January 01, 2003

What is empowerment?

Many dictionaries only show a pre twentieth century definition of the verb 'to empower', as 'to give power to'. The word was first used in the 17th century and has meanings like 'authorise, delegate, or enable. Some dictionaries have no entry for ''empowerment". Dictionary Definitions

Nowadays, empowerment is a complicated idea. It implies a transfer of power in a dynamic way over a period of time.

Empowerment seems to come in 2 flavours:
- one with benefits to both an empowerer and those empowered. I propose to call this type simply 'empowerment'.
- another where power is created out of nothing by somebody who previously perceived themselves to be powerless and then woke up to their own power. This could be called 'self-empowerment'.

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All types of empowerment however involve 'self-empowerment' because the crucial step is a change in the state of mind of the person or people who are empowered. Assumptions that were holding people back are re-examined and revised.

Empowerment implies an increase of consciousness. It implies more than a forced change of power in which there is a destruction of previous structures and values. The element of higher consciousness and consideration of both parties' needs and interests gained from a win : win solution provides the opportunity for progress to a richer way of life for everybody involved. Here is part of the link with psychological maps such as Spiral Dynamics. People become empowered when they move up the spiral to a higher level of self understanding.

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Empowerment seems to be a modern idea that would not have been possible 200 years ago when the idea of democracy and government of the people, for the people, by the people was something to fight and die for. I am interested to explore the political history of situations when power has been given up without a fight, to the benefit of the power giver, and did have to be taken by force.

In the 20th century we saw many examples of political empowerment, led by people such as Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Vaclav Havel, and Lech Walensa. We saw the peaceful end of Communism in Europe and the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Today there are many however who are disillusioned with democracy. The ability to cast a single vote every 4 to 7 years and help to change the party of government or the president can seem an inadequate expression of the beliefs that we hold and wish to express and exercise day by day. We are given power to choose our politicians, only to hand it back to them.

Wikipedia has a commentary that raises some of the issues although using some other unnecessarily long buzzwords:

"Empowerment forms an apogee of many a system of self-realisation or identity. Realising the solipsistic impracticality of everyone anarchistically attempting to exercise power over everyone else, the empowerment advocates offer the attractions of power, but constrain its application to potentiality and feel-good uses within the individual psyche. This word has a tendency to be used as a buzzword."

At work employees say they do not have enough empowerment while managers claim that they give it. A definition of empowerment at work from an MBA thesis is "The process of sharing information, training and allowing employees to manage their jobs in order to obtain optimum results".

John Mortimer of the Vangard Group says "empowerment is a consequence of a style of management, and not an action. This means that you cannot get empowerment by forcing it, but by creating the conditions for empowerment to flourish."

So how has the world changed to the point where giving power is now a political and commercial buzzword with a life of its own?

What does this word mean and how should we use it?

For me the best everday definition of empowerment is very simple - "Helping people to help themselves" or "Leading people to learn to lead themselves".

Here are some theorists and proponents of the idea of empowerment:

Blanchard, Carlos & Randolph
Boje and Rosile
W Edwards Deming
Mary Parker Follett
Gershon and Straub
Dr E Goldratt

Posted by colin on January 1, 2003 05:04 PM |
Comments



For me empowerment is the purpose of all that I do. It is an ongoing process whereby I am empowered by my own evolutionary development and when working with others that process has to be effectively empowering to all involved. The essence is rediscovery of identity, in that we are spiritual beings having a human experience and need to see ourselves in that context. It changes our perception of life, our potential and our future self. The doorway to empowerment is an unconditional acceptance of the above and limitless love of all life. AdultDatingPortfolio.com

Posted by: John Norton

Empowerment seems to turn on self-respect; I am interested in ways to engender this quality in children. Games and activities may be ways to achieve this.

I have puzzled over resilience. How is it that some people face adversity and are crushed while others come out stronger? It seems that self-respect is the key to inner strength and happiness.

Posted by: Mike at September 27, 2004 12:30 AM
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