Learning from Success

Learning from Success, Tel Aviv, June 26, 2006
The workshop focusing on Learning from Success took place in Tel-Aviv. Among the participants were faculty members, students and activists who discussed their success stories in projects engaging the academy with different organizations and women in the community. The meeting was conducted as an interview, designed to learn about the actions involved in the success stories presented – what did the activists, students and faculty members do in order to promote their goals. Prof. Jona Rosenfeld from the Learning for Success unit at Myers-JDC-Brookdale Institute and member of the Academy-Community Partnership for Social Change steering committee, guided the learning process. Members of the panel included: Hikam Araide, Omaima Saker, Nanny Balas, Odette Falach, Adv. Dana Myrtenbaum, Adv. Ronit Haramati-Alpern, Yafit Poled and Dr. Hanna Safran.
Prof. Rosenfeld introduced the Learning from Success process, explaining that it involves retrospective learning and perceives people as knowledgeable by virtue of their work and actions. The knowledge within each and every one can be unveiled through the stories. This discussion does not aim to explain, but to elaborate on what was done, thereby revealing the actions that lead to success, which are not always self-evident. This also allows the participants to find similarities between the different stories. The rest of the discussion was held in light of the question raised by Prof. Rosenfeld at the beginning of the meeting – what is social change? What constitutes a success in the field of social change?
The first stories to be discussed were those of participants in the "Legal Leaders" program, which draws on the collective skills and resources of different organizations and NGOs. The main partnership in the program is between "Itach-Maaki" organization and the Legal Clinics in Haifa Universitytogether with SHATIL (Israel's leading capacity building center for social change organizations) and the Haifa Bar Association. Attorneys Dana Myrtenbaum and Ronit Haramati-Alpern provided some background about the cooperation between "Itach-Maaki" and the Legal Clinics, and described the process Dana facilitated to bringing all the organizations and institutions to become "a part of a revolution".
In the first stage, 16 women leaders from different communities, Jewish and Arab, joined the program. They attended a three-month training course, during which they acquired tools in community organizing: mapping community's needs, working with the media, and so forth. The leaders were then joined by a group of 16 female law students, who participated in an elective seminar on "Legal Feminism" during the academic year.
Throughout the year, all 32 participants met once a week for three and a half hours each time, under the guidance of Dana Myrtenbaum and Odette Falach – psychologist and group facilitator. Most meetings took place at the university, yet several were held elsewhere, thereby reinforcing the program's dynamic nature. The large group meetings also included work within the project teams. Each project team consisted of two law students and two legal leaders, and promoted an issue which they chose to tackle. The topics for each project arose from the participants' personal stories. The plenary meetings' program was dynamic, and involved introduction and team building activities, goal verification exercises, exercises dealing with communication patterns, etc.
In addition to the abovementioned meetings, individual guidance was provided to the participants. All women participating in the program had a mentor and received guidance, to ensure that none of them works alone. The teams met regularly with Dana and Odette for team guidance sessions where they discussed dilemmas arising from their work, the relationship within the group, as well as the progression of their projects. The cooperation between the students, the legal leaders, and the instructors helped identify structural problems related to the project in general, and to the issue each team chose to advance in particular. All teams also established steering committees for their projects, whose members met regularly to guide and recommend new goals.
Odette presented her own experience of working with the group, stressing the importance of listening, and of posing questions that will contribute to the women's actions. She worked with the participants on finding their points of strength, on proper task role allocation within the group, and necessary skills and rules for cooperation.
Three group participants, Hikam Araide and Omaima Saker (legal leaders) and Nanny Balas (law student) took part in the panel discussion. All three are part of one of the seven teams formed by the program. Their team works to promote the rights of female divorcees in the Druze villages with the aim of influencing the rulings of Druze courts and achieving full rights for these women. Hikam began her involvement in this field in Isifya and Daliyat Al-Karmel, prior to her joining "Legal Leaders". She was driven by her own experience as a divorced woman. Hikam told her personal story to the group of women with whom she met regularly. She spoke with them about the ways in which she dealt with problems of housing, economic hardship, and infringement of other rights which were the result of the divorce and the court's ruling. Working alone at first, Hikam was later joined by Omaima, and together they established a support group for divorced women, who still meet regularly in Isifya for peer study and sharing of experiences. The support group strives to provide women with legal knowledge, economic empowerment skills, ways of coping with children in the divorce process, and more. The group, which includes twenty women, meets every two weeks. Its meetings are often joined by educational counselors, lawyers, social workers, psychologists and others. Hikam and Omaima have also done work outside the scope of their group, trying to change the religious leaders' attitudes concerning the matter of divorce, and eliminate the dependency that divorced women are forced into, dependency on their family, and on the welfare and employment agencies. The group currently serves as a support group on a wider basis, meeting for social occasions, day trips and so forth. The team mentioned that a substantial change among the participants may be noticed, mostly in terms of independent thinking and empowerment.
