crossing faith and ethnic boundaries building bridges at the grassroots
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Crossing Faith and Ethnic Boundaries: Building Bridges at the Grassroots. Presentation to Birkbeck-IVAR Seminar March 2009 Margaret Harris. [email protected] This seminar.

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crossing faith and ethnic boundaries building bridges at the grassroots

Crossing Faith and Ethnic Boundaries:Building Bridges at the Grassroots

Presentation to Birkbeck-IVAR Seminar March 2009

Margaret Harris

[email protected]

this seminar
This seminar
  • Is grounded in a study of ‘Bridge Building at the Grassroots’ conducted by Margaret Harris with Tricia Young. Also help from other members of IVAR and its predecessor at Aston University, ACVAR
  • Study conducted in three diverse local authority areas of England – Birmingham, Oldham and Tower Hamlets
  • Study had four phases: literature review; mapping; telephone survey; three case studies in each area.
  • We found more than 160 BBAs across the three areas. We interviewed 127 of them on the phone and studied nine of them in depth.
  • Summary of the findings recently published and accessible at:
format of this seminar
Format of this seminar
  • Brief outline of study findings by MH focusing on the organisation of local bridge building groups (‘BBAs’) and the challenges they face
  • Then a joint presentation by Rosemin Ahmed and Wendy Kerr, co-founders of one of the BBAs we studied - ‘Roots and Branches’ in Birmingham. They will talk about how they set up their group, how it is run, the highs and lows along the way.
  • This format reflects the aim of IVAR to bridge the traditional gap between academic research and issues of third sector policy and practice.
by bridge building we mean
….Activities which are intended to nurture interpersonal contacts across ethnic and faith boundaries

Our focus is on such activities (BBAs) which occur at the neighbourhood and local level because -

Little previous research at this level although several authors have identified local geographical communities as a key locus for interaction across identity group boundaries

By ‘Bridge Building’ we mean …
bba organisational features 1 founding
BBA Organisational Features (1) Founding
  • 64% BBAs driven by a specific bridge-building vision

“we wanted to get the various communities to work in harmony, to live in harmony and to develop our communities together”

“our agenda was to build bridges and raise awareness in the communities that change was going to take place whether they liked it or not”

  • 35% began within the shell of a pre-existing third sector organisation
  • 21% started on the initiative of lone entrepreneur
  • Most dependent on just one or two key founders rooted in area; and often with experience of boundary spanning (ref Paul Williams’ idea of ‘reticulists’ who are pivotal in working across sectoral and organisational boundaries)
bba organisational features 2 aims
BBA Organisational Features (2) Aims

95% of BBAs were aiming at:

  • Social cohesion
  • Social interaction
  • Mutual understanding
  • Or some combination of these
bba organisational features 5 funding
BBA Organisational Features (5) Funding
  • 89% in receipt of external funding or in-kind external support.
  • Most frequent funding source was charitable trusts and foundations (45%)
  • 39% received no funding from governmental sources
  • Precarious financial state of most BBAs although those attached to faith communities were often able to attract small donations
  • More formal BBAs and those with voluntary specialist expertise were most successful in raising funds
bba organisational features 6 organisational structure
BBA Organisational Features (6) Organisational Structure
  • 70% part of a broader organisation
  • Only 19% were registered in some way as independent third sector organisations
  • Heavy dependence on volunteers and this seen as appropriate organisationally “You have to have it in your heart – not think about what it will pay or what you will get out of it – you have to have a positive belief in helping your fellow human beings.”
  • Heavy dependence on just one or two key people - “he is a pillar – without him the whole thing would collapse”
challenges for local bbas 1 organisational
Challenges for Local BBAs (1) Organisational
  • Heavy dependence on volunteers – but lack of essential expertise
  • Heavy dependence on one or two key people – problems of sustainability and succession
  • Being part of broader organisations – meetings overload; accountability questions; beneath the radar of databases
  • Funding – funders risk averse; lack of fundraising expertise; lack of funding for social activities
  • Need to categorise activities and identity groups seen as contrary to ideas of integration and cohesion inherent in the bridge building idea
  • Hard to demonstrate impact
challenges for local bbas 2 of bridge building
Challenges for Local BBAs (2) Of Bridge-Building
  • Reaching out beyond core group of activists
  • Those who participate may be stigmatised by their own group
  • Appearance of favouring particular groups
  • Cultural barriers to mixing eg gender, food, type of activities
  • Language barriers to easy social interaction
  • Lack of interpersonal and intergroup skills
  • Competition for scarce public resources – “You have two poor communities fighting to get out of the same heaps and they’re scrambling over each other”
  • Lack of support from local politicians and local media
local bridge building how to encourage it
Local Bridge Building – How to encourage it?
  • Leadership – enthusiasm but also intercultural sensitivities and understanding of broader environment
  • Funding with lighter touch accountability and monitoring – proportionality concept
  • Appropriate funding eg for infrastructure and social events
  • Facilitate networking and public information about BBAs
  • Funding responsive to local needs and histories – there cannot be an ‘industry standard’
  • Preparation for bridge-building – a long process of building trust before you can even approach the bridge

For copies of the summary report of the BBA Study or to be put on the list to receive information about further publications from the BBA study, please contact:

[email protected]