Jordanian Citizens Take Own Initiative with Grassroots Advocacy

  • Darren Cunningham

In Greater Jerash municipality, a public park named Al-Jabal Al-Akhdar Park had fallen into disuse over the years. Many citizens thought that the park could still serve its purpose of benefitting the community after some rehabilitation work, and wondered how they could make this happen.

When Jordanians want to improve a quality of life issue in their municipality, creating a plan of action can oftentimes be a difficult next step. IRI has previously assisted municipalities with cleanliness, beautification, and now street lighting, but it also hopes to create sustainable solutions where its direct assistance is no longer necessary and citizens know what they can do and who they can contact to fix a problem.

To teach citizens what they can do to improve their municipality and to further the democratic ideal that individuals can directly affect change, IRI taught its partner groups of civically-minded Jordanians called “Citizens’ Committees” the basics of grassroots advocacy. The initial workshops to teach grassroots advocacy were held in August 2015, and Committee members learned how to recognize root causes and effects of problems in their municipalities, along with identifying the stakeholders that influence each issue. Several of the Committees noted that their municipalities contained public parks that had closed, and that this would be an ample starting point for a grassroots advocacy campaign that puts the skills they had learned to practical use. The Committee members then set out to collect signatures from citizens in their communities that supported their campaigns to reopen public parks.

After they managed to collect over 3,000 signatures in support of the park’s reopening, the Committee members applied the next step from their lessons and began to identify stakeholders that could make it happen. They began with the mayor and municipal department directors, who welcomed their campaign and offered to assist but admitted they would not be able to pay for all of the needed improvements. Instead, they proposed that the municipality host a fundraising meeting where they would invite representatives from the public and private sectors as potential donors.

This meeting took place on January 31 of this year and representatives from telecommunications companies, the Chamber of Commerce, municipal directorates, fuel companies, exchange shops, restaurants and other private companies from the community attended. The Citizens’ Committee members gave a presentation showing themselves collecting signatures, the current derelict state of the park and proposed landscape designs of what the park could look like after improvements. They then distributed estimates of how much the rehabilitation would cost, and the mayor answered questions from the audience regarding why the park was needed and who would maintain it. While many of the company representatives present said they would have to report to their managers to confirm any potential donations, there were some immediate responses; the manager of the Jerash Agriculture Directorate said that they could provide trees as well as professional engineers who could help in the renovation process, and the manager of the Jerash Culture Directorate said they can provide painters and designers.

While the Citizens’ Committee members are still waiting for enough donors to support the reopening of the park, it is important to note that all of this progress has been driven primarily by citizens concerned about their community, not IRI nor elected officials. These citizens have organized around a common cause, found supporters, and learned who they will have to contact and what steps to take if they want to improve their municipality. Notably, the campaign was the first to utilize private sector collaboration, and paves the way for future companies that may be willing to help their municipalities as part of corporate social responsibility. 

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