One of the methods which the team used was the distribution of a questionnairedesigned to map the needs of the divorced women, and better understand the problems they encounter, and the issues that should be focused upon in order to assist them. The questionnaires were circulated in many Druze villages in the North of Israel and in the Golan Heights. They were used in working with the women but also in providing religious leaders and welfare authorities with information and data concerning the problems of divorced women.
The program's vitality, says Nanny, lies in its encouragement of grassroots leadership. Through the course, the students are able to experience the courage of the legal leaders. She described how the students guide and support the legal leaders' vision, the design of a framework for action, and further utilize the legal skills they have acquired. They examined which legal aspect prevents divorced women from receiving full rights, reviewed the questionnaires with the attempt to identify obstacles, and brought the matter to the attention of individuals involved in the field.
In contrast to the group activities described above, Yafit Poled, a student in the Kibbutzim College of Education described her success story working with one child. Yafit volunteered in the Mahapach-Taghir NGO in the Tel-Aviv neighborhood of Florentine, as part of a critical pedagogy class she attended, taught by Haggith Gor Ziv. Yafit worked with a group of students, who served as mentors to children suffering from emotional problems. In the stage when the volunteers decided who shall mentor which child, Yafit was chosen by a child who was unable to communicate with the other students. Despite her initial concerns and by using consistent responses and tenderness, perhaps opposed to what the child expected of her, Yafit was able to build a relationship with him, thereby starting a process that changed his attitude to those around him. As Prof. Yona Rosenfeld put it, she acted out of love, without definitions or text-book explanations.
DrHanna Safran also described the workshop she teaches in theEmek Yezreel College – "Women Leading Change". The course discussed the ways in which women's organizations operate, and includes a stage during which the students are requested to find a woman's organization in which to volunteer for sixteen hours. In order to let the students understand, even if only partially, the feeling of a woman in need of help, Hana does not tell her students which organizations are available, but sends them to locate such organizations themselves. Through the search process, students understand the difficulty in finding the organizations which by nature should be most visible and accessible, especially for those in need. After locating an organization and volunteering there, the students return to the workshop, where they describe the organization in which they volunteered, and analyze their experience, in light of the theories and research studied in the first semester. Dr. Safran believes that the most important outcome of the workshop is that many of its graduates come to understand that feminism is an issue that concerns all and matters to all, and does not entail bringing about social change for women alone. The students' final project includes an analysis of the organization and its actions, and is later submitted to the organizations themselves, for future use. These papers often assist and support organizations in documenting their own activity – a time-consuming task that most organizations have a hard time allotting sufficient resources. 
The second part of the Learning from Success meeting was devoted to an open discussion, where several important points regarding these success stories were made. The first is the importance of difference in cooperation between organizations, people, ways of working, and unique, creative responses. A related issue is the significance of working in circles as opposed to individual work – the social networks created in the process contribute to broadening the scope of activities and provides more resources for all involved. This is why the mentoring provided to the participants is crucial. Another point raised is the participants' ability to put the learning from success process into action, i.e. their ability to examine things independently and learn from their experiences, to develop a fresh view of things and to identify their powers and their ability to make a difference. Further comments were made regarding the pedagogy of courses involving social activism, as a new method of student participation. In certain ways, such courses are very effective in teaching theory and in bringing together the interests of the academic world and those of society, which is beneficial for both sides. On the other hand, the speakers mentioned difficulties arising from such courses in terms of academic recognition, lack of resources and reference materials and problems with publications and theoretical conceptualization.