When Paul Pholeros or his HealthHabitat team visit indigenous Australian communities to survey improvements to their housing the first thing they do is offer to replace fuses, repair toilets or shower heads. Paul understands one of the basic rules of community organizing and
solution based advocacy: Don't promise to change someone's world, until and unless you can offer an immediate improvement to their lives. Solution based advocates won't be successful without engaged supporters. If you are promising a feast don't ignore the bread and butter.
Their motto, elegant in its simplicity is: No Survey without Service. Even with their impressive track record they don't expect people to
understand or believe their promise to improve housing until they have earned their trust. Their credibility is further enhanced because the repairs are done by members of each community who have been trained and paid by Paul's team. 75% of HealthHabitat employees on local projects are local and indigenous Australians.
Paul is a charming, multi-talented architect and Professor or Architecture at the University of Sydney who is more at home in the 'bush'. His work is impressive. He is a natural community organizer. Not only has HealthHabitat repaired and upgraded 6500 homes of
indigenous Australians but they have also changed the indigenous housing building standards for every Australian state government. In addition, by improving people's living environments they have positively impacted their health. For example, there has been a 40% reduction in key infectious diseases as a result of improving housing conditions.
Paul is intentional and strategic about systems change. He understands housing repairs are important BUT he wants to prevent them from happening in the first place. In doing so he has had to confront the myth that indigenous Australians either don't know how to take care of their homes or don't care. He has discovered the exact opposite: poor quality of initial construction plus normal wear and tear accounts for 90% of the problems.
I encourage you to peruse their website and see how their approach is being adapted to other countries (Nepal) and other groups (seniors).
Advocates wanting to make change can take inspiration from HealthHabitat's approach and ask: What can we offer our membership and constituency that would make a difference in their lives right now?
NOTE: this is part of a continuing series on Solution Based Advocacy – advocacy that seeks to implement proven solutions to tough problems. You can access other posts in the series by clicking here Tips for Solution Based Advocacy or the Tips category on the right hand side of this page.