Culture Counts: A Guide to Best Practices for Developing Health Promotion initiatives in Mental Health and Substance Use with
In Chapter 2 - How to find community partners
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Perhaps potential community partners have contacted your organization for help with a particular issue in the community, such
as alcohol use or lack of access to mental health care. In this case, you can start discussing how you might work together
on the problem.
It may be preferable, however, that you and your organization do the reaching out to ethnocultural communities. If communities
and community-based agencies are left to initiate contact all the time, they may come to view your organization’s stated commitment
to equity as insincere.
When your organization is making the first contact, you will have to:
- identify potential community partners
- discuss your health promotion goals with them and invite them to join with you in achieving one or more of them, or work together
to define new goals.
Community partners can play different roles in developing and running the initiative. You will need at least one partner that
can bring resources, knowledge, skills and credibility to the initiative.
Possible partners may be agencies and individuals from the community that your organization has worked with before. If you
and your organization have never had any formal contact with groups in the communities you hope to reach, start out by making
a list of potential partners in the communities. In larger towns and cities, there may be a wide range of potential partners;
in rural or remote settings the range may be very limited. These might include:
- community-based multicultural or ethnospecific agencies
- agencies serving immigrants and refugees
- community leaders
- community health centres
- religious institutions/groups
- cultural centres
- local schools
- local branches of the public library
- local businesses
Networking with colleagues from your own or other organizations is probably the best way to find contacts in particular communities.
Other sources might be service, government and business directories. Research news items about the communities to find names
of well-known individuals and organizations in the communities. Reference library staff may also be able to direct you to
other sources of information.
“If you want to reach out to a particular community and there doesn't seem to be a community agency to partner with, ask an
agency that serves a community whose country of origin is aligned to that of your intended audience. For example, if you want
to reach out to refugees from Afghanistan and there is no specific Afghan community agency, you might try an agency serving
the Pakistani community. There are also ‘umbrella’ agencies that serve a number of groups or serve a particular need, such
as settlement organizations.”
--Baldev Mutta, Punjabi Community Health Centre
This preparatory research may also raise your awareness of conflicts or tensions that may exist within a community you hope
to work with. If there are some divisions in the community, you may want to know if they affect a potential partner’s ability
to gain the community’s support and involvement in the health promotion initiative.
You will also want to get an idea of which individuals and groups in the community have the power to influence decision-making
in the community. Some of the people may have formal leadership roles in the community, such as religious leaders, but there
are usually others without special titles whose views carry weight with other community members. In some cultures, elders
have a lot of influence, for example. Religious organizations may have influence on older members of the community but may
have less impact on younger or more acculturated members. Having influential people and groups involved in your initiative
can make a difference in whether community members will support and participate in it.
To learn more about working with influential community members and groups:
US Department of Agriculture. “Understanding community power structures.” (PDF) People, Partnerships, and Communities. Issue 21, September 2002.
Community agencies may be unsure about entering a partnership with a larger mainstream organization for a number of reasons.
One reason may be the power the larger organization wields because it has greater resources and is better known in the wider
community. The smaller community agencies may fear that in a partnership:
- they will have to adapt to the larger organization’s ways of doing things.
- their contributions will go unrecognized by both the larger organization and their community
- the larger organization will control the agenda
- in the event of a disagreement, the larger organization will impose its will.
Acknowledging and discussing the real and perceived power imbalances in a potential partnership is usually a more effective
approach to dealing with these fears than pretending they don't exist.
“Sometimes when you partner with mainstream organizations, you worry about being ‘swallowed’ by the larger organization and
that your agency’s contributions to the project won't be acknowledged. However, this was not the case with CAMH! They were
supportive, respectful and inclusive. The partnership was very positive and mutually satisfying.”
—Maria J. Benevides, MSW, RSW, Portuguese Mental Health and Addiction Service,
“For partnerships between mainstream organizations and community-based organizations to work, there needs to be a balance
of power, control and ownership.”
--Baldev Mutta, Punjabi Community Health Centre
To learn more about power imbalances in partnerships:
Community Coordination for Women’s Safety Project Team. Building Partnerships to End Violence Against Women, section 4.9,
"Power Imbalances." PDF. (British Columbia, Canada)
Once you have a list of potential community partners, you will want to meet with them to discuss your and their health promotion
goals. Some ways you can reach out to potential community partners include holding community forums, giving community education
presentations and co-sponsoring ethnic events. During these occasions
- explain the reasons for the initiative
- make clear what the benefits are for the potential partners
- describe what you are hoping to get from partners—amount of time, resources, community access
- finish by inviting community-based organizations to work with you to develop and run the initiative.
Example: For the Culture Counts project, invitations were sent out to various groups and agencies serving culturally diverse communities
to attend a presentation about the Low Risk Drinking Guidelines (LRDG). After the presentation, groups were asked if they
thought the LRDG would be of benefit to their communities and were extended an open invitation to work with CAMH to develop
an culturally relevant alcohol-related health promotion initiative for their communities.
“We knew we didn’t have the necessary and varied expertise required to make a print product on low-risk drinking. We had tried
to do a poster on our own in the past and it was a disaster! We really struggled with all aspects of the project and ultimately
were unsuccessful in our project.”
—Maria J. Benevides, MSW, RSW, Portuguese Mental Health and Addiction Service
“We would like to partner with mainstream organizations more often but sometimes we're not sure how to go about it. Mainstream
organizations need to reach out to community groups more and be clearer about how they can work with us.”
-- Naga Ramalingam, SACEM
To learn more about making presentations: