During February 2020, the Social Change Model (SCM) project traveled to the Free State and the Eastern Cape to meet with our ambassadors and explore potential synergies between our and their workplan for the year. It was imperative for our expectations and objectives to be aligned as far as possible to ensure that the SCM project team could adequately capacitate and support ambassadors in the work they will carry out in their respective communities.

IJR ambassadors are individuals who hold and carry out the work of the Institute in their respective areas. These individuals are community leaders and activists, and any person interested and enthusiastic about community development and community healing. The presence and efforts of ambassadors in the areas where we work are crucial for the continuation and advancement of social justice and reconciliation processes, and are a critical resource in building fairer, more inclusive and democratic societies.

To advance justice and reconciliation projects is laborious work and requires unwavering commitment, a great deal of patience, and resources. As the SCM project team, we are in a good position to dedicate all of our efforts toward rebuilding and restoring communities, because this passion is also our vocation and we are remunerated for furthering social justice. Our ambassadors, in contrast, have lives outside of social justice work and are unable to wholly devote themselves to the project that needs to be executed in their communities. The SCM team understood that its ambassadors have other responsibilities – both familial and work-related – and would not always be available to sustain the work as started by the project team. In response to this increasingly recurring challenge, the team identified other, younger and more active individuals who could take over the baton. In so doing, the work will be sustained and younger people will be given the opportunity to have a more credible voice in community development and processes.

The SCM project team also observed that the momentum for social change when we are present within communities is in stark contrast to what occurs when we exit those communities. When we return to the community in which we work we find that little has been done or achieved during our absence. There are multiple reasons for this, but one distinct cause of the change in energy is the rising problem of interpersonal and relational dynamics within ambassador forums that often hinder or slow the work that must be carried out. As response to the relational friction between ambassadors (and the potential tension between ambassadors and their communities) the SCM project team introduced and have started running a week-long workshop on conflict mediation with our ambassadors where we ask them to think of conflict as an opportunity for mutual understanding and reconciliation, and to think critically about how they typically respond to conflict and adjust their styles where necessary.

The project team intended to return to two additional areas where the Social Change Model project works, but have postponed all trips in the light of President Ramaphosa’s call to self-isolate and as a safeguarding measure to protect ourselves and those we work with from potentially contracting COVID-19. We move forward through looking at ways to support communities remotely and continue the work alongside our ambassadors in their communities once the South African government has successfully contained the virus.