Wer ist unterwegs?

Community Organizing – It is all about listening

Interview with Marionka Pohl, Community Organizer, November 2017

Which trends do you currently see in community organizing? 

Recently, I have observed a strong demand for community organizing in Germany but also internationally. For me this is because organizing gives an answer to the question of how to minimize individual isolation and societal disintegration. It gives an answer how to reach those who are most affected by current political challenges. 

Take for instance the pressing issue of finding affordable housing in Berlin. In the community organizations already operating in Berlin, citizens regularly come together to gather the countless affected voices and develop solutions, how to solve this issue together with public decision-makers. The ‘trend’ I see here is that citizens increasingly understand themselves as agents instead of victims.

You work with different cultures, how important is the cultural context in community organizing? 

My daily experience in building up a community organization in Berlin proves to me that the cultural background of a person engaged in civil society is crucial. It determines practical questions such as how to organize and implement meetings as well as how to plan strategies and political campaigns. 

Imagine a Palestinian and Israeli community at the same table or – currently very pressing – how to deal with different societal groups with Turkish origins. Here, culture determines the manner of cooperation between different organizations. 

What is your personal story: How did you become a community organizer? 

I am a political scientist with a background in International Relations. I believe, that civil society engagement is indispensable for a sustainable, effective and healthy development of society. This is what I have seen in all my professional working contexts such as international development projects, in the German Bundestag and as a founding member of a cultural center in Berlin Neukölln. Becoming a community organizer was only the practical consequence of this belief. 

Can you share some details about your current work as a community organizer? What, where and how? Who is funding this? 

For one and a half years, I have been preparing and building a community organisation in Berlin Spandau which is supposed to be founded in spring 2018. This included more than 1000 individual talks and countless informational and strategy meetings with the future core group of the community organisation. 

I empower individuals, train and coach them, facilitate and moderate processes and plan and implement political campaigns. I am responsible for fundraising as well as networking with political and corporate decision-makers. The organisation is funded two thirds by corporate and foundation donations and one third by member dues. 

I also give external trainings for partners (a.o. MitOst e.V., Friedrich-Ebert-foundation) to train others in community organizing. 

If you could engage in a dialogue with China, what would be the key questions for you in this exchange? 

Before I would pose concrete questions, I would – following the community organizing approach – try to build up a relation with my dialogue partner. From afar, I would think that China has a different societal and community model than the West. I would try to understand it. My subsequent questions would then be, which specific challenges citizens and civil society actors are facing in their daily lives and how these are addressed in the Chinese system. But that would only be the second step, because first it is all about listening. 

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Marionka Pohl studied International Relations in Berlin and has gained various experiences in both international and local civil society projects. She works as a community organizer, project and foundation manager.

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