process by which the client reconstructs his experience is not one
the worker creates; he simply enters, and leaves... he is an incident
in the life of his client. Thus the worker should ask himself: What
kind of incident will I represent... How do I enter the process,
do what I have to do, and then leave?" (Schwartz W. (1974):
The Social Worker in the Group, in: Klenk, R.W./ Ryan, R. (Eds.):
The Practice of Social Work, Belmont Cal., 208-228.)
In this chapter we will summarise the theoretical framework for the
concept of empowerment, and follow this by a more detailed description
of methods for its practical application.
In a discussion on empowerment it is important to recognise the existence
of the value base of any practitioner working with migrants and refugees.
Values and ideologies are an inherent part of any practice or theory.
One has to be aware of ones own bias and values when working with people
from different backgrounds to ones own.
Vulnerable groups such as migrants and refugees looking for assistance,
meet social workers, civil servants or voluntary advisers who will have
their own individual or institutional bias. They may not know much about
their clients and the special issues they are facing. The practitioner
in this field has to constantly examine his/her own attitudes towards
their clients. Awareness of one's own deficiencies and limitations is
an important precondition for successful work in this area.
A discussion about empowerment would not be necessary, if migrants and
refugees would have an equal share of the power within the host societies.
Their deprived situation stems on the one hand from their situation
as migrants or refugees, but one also has to be aware that on the other
hand it is the result of certain features of aid and counselling. Migrants
and refugees might have left behind property, a position in the social
hierarchy of their home country and potentials for their future. In
the host society some might be in the lucky situation, that they possess
qualities, which are valuable for the host society and therefore ease
their entry and their integration process. But there are also those
who arrive in a country of the European Union without being welcomed.
As for instance an asylumseeker who has to wait for some years for the
decision regarding his request and during this waiting period is not
allowed to work and to earn a descent living.
It is especially this large group of "unwanted guests"
which is assisted either by state agencies or numerous NGOs. As new
arrivals they often need assistance and because in many cases they are
not allowed to earn their living they are for a longer time period dependent
on further assistance. Assistance on the one hand brings relief for
pressing problems, but it has the danger to perpetuate dependency. Because
of this inherent feature of assistance, it is important to stress the
need for self-reliance and to draw attention to the need for empowerment.
Empowerment of the individual migrant or refugee, but also for certain
groups of migrants. This call for a higher degree of self-reliance and
demand for empowerment is directed towards migrants and refugees on
the one hand, and towards the aid organisations on the other hand. Both
might be to easily falling in the "assistance trap" leading
to the "dependency syndrome". Here we refer to a learnt attitude
of underprivileged people, who by a long history of being dependent
on others have lost the feeling for being able to do things themselves.
This is accompanied by a low selfesteem and the impression of being
Besides the "dependency syndrome" there
is an other negative way of interaction with the host society and the
assistance provided: the tendency to get out of the system as much as
possible in stead of relying on the "normal" ways of pursuing
you're interested in an example for the adaptation of behaviour
in a situation where people daily depend on assistance, please
refer to this link
and groups should lead to a situation were they are capable to pursue
their own goals independently. Self-esteem of people depends to a
large extent on the person's own actions. The way targets are realistically
set, the way difficulties and barriers are overcome, contribute to
the growing of the person's action potential and improved selfesteem.
4.2 THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK
Despite the fact that the concept of empowerment has been used with
increasing frequency and popularity during the last few years, a look
into the relevant literature reveals that there is no consensus on
the definition of its meaning. Some say that empowerment has developed
into an "amoebic term" describing at the same time
Within this context
it is quite obvious that, the actual interpretation of what it is
or should be is quite different. One of the most prolific authors
in the field of empowerment, J. Rappaport, offers a broad-based definition
of the term. Rappaport writes:
suggests a sense of control over one's life in personality, cognition,
and motivation. It expresses itself at the level of feelings, at the
level of ideas about self worth, at the level of being able to make
a difference in the world around us... We all have it as a potential."
