Tuesday, 1 November 2016

The Empowerment Manual by Starhawk - Book Review

This book is about how non-profit groups work - whether that is an informal group focusing on a cause, a registered charity with formal aims or a collection of groups collaborating for a specific purpose. The book explains the group dynamics in these situations, how to bring about good decision making processes and how to deal with difficult situations which often arise when people are passionate about a cause.

I used to work in the business world and in that arena, there are lots of very good books about management, growth, empowerment etc. But when I moved to the charity sector, there was very little I could find that was useful. At times, I tried using the lessons I had learned in the business world - and through this, I made some mistakes. The culture in the charity world is different and often needs different approaches and skill-sets.

For instance, when I started in the charity world, I felt strongly that everyone should be equal. And whilst this was a laudable ideal, it never felt quite right when trying to put ideas into practice. But I did not have the language or insight to explain this to myself or others.

This is where the Empowerment Manual comes in. Starwhawk has been through many experiences in the non-profit sector and has learned a great deal through both successes and failures. And she explains all of the difficult challenges that she faced. For instance, she talks about 'earned social power' where someone who has spent a great deal of their own time (and sometimes money) to achieve something, that person is, quite rightly, given 'social power' by a group because they have more energy, experience and expertise in an area. Not everyone is equal in this sense.

Starhawk is strong on accountability with responsibility and providing clear ways that people can get involved in a group. Intriguingly, at the end of the book, she talks about an organisation she has been involved in that started out with little structure but the larger it grew, the more structure was needed. The egalitarian idealism of the early days of the organisation (freedom from structure) had to give way to more formal processes so that the organisation could flourish. It seems that there is often this tension between ideals and practice.

You can find out more about the book here: