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Global Flipchart #16



September 2019

Living & breathing social inclusion in our work

John Cornwell

A good friend and colleague here in Kenya often introduces himself in Facilitator forums as “an activist and campaigner for social justice who finds facilitation a very useful tool for achieving this goal.”  I’ve long considered this perspective to be very close to my own and it reflects well my desire to not only be an excellent facilitator but also to find practical ways of enabling people to realise their rights.  For example, long before I even understood the word ‘Facilitation’, I was busy facilitating groups of young people and other community members to discuss and clarify issues that were affecting them.

Deep in our hearts as facilitators is the critical belief in the importance of genuine participation; not just that participation makes groupwork more effective due to shared ownership but that everyone has a fundamental right to participate in processes and issues that affect them.  Taken from this perspective of rights realisation, we can start to appreciate the crucial role of facilitators in the world today for anyone who believes in fundamental human rights.

One of the critical issues that all facilitators need to constantly consider is the issue of power within a group, which can affect participation both negatively and positively.  In workshops that I facilitate, especially those related to Social Inclusion, facilitation or any other group processes, I will make sure to include a session on Understanding Power and Power Differences. During this session, participants are asked to consider and acknowledge the power differences present in the room, e.g. between men and women, between black people and white people, between those with disabilities and those without, between facilitators and participants, etc.  The purpose is to acknowledge that, no matter how much we may wish for an equal world where everyone is treated with respect and dignity, the reality is that globalised systems of oppression exist and they determine much of our daily realities.  For example, the existence of racism makes the daily reality of black people often very different and more difficult compared to that of white people.

Having named the power differences and having enabled participants to recognise their reality, we then move to the stage of developing a Learning Contract, which is usually framed around the question of “how can we work together effectively to ensure that these power differences do not negatively affect everyone’s participation and learning.”  This is a short but critical stage in any workshop process and one that enables participants to realise that diversity in itself is not the same as inclusion.  Diversity simply means that there is a diverse mix of people in a given group; inclusion means that every individual is able to realise their rights to participation and that there is equality of outcome, not just opportunity.  In brief, the great potential of diversity is finally realised when inclusion is achieved.  Another colleague expressed it very beautifully when she said,

 “Diversity is being invited to the dance, inclusion is about joining the dance and everyone choosing the music they love.”

After these introductory sessions, the workshop goes on to enable participants to deeply understand Discrimination, Exclusion and Oppression, whilst facilitating them to think through effective strategies for tackling them and promoting Social Inclusion.  They all form part of a model developed in Southern Africa and UK in the 1970s and 80s, which we now call “the Social Inclusion model”.  Personally, I was trained in it whilst living in South Africa about 15 years ago and have been using it ever since. The model continues to evolve in different contexts and can be considered a “foundational model” to effective Diversity and Inclusion work as it marries the concepts of Equality & Social Justice with Facilitation & Participation. 

In my case, my self-introduction is often, “I’m a community development worker and facilitator.”  The two descriptions are deeply intertwined; and when calling myself a “social inclusion facilitator”, then I am merely extending the descriptions and merging them into one.   And my firm belief is that we cannot really call ourselves facilitators if we are not practising social inclusion in everything we do and throughout all our processes.


John Cornwell is a Freelance Social Inclusion Facilitator, based in East Africa and one of the founders of the Social Inclusion Facilitators Special Interest Group.  For more information about the group, please contact