International activists meet at Maynooth University to share ideas to tackle inequality at 2018 World Community Development Conference

Monday, June 25, 2018 - 09:30

Mary Robinson, Bernadette McAliskey, Anastasia Crickley, Anita Paul and Peter Westoby among the speakers 
Poverty and marginalisation are deeply rooted and change will not happen overnight — but tangible results will be realised in time, with the right interventions, according to
Anastasia Crickley, former head of the Department of Applied Social Studies at Maynooth University, speaking at the 2018 World Community Development Conference. Community development workers and activists from around the world have converged on Maynooth University to share experiences and ideas, and highlight the importance of community development in meeting global human rights standards and sustainability goals.
This first World Community Development Conference is jointly organised by the Department of Applied Social Studies at Maynooth University, which became the first university in Ireland to offer professional community work education in 1981 and is recognised internationally for its access and innovation; Community Work Ireland, the national organisation for community work which is recognised for its key contributions to supporting and promoting collective work and policies for a just and equal Ireland; and the International Association for Community Development, which has membership throughout the world and this year marks its 65th birthday.
This ground-breaking conference for Ireland and for the discipline takes place at Maynooth University from 24th – 27th of June. The theme of this year’s conference is Participation, Power and Progress: Community Development towards 2030 – Our Analysis, Our Actions.
Keynote speakers include former President of Ireland Mary Robinson, who now heads up the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice, and respected Northern Irish civil rights activist Bernadette McAliskey, whose South Tyrone Community Empowerment Programme continues to improve the lives of marginalised people in Northern Ireland.
The conference also will welcome further contributions from around the world, including Anita Paul of the Pan Himalayan Grassroots Development Foundation, speaking about her work with communities in the Himalayas aimed at alleviating poverty and environmental damage, and Australian indigenous rights campaigner and Associate Professor in Social Science and Community Development at Queensland Institute of Technology, Peter Westoby.
Commenting at the event Rachel Doyle, Community Work Ireland said: “The key takeaway from this conference is that community development can and does drive meaningful social change. Poverty and marginalisation are deeply rooted problems that never have easy answers. Change may not happen overnight, but across the globe we see people working together to navigate the challenges and discriminations facing their communities, groups and Peoples and finding solutions that keep the needs of the most marginalised at the very core of their work.”
Paul Lachapelle, Montana State University USA, President of the International Association for Community Development added: “It is wonderful to welcome so many committed and enthusiastic community workers, academics and activists from around the world to Maynooth, and fitting too given the role the Department of Applied Social Studies has played in the education of so many Irish community workers who have contributed significantly both at home and abroad. The conference also provides an opportunity to showcase and reinforce the longstanding and well known Irish Community Development tradition which has made a difference often against the odds, for and with Travellers, migrants, and marginalised rural and urban communities and which recognises the hidden and complex discriminations still experienced by women. It's a recognition too of Community Work Ireland's national and global reach and capacity to work for change and transformation.”
Keynote speaker, former President of Ireland and President of the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice, Mary Robinson said: “Those who are in positions of decision-making power, or who engage in processes that will ultimately affect the lives, and decide the fate, of whole swathes of the planet’s people cannot do so in isolation. We have a moral imperative to ensure that there is no one ‘preferably unheard’. We have a duty to ensure that those people, particularly women, who are in the most vulnerable situations are empowered to realise their rights to participate in decision-making so they can share and enjoy development gains.”
Bernadette McAliskey spoke passionately about her journey 'From Civil Rights to Migrant Rights' over half a century in Northern Ireland. "Collective community engagement has always been at the core of my activism; such engagement drove the peace process and the struggle for civil rights. It continues today through our work at the South Tyrone Empowerment Programme where we have seen the power of working collectively help mitigate the issues of marginalization and social exclusion which persist today."
Also speaking at the conference is Tommy Coombes, co-ordinator of the Bluebell Community Development Programme (CDP) and currently working towards a PhD in Community Development at Maynooth University. Commenting on his work, Coombes said: “I see first-hand every day the importance of community work. My work in the Bluebell CDP sees me working closely with older men who have felt totally pushed out of society, and the kind of collective, collaborative work we do acts as a way back for them. It reminds them that they matter, and it empowers them to contribute to their community, and this is something that benefits everyone. Community development is a slow process that requires everyone involved to ‘buy in’, but when they do, we see positive changes that could not be achieved in any other way.”