The term “community organization covers a series of
activities at the community level aimed at bringing about the desired improvement
in the social wellbeing of individuals, groups, and neighborhoods.” Community organization
is about creating a democratic instrument to bring about sustained social
change. According to Murray G. Ross, “Community organization is a process by
which a community identifies needs and takes action, and in doing so...
develops co-operative attitudes and practices.”
The history of community organization has its roots in the
late nineteenth century. The Industrial Revolution in England in the mid-1800s
had transformed its economy from an agrarian to an industrial one. This in turn
led to the process of rapid urbanization, prompting many people in rural areas
to move to urban areas in search of livelihood. The urban areas with industries
became centers for exploitation, sickness, accidents, disabilities, unemployment,
and other socioeconomic issues. The families that strove to make ends meet
found it difficult to survive in these circumstances and were left with only a
few options to sustain themselves in the industrial centers: namely, government
relief, private charity or begging. It was commonly held that such individuals
and families were a failure due to their own weaknesses and deficiencies and
that their poverty and distress were born out of individual causes.
Basic Philosophy of Community Organization
The fundamental aspect of the
community organizations is the principle of “Co-operative spirit” which
promotes the people to unite to address a common issue.
recognizes the spirit of democratic values and principles with the focus
on creating democratic involvement.
The community organization recognizes the power of individuals. It believes, that through the collective strength of the people, better teamwork, and adoption of
scientific methods can provide comprehensive solutions to social problems.
Another Philosophy is that of coordination. It is concerned with adjustments and inter-relations of the
forces in the community life for the common welfare.
History of Community Organization
These informal associations of people always tried to do good
to the people in need and protect the rights of the society. On the contrary
the history talks about the formal organizations which were set up for the
welfare of the community. The first efforts at community organization for
social welfare were started in England to overcome the acute problem of
poverty, which led to beggary.
The first effort of its kind was the Elizabethan Poor Law
(1601) in England, which was set up to supply services to the needy. Another
important landmark in the history of community organization is the formation of
London Society of organizing charitable relief and repressing mendicancy and
the Origin of the Settlement House Movement in England during 1880.
Establishment of Charity Organization Society.
This movement was started with the influence of London
Charity Organization set up in 1869. In USA, Rev. S. H. Gurteen, an English
priest who had some association with London Charity association and had moved
to Buffalo in 1873 gave the leadership to this movement. Within a short span of
six years the COS had reached to more than 25 American cities.
Charity organization was concerned about two things
1-Supplying adequate personal services to families and individuals in need.
2-Take steps to address the issues/problems in social welfare.
Apart from this service, the COS also took initiatives in
promoting co-operation among the various welfare agencies. From this movement
of charity organization appeared many such service-oriented organizations i.e.,
social service exchange, Community welfare councils, Councils of social
The emergence of The Settlement House Movement
Toynbee Hall in Whitechapel was the first university
settlement house set up in London in 1884 by a group of middle-class London
reformers. It was started by Samuel Barnett who believed that settlement houses
were ‘places where richer students could live alongside, learn about and
contribute to the welfare of much poorer people.’ The Settlement workers were middle-class
reformers, often women volunteers, who would locate themselves in houses in the
middle of urban, poor, working-class neighborhoods. They conducted research in
the surrounding communities and offered services to community members, such as
language classes, childcare, healthcare, and meeting spaces.
The Neighborhood Guild in New York was the first American
settlement house founded by Stanton Coit in 1886. This was followed by the
establishment of the Hull-House in Chicago in 1889 by Jane Addams and Ellen
Starr. In 1893, a nurse and progressive reformer, Lilian Wald founded the Henry
Street Settlement in New York. By the 1890s, there were at least four hundred
settlement houses in the United States, of which forty percent were in the
industrial towns of Boston, Chicago, and New York.
Settlement workers were progressive in their approach because
they aimed to gain insights about poverty from directly experiencing the
conditions under which poor people lived. They also aimed to enable the poor to
form organizations to improve their situation. Some, aimed to build workers
organizations that would agitate for reform. This approach was a sharp
departure from nineteenth century styles of charity where the wealthy kept
clear boundaries and upheld their superiority in comparison with the poor. It
tried to solve social problems and bridging the class differences in rapidly
industrializing cities of USA, by acknowledging that poverty was caused by
social and economic factor e. Several innovative approaches were also evolving
in the field of community organization. The emphasis was now turning towards
control by community members instead of agency-driven activities as in the case
of the settlement houses of the 1930s. It was against this background that
Robert P. Lane’s 1939 report titled ‘The Field of Community Organization’ (also
called ‘The Lane Report’) proved to be a milestone in social work education.
The Lane Report, 1939 and Community Organization
‘The Lane Report’ written by Robert P. Lane situated
community organization practice within Social Work education. It legitimated
community organization as a method of social work practice by presenting a
systematic and comprehensive description of the roles, activities, and methods
in the field of community organization. To address these issues, separate
bodies were set up and we see the entry of international agencies in the field
of community organization. The present situation in community organization is
the emergence of the new community development programmes, which aim at
providing, services to the less developed areas in international social
welfare. Therefore, the present agenda is on working with the whole community
and greater emphasis is on self-help.
Within the USA, Community Organizing practice found within
periods of expansion and contraction of civil rights, labor rights and social
welfare rights. The first phase of expansion has been 1900-1918— the
‘Progressive Era’— characterized by public investment and social activism. The
second phase of expansion was ‘The New Deal’ during 1933-1946 and the WWII, and
then followed the third phase from 1960-1975 as discussed above. The phases of
contraction of community organizing, therefore, have been 1877-1896, 1920-1929,
1948-59 and 1975-present. Although the ‘War on Poverty’ program was conceived
as a top-down welfare program, it re-oriented itself to the civil rights
movement in the mid-1960s.
It is clear, that community organizing focused on
community-based practice. It was about particular cultural identities and
specific local community issues. Many grassroots movements, labor movements,
women’s rights movements, and in recent years, also anti-globalization struggles
have been anchored in community-based practice. The ideals and initiatives
grounded in social, economic, and political justice, guide community practice
inside and outside social work. Let us now turn our attention to community
organizing in India.