(Rappaport, J.: The power of empowerment language, Social Policy,
15, 1985. p. 15-21).
this definition and tried to clarify it by adding four necessary
changes which have to be seen in a person before he/she can be
described as "successfully empowered" - an increased self-sufficiency,
a developed group consciousness, a reduction of self-blame in the
face of problems and the ability to assume personal responsibility
for change. That is, not relying on other people to help out, but
trying to take matters in one's own hands and pursuing a change to
has been given by Solomon who has developed a very good definition
of empowerment related to social work, adaptable to our focus
on migrants and refugees. This is the definition that is used in this
text for empowerment. Empowerment is defined as
whereby the social worker engages in a set of activities with the
client (...) that aim to reduce the powerlessness that has been
created by negative valuations based on member-ship in a stigmatised
group. It involves identification of the power blocks that contribute
to the problem as well as the development and implementation of
specific strategies aimed at either the reduction of the effects
from indirect power blocks or the reduction of the operations of
direct power blocks." (Solomon, B.: Black Empowerment: Social
Work in Oppressed Communities, New York 1976.)
also to the working document produced by the European Commission
called 'Empowerment: A new way of looking at inclusion and strategies
for employment.' Contact EMPL-INFO@cec.eu.int
for a copy.
In this context,
empowerment can be best described as a process which can be initiated
and accompanied by advice, counsel and orientation programmes. Through
this process, individuals, organisations or groups, who seem powerless
or deprived of the means to reconstitute themselves in an alien society,
can become 'empowered'. They can become aware of the power dynamics
at work, develop skills and the capacity to gain some control over
their lives, exercise this control without infringing upon the rights
of others and support the empowerment of others in their community.
In summary, therefore,
empowerment can be described as having four goals:
that the client sees himself as the agent of change;
the client is able to use the knowledge and skills of others in
furthering their own interest;
the client is able to work in partnership with professionals;
the client is open to developing the problem-solving skills to address
It should be clear
that the client may refer to an individual migrant, a group of refugees
or an organisation representing one group or sub-group of migrants.
illustrate the process of empowerment with the description of
the project "Instead of Medicine"
founded by the organisation "Refugee Action" in the
PRINCIPLES AND PRACTICE
This section will
identify some key instruments and methods used in the empowerment
approach. This will describe three possible ways to empowerment, working
with individuals, groups or institutions.
It is important
to identify some basic principles of practice with regard to the relationship
between the practitioner and client:
interact with the person and not the "migrant";
the person's right to self-determination; accept the client's definition
of the problem;
on strengths; respect the diversity of skills and knowledge that
clients bring ;
power and control; respect the client's right to contribute and
trust his or her motivation to learn and direct his or her life;
be aware of cultural differences with regards to hierarchy and superiority.
for groups: mutual help, consciousness raising, participation.
process can be described as being made up of four elements.
In addition, the
empowerment process can be said to involve four stages:
Establishing a relationship between the adviser and the client to
meet immediate needs such as access to social services and
benefits or to other sources of information;
the client to improve his or her skills and thereby increasing
the ability for self-help;
resources. This implies the development of skills to deal with
other organisations and agencies, joining self-help-programmes and
groups, or establishing and using social networks. Enabling social
and political action. Helping the client to be able to articulate
social and political needs at the appropriate time, enabling them
to understand the basic principles of lobbying, negotiation, campaigning
and so forth.
The last stage
is the most politicised stage in the empowerment process and might
not be relevant to all advisers and organisations. But to ensure real
change, the social and political context of the individual has to
be considered. How far practitioners want to take the four stages
of empowerment depends on their objectives.
Red Cross - Culture House
The Danish Red Cross Culture House provides activities and social
support to asylum seekers awaiting a decision to be made on
their case. It is an example of clients being involved in service
delivery and offers a model of working to principles of empowerment,
within a legal framework whose effect is to completely disempower
the asylum seeker.
on the seven Red Cross principles, the Danish Red Cross Asylum
Department aims to give asylum seekers a secure meaningful and
dignified waiting time while imparting to asylum seekers a realistic
view of their situation in order that they may be capable of
taking care of their future in the best possible manner. In
this context, the Culture House aims to ensure that the individual
asylum seeker maintains control over his or her own life situation
now and in the future.'
achieve these aims, the Culture House has developed a method
of working that ensures its users (asylum seekers) are active
in identifying and developing their own ideas and activities.
Resources and equipment are made available through a process
of project design and consultation. If a project design is acknowledged
to be viable, the person responsible for submitting it as an
idea, is assigned the role of project staff, with volunteers
assisting as appropriate. Examples of projects taken forward
are, a phone line for young asylum seekers, a museum guide,
a health guide, as well as various discussion groups run by
and for asylum seekers. In addition there are language courses,
computer skills and other skills courses. The building is well
equipped with musical instruments, a recording studio, art room
and IT equipment.
centre has a publicly stated commitment to a series of values
and principles called the Dynamic System. This declares its
commitment to a constant open dialogue between volunteer asylum
seekers, volunteers from the Danish community and its paid staff.
