos will facilitate these conversations.
The real innovation and inspiration of this project is that it has happened mostly through the efforts of volunteers–in Reos-speak, “unlikely allies”–including individuals from diverse faith-based groups, opposing political affiliations, and various generations. Watch this space for updates! The Reos team consists of Roger Dickinson and Colleen Magner, involved primarily in training and coaching the local groups of volunteers.