The Power of Communities


Often when I came across young people participating in training courses and other educational activities I have often asked a simple question “do you belong to a community?” Surprisingly enough the majority of people so far answered no. Whether this is true or not, it is already very interesting to realise that most young people don’t feel like they belong to a community, as a first reaction. Although of course it is easy to argue with that denial once the educator starts asking if being part of a school or a university is a community or not, and countless other examples. So what is the issue at hand here? Lack of awareness of what is a community? Or are we really facing a generation that feels like they don’t belong? 

It would take more than an article to answer that question, although the feeling of isolation and disconnectedness seems to be a quite widespread malaise of the times we live in. Which brings us to another consideration, humans are by nature social animals, we went through evolution and survival by sticking together in groups, in tribes, in nations and overcame thus our existential threats, what is happening today?

Let’s take a step back and look a little bit at definitions; when we talk about groups we are looking at a very broad definition of small to large groups of people coming together who do not necessarily have anything in common, imagine a group of people in the metro in the morning commuting to work or school, they have their mean of transport in common, otherwise it is just a group of people. Then we look at constituencies, a very British term to define a group of voters who gather to elect a representative or an official, these already have more in common, a neighbourhood for example and their political power to choose who will represent their society and territory in decision-making and problem-solving. Finally we have a community. This is a group of people who share some characteristics, often live in the same place and even have common interests and attitudes. When we look at the definitions then we should all be able to shout out loud that “Yes! We do belong to a community” or even communities, and still many, especially youth, don’t do that.  


Ah yes! There is something very important to add here, a community gains self-awareness when they are called to face an issue that partially or totally affects them all. When the problem appears and there is realisation that this is something shared and an obstacle to the wellbeing of the individual as well as of the group, then the community can organise and get together to overcome this issue and unite, and in that case we do have a sense of community, thanks to awareness. Look at neighbourhoods coming together to promote greener areas and bike lanes, look at students joining forces to protest against expensive housing. Then mutuality and unity develop as well as camaraderie through a shared and joint purpose.

Can that mean that communities of young people don’t actually have any problems at all nowadays that this sense of community is not there? Of course young people face their issues, obstacles and problems just like anyone else, but a number of factors hinder the creation of communities, and these can be multiple and different according to the reality; the growth of a virtual world that replaces the physical community into a digital one that may even replace the physical reality; awareness of global problems to an unprecedented scale which make problems seem gigantic and overwhelming for an individual or even small communities to act; the increasing climate anxiety which generates a future outlook of doom and gloom which creates passiveness; a failure of relevant stakeholders and institutions to voice out the existing issues, etc. All contribute to the isolation of the young person, and generate the instinctive “No!” answer when asked if they feel they belong to any community. 

So what can be done about it? Youth workers here can play a essential role, that of community organisers, and pay attention here, as community organisers not community leaders or developers. What is the difference? Simple, the community organiser is an external person who facilitates and supports the community to organise itself, by identifying and empowering leadership, develop horizontal leadership system, spread responsibilities and generate ownership of the issues that the community faced. And now comes the most important part, the community organiser will help the community to identify a local issue to tackle, which has to be small and local, something that the community can accomplish and achieve, something that will give a sense of purpose and victory once the objective is reached, that will serve as an example to future and bigger and more impactful actions the community can take, and succeed, through participation, through shared leadership, accountability and strategy. 

This can be an essential role of future youth workers, as healers of our human unnaturally lonely ecosystem.