To this aim, offices are arranged on an open plan, creating
a more equal and trusting working environment. Staff and users
share the same office space and equipment. All users of the
Centre are handed a copy of it's statement of values and invited
to comment or criticise.
'Refugees Included: A survey of refugee involvement in refugee-assisting
non-governmental organisations in the European '. PERCO 1999)
EMPOWERING INDIVIDUALS, GROUPS/COMMUNITIES AND INSTITUTIONS
subchapters on the empowerment of individuals, groups/communities
and institutions try to demonstrate that empowerment is possible
and can be achieved through a variety of concrete measures. It
will be shown how the individual migrant or refugee, their groups
and communities can play a greater role in the integration process
leading to work in the host country. What migrants and refugees can
do might be promoted by various public and private institutions working
towards the integration of migrants into the national labour market.
these positive elements it has to be stated, that the European attitudes
towards migrants and refugees during the last decades have been negative.
Most European countries have tried to block migrants' way to their
territories. The resulting migration and refugee regime in many
cases has created the situations, where migrants and refugees were
systematically isolated, made dependent and kept outside the labour
market. Thus people were deprived of their "normal" possibility
to learn and to adjust to the new situation in the host country. Greater
freedom for migrants and refugees would be the most effective contribution
to the empowerment of the migrants and refugees concerned. But
this contribution would have to come from the respective national
The blocks to
empowering an individual are often psychological. Firstly, there is
the phenomenon of alienation from the self. This is a phenomenon
that has been identified as a psychological and emotional response
to oppression. It is manifested through the inability to identify
and articulate one's needs and take active steps to meet them. It
can lead to low self-esteem and feelings of powerlessness, with the
perception that one cannot influence and resolve issues in one's own
Secondly is the
use of stereotypes or stigmatisation. The migrants, who have
repeatedly experienced rejection, for whatever reason, will feel stigmatised
or of being subsumed under a stereotype. This will be exacerbated
by their experiences of racism. The migrants might find themselves
caught in a vicious circle of stigmatisation, rejection and, subsequent
self-blame. This circle can be quite destructive for the individual.
Three steps are
important for the empowerment of individuals:
first step is to define the problem.
you're interested in an example, please have a look at this
define the problem, different factors have to be considered, such
as the specific legal framework of each country, particularly around
their residency status and employment rights. Also the attitude of
each country towards migrants and refugees is significant. In a society
with an assimilationist approach, there is an expectation of complete
adjustment to all relevant features of the host society. In countries
where integration is the key-word, differences are accepted and even
second step addresses the issue of self-determination. It is important
to define the criteria of success for every individual. From
this perspective it is possible to set targets against which the goals
can be said to be achieved. Establishing self-sufficiency and belief
in one's own abilities starts from the moment contact with the client
begins. As soon as he or she is regarded as a valuable source of competence
in dealing with the problem, an important step in the direction of
empowerment has been taken.
leads us to the third step which relates to consciousness
raising. It is necessary to confirm to the clients that they are
the experts of their particular situation and the best arbiters of
their own treatment. The acceptance of the independence of the
client is crucial, otherwise there can be no talk of empowerment.
important precondition to any empowerment-process is access to information.
A lot of problems arise because of a lack of information on both sides:
Those seeking for employment and those able to give jobs. The availability
of information on the labour-market and its regulations ensures that
the clients are not reliant on the advisor to assess their options.
working group on empowerment has assembled a number of "indicators"
for individual empowerment. These are:
groups and communities
With regard to
groups we have to differentiate between formal organisations of migrants
or refugees and informal networks. The term 'community' will also
be used to describe single nationality groups of migrants. The following
issues may arise:
nonorganised groups of migrants and refugees are often faced with
the phenomenon of separation. Separation occurs when certain
groups in a society encounter difficulties, and decide to separate
themselves from the host society and create their own subculture.
The group might consider any efforts to "empower them" as
an intrusion or as a pressure to "adjust" to the majority..
Also, to provide
assistance for migrants and refugees to enter the labour-market might
not be the priority of the migrant organisation. The services provided
in this area might be subsumed under other, political aims and objectives
being pursued. This is a sensitive issue, but it is important to be
clear what the priorities of the organisation are in order to avoid
spending time counter-productively.
an impact on groups and communities can be done through four possible
be quite easy to deal with the representatives of a community,
if communities were homogeneous groups, but frequently the relationship
between different groups within the same national community
is very conflicting. For an example you may refer to the link
"Community or Communities?"
is obvious that activities have to be adjusted carefully to the national
framework encountered. It can be difficult to empower groups to embark
on a campaign of self-determination, when the political will of the
government is more in favour of segregation or assimilation. Working
with a community is most effectively done through developing partnerships
with an organised group, offering training programmes and awareness-raising
tool to approach communities with or without self-organisation
is the SWAP method (C4/L11).
