Nonprofits often use the word “empower” in their mission statements and messaging to describe their efforts to help people overcome barriers and achieve their goals. However, there is a growing movement in the nonprofit sector to shift away from the language of empowerment and instead focus on promoting autonomy and self-determination. In this blog post, we’ll explore why nonprofits should stop using the word “empower” and should encourage autonomy instead. Because, let’s be honest, you’re more creative than that!
Empower vs. Autonomy
First, let’s define what we mean by empowerment and autonomy. Empowerment typically refers to giving power or authority to someone to do something, such as empowering individuals to take control of their health or empowering marginalized communities to advocate for their rights. On the other hand, autonomy refers to the ability of individuals to make their own decisions and act on their own behalf, without being controlled by others.
So why should nonprofits focus on promoting autonomy instead of empowerment? Well, there are several reasons:
- Empowerment can be paternalistic: The language of empowerment implies that someone else is granting power or authority to another person. This can be seen as paternalistic or condescending, as if the person being empowered is not capable of making their own decisions without the help of others.
- Autonomy promotes self-determination: By focusing on promoting autonomy, nonprofits can help individuals and communities to take ownership of their own lives and make decisions that are in their own best interest. This can lead to more sustainable and long-lasting change.
- Empowerment can reinforce power imbalances: When one group is empowering another, it can reinforce existing power imbalances and perpetuate systems of oppression. By focusing on autonomy, nonprofits can help to level the playing field and create a more equitable society.
- Autonomy is more empowering in the long run: By promoting autonomy, nonprofits can help individuals and communities to develop the skills and confidence they need to make their own decisions and take control of their lives. This can lead to more sustainable and long-lasting change than simply giving someone temporary power or authority.
What to Do Instead
So what can nonprofits do to encourage autonomy instead of empowerment? Here are a few ideas:
- Provide resources and support: Rather than empowering individuals or communities, nonprofits can provide the resources and support they need to make their own decisions and take control of their lives.
- Foster partnerships: Nonprofits can work in partnership with individuals and communities to help them identify their own needs and goals, and provide support as needed to help them achieve those goals.
- Encourage participation and collaboration: Nonprofits can encourage individuals and communities to participate in decision-making processes and collaborate with others to achieve their goals. This can help to build confidence and develop the skills needed for self-determination.
What Words to Use Instead of Empower
- Build capacity
- Invest in
- Build up
In conclusion, nonprofits should shift away from the language of empowerment and focus on promoting autonomy and self-determination. By doing so, they can help individuals and communities to take ownership of their own lives, build confidence, and develop the skills needed to make their own decisions and achieve their goals. This can lead to more sustainable and long-lasting change, and help to create a more equitable and just society for all.
Need support in clarifying your mission statement or messaging? Reach out for a free audit and consultation.