By & For communities: COCo’s Par et Pour Forums wrap up this week

Guest post by Akki Mackay

June 6th, 2015 will mark the third and final forum held as part of By & For Us? The community at the head of the organization, an initiative focusing on the experiences of community organizations that are run by, or centre the voices of the community they serve. The benefits of this organizational model are clear: who better than the community itself to know what a community’s needs are? By building a base of members and leaders directly affected by a shared marginalization or oppression, the community experiences connection and strength by leveraging the potential to address needs beyond an individual level. But there are many barriers that these organizations face as well: lack of funding, activist “burnout”, and facilitating the (often unpaid) involvement of people from communities experiencing oppressive social and material conditions, among other challenges.

By & For Us? has three main goals: for “By and For” organizations to learn from one another through dialogue and the sharing of experiences; for the people involved in these groups to create easily sharable resources relevant to themselves and other community organizations; and to build new relationships and networks between “By and For” organizations and activists in Montreal.

So far, the project is well on its way to achieving those goals. The first two forums, held on April 25th and May 16th, have brought together 12 diverse Montreal-based organizations, among them Arc-En-Ciel d’Afrique, the South Asian Women’s Community Centre, and Desta Black Youth Network, with a total of around 25 organizers and activists representing their respective groups. Topics discussed have included: skill-sharing; the balancing of individual support work with working towards structural change; and how to assess the needs of your community. There are also several resources in the works including a “reflection guide”, which provides a series of questions and pointers to help organizations evaluate and reflect on their work, and a “facilitator’s checklist” that highlights how to acknowledge and support people with complex and differing needs.

We hope that by facilitating learning, the exchange of ideas, and the building of new relationships, that the By & For Us? project will have been a meaningful experience for “by and for” organizations, and their work towards a world without marginalization and oppression.

By & For Us? The community at the head of the organization has been funded by the Ministère de l’Éducation, du Loisir et du Sport (MELS). It was conceived by Kit Malo, from COCo, and has been coordinated by Valeria Contreras and Akki Mackay, from Action GLBTQ avec les ImmigrantEs et RefugiéEs (AGIR), with much appreciated support from Chloe Gendre from COCo.