We will give it as one example of practical appliance
working group has formulated a number of indicators of success for
group empowerment. These are:
Support and motivation: Existence of peer support structures
(self-help, voca-tional guidance), emergence of role models within
the target group, availability of mentors from within the target
group, skilled trainers from within the target group, opportunities
to collaborate with other to create common and effective projects.
Campaigning: Development of an account of the group's previous
exclusion, of value attached to direct experience of that exclusion,
training and skill development for group members in the specific
skills needed to engage with decision making processes.
Provision of practical services for target group members, development
of credit unions.
With regard to
institutions we are referring here to service providers of any kind.
This includes state and government institutions such as employment-offices
or social service agencies, political institutions such as community
councils, parliaments, ministries or governments. It includes also
non-governmental and quasi non-governmental organisations dealing
with migrants and refugees and their problems. Our focus here however,
is on those institutions whose main work is concerned with the
integration of migrants and refugees into the labour market. Issues
arising here might include:
or incompetence on part of workers or management to adjust to the
needs of the target group. This may include an ignorance of
the need for intercultural competence whilst carrying out their
tasks as well as a resistance to addressing the specific needs of
refugees and migrants, fearing that it will result in an increased
There is in many countries a drive towards cutting costs and
terminating social welfare programmes, including special programmes
designed for migrants and refugees. This has often lead to the state
contracting out their responsibilities to civic society, with NGOs
taking on many of the services previously provided by the state.
These greater pressures may result in NGOs having less opportunity
to offer services with an empowering dimension.
- One of the challenges
at a political level is the perception in many European countries
that "foreigners take our jobs", This attitude is
strongest in times of economic hardship, high unemployment or in regions
most affected by economic difficulties. Progressive policies and actions
face barriers rooted in basic, immediate, often unarticulated and
very emotional problems: Fear, anger, distrust, alienation and finally
following aspects might be helpful in empowering institutions:
to and dissemination of information
This requires a willingness to relinquish the power base that holding
important information can give. Information must be accessible to
the migrant in a neutral, easy and impartial way. New technologies
can have a role in making information more accessible. Printed information
in appropriate languages is vital. This could include easy to understand
summaries of important laws and regulations and the variety of services
at disposal. Many organisations in this field have a wide range
of information materials and publications available.
of the quality of the personnel involved
The need for inservice training is obvious where problems in communicating
with migrants and refugees constantly reoccur. The methods and approaches
for intercultural communication, can be offered through training.
The hiring of personnel from the target group, migrants, refugees,
accepted asylum-seekers etc., is another way to increase the
intercultural competence of an institution
as a whole. The positive effects of including members of the
target group in the work of the institutions cannot be stressed
enough. It is the most efficient way of reaching out to the
community as well as addressing language needs.
administrative issues and interventions
ability of an institution to work effectively to meet the needs
of the target group can be enhanced by "Empowered leadership".
This is the ability to articulate a clear vision of the values
and goals of the institution's work, demonstrating a strong commitment
to these goals and a willingness to take risks.
between organisations for more effective services
greater pressure on NGOs throughout the EU and the diminishing of
resources, has highlighted the need for more effective flow of information
as well as the need to pool resources for joint activities. Increased
collaboration between public em-ployment services and specialised
local advice services is one way to tackle this problem. Possible
ways forward are to set up "one-stop-shops" to provide
multiple services like social, cultural and employment advice and
programmes, interlinking the various approaches and increasing the
choices available. Many small NGOs may find it more fruitful to
join with others for the training of their personnel and joint evaluation
of their work. Staff-exchanges and apprenticeships might help to
widen the scope of experiences and access to information.
working group in empowerment has identified some "indicators"
for empowerment within the context of the wider community. These are:
for this chapter:
Lorraine et al. (eds.): Empowerment in Social Work Practice. A Sourcebook,
Pacific Grove et al. 1998.
Lee, Judith A. B.: The Empowerment Approach to Social Work Practice,
New York 1994.
Lewis, J.A et al. (eds.): Community counselling. Empowerment strategies
for a diverse society, Pacific Grove et. al. 1998.
For more direct
hints for dealing with individuals:
Hill, Linda: Career consulting, London et al. 1992
Potter, Val: Is Counselling Training for You?, London 1997
questions to think about