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Cohesion Begins At a Community Level

20 September 2016 at 9:49 am
Wendy Williams
Communities are the heart and soul of our nation, according to a new discussion paper which argues social cohesion begins at a community level.

Wendy Williams | 20 September 2016 at 9:49 am


Cohesion Begins At a Community Level
20 September 2016 at 9:49 am

Communities are the heart and soul of our nation, according to a new discussion paper which argues social cohesion begins at a community level.

The Scanlon Foundation released a discussion paper on Monday exploring the role of local communities in creating a sense of belonging and unity, particularly in low-socioeconomic, high-immigrant areas.

The Community Discussion Paper brings together findings from its annual national Mapping Social Cohesion research and the recent Australians Today report, to highlight key issues for local leaders and organisations to consider in supporting integration and combating discrimination and isolation in communities.

Scanlon Foundation CEO Anthea Hancocks told Pro Bono Australia News the paper was intended to be a catalyst for discussion among local government, community groups and schools to create better frameworks and programs to build more cooperative and resilient communities.

“We hope the discussion paper will create debate and inspire leaders and organisations to work together on initiatives to foster social cohesion within their local areas,” Hancocks said.

“What we do in the discussion papers is try to bring things from that research out and delve into… helping people think through some of the different strands, on some of the things that can be done in relation to social cohesion.

“Some segments of our population are experiencing very substantial discrimination, there are issues around the levels of trust that some groups have around police or around other institutions, politicians, a variety of different things… and some of course are quite fearful of immigration.

“And so it is as important to prepare a community for the increasing changes of cultural diversity as it is to prepare those arriving, who are coming into Australia and wanting to make the most out of that experience.

“Sometimes we focus an awful lot on what we think the migrants should do and we don’t really focus a great deal on what the receiving community needs are and don’t provide them with the same opportunities to contribute and to share what their fears and concerns are.

“And we really do need to give them the same amount of respect, so it becomes a mutual exercise of both groups coming together to create the sort of future that they want in their area and not just thinking that the responsibility belongs to one group or another.”

It comes after the foundation’s 2015 survey found that the indication of trust in others amongst low-socioeconomic, high-immigrant areas was at 32 per cent, compared with 50 per cent at the national level.

“These experiences may contribute to a lower sense of belonging and an increased reluctance to participate in the broader community,” Hancocks said.

She said efforts in fostering social cohesion needed to be sustained.

“Communities are the heart and soul of our nation,” Hancocks said.

“Although many local councils and organisations are implementing great initiatives in fostering social cohesion, especially in immigrant communities, these efforts need to be sustained.”

She said cohesion was an ongoing process.

“What we want is for communities to think more about how to plan for ongoing change within their community. To start to build on some of the strengths within their community and then to look at how they can use those strengths to address some of the things that aren’t necessarily working particularly well in their community,” she said.

“And so every community is different. But there are real ways to be able to do this.

“One of the outcomes from Australia Today was the large number of focus groups that we did to understand from a qualitative perspective and… that were done in the Logan area.

“They highlighted the community strengths in the Logan area, there were school principals and schools in particular and their capability to contribute to the cohesion of their community, there was local government and there was also the role of community organisations.

“So those things all came out of the focus groups as being real strengths in Logan, which is one of the most diverse areas and one of the areas that are facing a lot of challenges, so to see that people can focus in on those three things in their community as strengths, enables them to be able to continue to build on that.”

The paper identified some effective solutions communities can implement to encourage social cohesion, including: relationship-building activities to promote trust, ensuring community programs maintain fairness and prioritise local issues, creating youth-focused programs, and creating risk-management strategies responding to challenges to social harmony.

Hancocks said everybody has to recognise they are all part of a “common humanity”.

“Even though we might all be from different backgrounds and different pathways of getting here, it is very much about focussing on what it is that we all have in common,” she said.

“But in some respects it is even more precise than that, in that what are the actual issues that we are dealing with right now in our neighbourhood, and then dealing with it together.

“And that’s a cross section of the community [coming] together and focusing on those particular issues that we are dealing with. And it might be to do with drugs or lack of infrastructure or level of communication around something, but when people come together to focus on a particular issue, they are all working towards a better future in both the short term and in the longer term, and that really does make a difference within a particular community.”

Wendy Williams  |  Editor  |  @WendyAnWilliams

Wendy Williams is a journalist specialising in the not-for-profit sector and broader social economy. She has been the editor of Pro Bono News since 2018.

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