SEM’s main priority is transformative experiential education, through differing types of activities, including trainings and exposure visits. SEM engages in this form of capacity building in order to address the root causes of societal injustice. Trainings focus less on skills, and more on perspective development, through facilitation and dialogue, the use of nature as a teaching and learning tool, and reflective experience. To ensure the experience is holistic, learning encompasses a balance of sharpened mental faculties and cultivating the heart, along with learning by doing (head, heart and hands approach).
Within this approach, SEM also recognises the importance of cross-community learning as an empowering process that values the deep wisdom of sustainability that is held by many people within the region. Comparative learning through community-to-community exchanges builds confidence and elevates such accumulated wisdom, while also challenging notions of academic institutions as the sole proprietors and generators for learning and accumulating worthy social knowledge. Here, communities are able to understand their own value, and engage in a learning exchange for mutual benefit that draws on rich lessons that are contextually applicable. Learning in new contexts also provides a degree of space to observe, compare and reflect, from which participants are able to understand and evaluate more clearly the issues within their own communities and its interconnections with wider regional and global processes.
Another key strategy over more than 20 years of working in Myanmar has been facilitating connections and relationships among people in order to form networks and platforms for wider social movements to develop and build synergy for advancing needs and aspirations. SEM has supported the linking of diverse groups through broad issues within geographical areas, and across social strata – from rural grassroots communities to the urban middle-class. We view these networks and movements as a key mechanism by which people are able to participate in, and influence social change.
As a cross-border organisation, SEM provides networking links to the region and beyond, identifying synergies to build movements for collective action. We aim to create channels for long term partnerships across actors and organisations, ensuring that experiences from Myanmar are represented and supported among the international community.
SEM also partners with a number of international networks, and is able to channel and build on new ideas and skills from the international community, in order to strengthen local organisations.
SEM’s implementation strategy is mainly through collaboration and joint partnership with other civil society actors at local, national and regional levels. As a foundation, SEM builds partnerships and facilitates cooperation that draws on common values to achieve a more just, dignified and compassionate society. These partnerships help to develop space and support for local organisations to create their own mandates and work towards achieving their own objectives.
SEM works from an understanding that meaningful and sustainable social change will stem from local civil society and local communities together, with the support of other stakeholders. As SEM believes that each organisation possesses its own strengths and expertise, and a collaborative partnership approach synergises and enhances different organisational strengths to tackle complex issues and build wider support.
In the field, SEM plans and implements activities together with our partners, sharing resources and expertise. As certain activities and implementation may require broader support which one organisation alone is not capable of, SEM is also able to mobilise wider networks at cross-border, regional, and international levels. This is the core for SEM’s implementation in order to walk side by side and grow with our partners, towards a shared goal of strengthening a movement for social change.
Community Mobilisation and Advocacy
SEM encourages advocacy efforts primarily through community and civil society mobilisation. SEM believes that these groups have their own capacities, not only in identifying negative impacts affecting their lives, but in collaboratively working together to envision and create changes they want to see, including advocating to involved stakeholders.
SEM promotes a community-driven advocacy approach – providing space and systematic support for growing and mobilising communities, especially through a variety of research tools. These tools are practiced by affected communities not only to collect relevant data that can be utilised for advocacy and community planning, but also to empower them through the recognition of their own existing resources and values, which can promote ownership and commitment to social actions to improve their quality of life. SEM believes that this empowerment process is key to challenging mainstream development processes that have marginalised grassroots people. These processes enable communities to engage in shaping their own development by identifying and finding solutions to problems, and advocating and practicing sustainable alternatives. SEM recognises that formal advocacy channels should be activated where possible, in order for affected communities to participate in establishing priorities and policies.
SEM recognises the importance of advocacy not only for policy change, but also for social change. Therefore, SEM supports behavioural and attitudinal changes that can influence social values. In this way, developing networks in order to form social movements is not only a strategy for garnering space and voice for policy influence, but encouraging through practice among wide groups of people, a change in values and behaviours that are capable of determining shifts in social norms.
Across each of the different themes of work, SEM’s approach will integrate the following crosscutting issues dependent on priorities within context of each project implementation.
Inclusive Participation and Diversity: The programme ensures participants in all trainings and activities from different ethnic and religious groups. SEM will continue the implicit aim of its work in Myanmar, which began in 1996, to build cross-ethnic and religious collaborations, bridging politically-inspired divisions that have encouraged an atmosphere of distrust and disunity among people, and entrenched a denial and inability to fulfil their basic human rights.
Through collaborating and respecting diversity can gradually break the decades old practice of ‘separate and divide’ that has effectively perpetuated stereotypes that generated prejudice and isolated citizens and civil society. Eventually, a critical mass of socially conscious civil society actors who actively promote and practice inter- ethnic and interfaith values, will be able to effectively address and break down socio-political divisions.
Gender Equity: The programme ensures at least 30% women in all activities, as well as for SEM staff. As mentioned above, in terms of promoting social justice and non-discrimination, be it based on gender equity, ethnicity or faith, are SEM’s guiding principles. Hence, gender awareness is firmly embedded in all aspects of project work, including ensuring adequate gender equity in all its training activities; staff recruitment; and beneficiary profiles, as well outcomes. Adequate women’s representation and participation for decision- making are also important pre-conditions for advocacy actions.
Ecological Principles: Considered in programme design, and where applicable, integrated into activities. Deep ecology has been integral to SEM’s work since the existing programmes’ inception in 1996. With growing livelihood security issues as a result of Climate Change, we see a deep ecological approach as vitally relevant to support any mitigation and adaptation actions, by ensuring perspectives and attitudes lead to actions that are rooted in sustainable understandings of interconnection and responsibility.
Social Justice: We believe that compassion and understanding is essential to underscore any actions that work to promote equity across society. We also believe that actions for social justice embrace the entire natural world around us which includes relationships among humans.
Personal Growth (inner ecology): All of SEM’s activities take into account our belief that social transformation is intrinsically connected to and catalysed by personal transformation. Engaged spirituality and personal growth for self-transformation are central to the programme ethos – see below 3.3 for an overview of SEM’s philosophical approach to education.
Conflict Sensitivity: A culture of non-violence is promoted and addressed in all activities through self-awareness practices, reflective learning and community building. Working to build bridges across social divisions can bring to the surface the multitude of attitudes and perceptions that have been exacerbated by structural violence. SEM believes that by stimulating personal growth during activities, attitudes and perceptions are able to be explored, while values of respect, compassion and understanding nurtured, in order to challenge patterned responses that become violent on multiple levels.
Cultural Integrity: Developmental actions are often rooted in a modernist agenda that ignores the realities of how societies situate themselves and relate to the world around them. There is also an implicit inferiority that comes with modernist development actions, whereby a linear approach – towards urbanism, democracy, consumer capitalism etc., – posits ‘traditional’ societies as on a path that inevitably leads towards these modernist goals. By exploring ‘traditional’ cultural norms and practices, which are mostly holistically connected to the environment, to belief systems and to ethical behaviours, SEM believes that people are able to understand the values that uphold their societies and their own identity, and, thereby, discern which existing and new norms and practices may not be relevant, with those they wish to nurture.