Najjuma, Saidah Mbooge (2017). 'Building Bridges to Close the Inequality Gap as a Basis for Social Change: a Social Worker’s Pragmatic Experience of Immersion' Paper presented at the annual conference of the HDCA, Cape Town 2017.
The increasing attention to social dimensions of development such as social capital has opened up opportunities for the poor as primary partners in human development and social change. This has led to change in the role of intermediary agencies from delivering services to building bridges to close the inequality gap. So, the poor would have a share in leading a kind of life they have reason to value (Alkire and Deneulin, 2009). This article explores social change through connecting unequal capabilities of people by way of immersing those in positions of authority in poverty settings. What is often overlooked and lost in contemporary development is the importance of creating spaces and forums to increase motivation, expand capabilities and open up opportunities for the poor to interact with persons in positions of responsibility in the fight against poverty. This connectivity facilitates exposure to multidimensional poverty among those in privileged position based on experiential learning while at the same time amplifying the voices of grassroots communities to influence policy actions and practices. This entails gaining insights into knowledge systems, rich values, the creativity of local people, taboo issues and the challenges they face which are not openly discussed and are not usually captured in surveys using questionnaires and semi structured interviews. Yet these sometimes-striking insights prompt the professionals to become part of the poor people’s struggles by formulating collective actions to address poor people’s wellbeing, rights, and real freedoms, inaccessibility to essential services, and gender related inequalities. It is critical listening to poor person’s views and dreams of development that matter, since human development recognises that people’s real freedoms in daily life are central to the development processes (UNDP, 1990, Sen 1999). Immersions provide the opportunity for enhanced learning and understanding of the less familiar aspects of poverty and inequality that appear inseparable (Sen, 2006). The role of the intermediary agency was to initiate a process that made it possible for the poor to define what is needed to lead a decent life and design strategies that were empowering to those involved in immersions. The paper explores all these through the data generated by action research. Overall, immersions present a different approach that puts greater emphasis on experiential learning to both research and policy design. It harmonises the richness of diverse capabilities into social change. It is a process where decisions are made through pragmatic experiences of professionals to create good policies and programmes. The paper recommends immersion of early career professionals, adoption by poverty reduction initiatives globally and promotion of social entrepreneurship.