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Cornel Hart Wins Community Development Society Award

I Am UWC: Cornel Hart’s Heart Earns Her Inaugural International Community

The University of the Western Cape's (UWC) Cornel Hart ruefully admits she initially ignored an email notification that she had won an award because she only saw “congratulations you have won” in the subject line, and she had too much work to do to pay attention to a scam.

Luckily, she scanned her inbox a bit more thoroughly later; that’s how Hart, research methodology and community development lecturer and PhD researcher attached to UWC’s Division (transition to) School of Postgraduate Studies (D/SPGS) learned she had won the inaugural International Community Development Practice Award from the Community Development Society (CDS).

Since 2007 Hart has helped UWC students learn to facilitate community initiatives, coordinate interactions with communities, promote change and sustainable community ownership and conduct research in communities to facilitate and inform a participatory processes for improved wellbeing and quality of life.

A North American association formed in 1969 to attract a network of community development researchers, practitioners and policymakers, the CDS has attracted membership from all over the world. They created an awards programme in 1984 to recognize innovative achievements amongst members who advance the field of community development.

Dr Mary Leuci, Director for evaluation and engaged scholarship and former CD programme director of the University of Missouri - and the CDS committee member who nominated Hart - says this new award has been established to highlight the international scope of community development:

“For the past 15 years, CDS has been more oriented to welcoming and embracing international engagement as we live in a global world - and learning from all parts of the world is essential to research, practice and teaching today.”

She believes Hart was selected because of her contributions, and dedication to community development efforts, as well as  “her consistent record of engagement and empowerment that has shown sensitivity towards local circumstances, appropriate engagement and has engendered community empowerment; her innovativeness and local refinement of current community development principles and practice; and the impact of her work.”

Hart was unable to attend the awards ceremony which formed part of the CDS conference in Big Sky, Montana in July, but asked Leuci to read a letter to the Society indicating how honoured she was by the accolade. 

Developing Postgrads, Developing the Community

As part of the D/SPGS, Hart often works outside of regular lecture hours to accommodate working postgraduate students, designing and administering training sessions, offering advice and assistance. 

That is, when she is not working on her PhD model which will enable communities to gauge and drive their own processes towards wellbeing improvement, or doing research in various communities around Africa and draft social service practice policies for South Africa. She has participated in various ministerial task teams and committees which contributed towards the establishment of Community Development as an independent professional occupation in South Africa.

“The Minister wants it standardized and regulated,”  Hart explains, “and I support that - because communities can fall victim to do-gooders with good intentions who don’t have all the necessary skills. Good intentions don’t automatically mean good results, unfortunately”.

“We’ve been busy with the professionalization process since 2009 and it’s now in its final stages. If all goes well, by April next year there will be a professional board for Community Developers and it will fall under the Council for Social Service Professions,” says Hart. 

At the same time she was also working on qualifications frameworks and curriculum content for the Certificates and 4-year professional degree to be offered by colleges and 11 of the 25 South African universities in future - including UWC.  

She points out there is still much work to be done with some 124 policies, acts and bills to be reviewed in order to incorporate all Social Service Practitioners (SSPs) into one professional which came with “the envisaged mind-shift” several years ago when the then-Department of Social Welfare became the Department of Social Development.  

Hart’s current Community Development engagements are geared towards sharing the South African Professionalization process as a model for countries with the same intentions and she therefore became part of a working group of the International Association for Community Development (IACD) and CDS.

Hart also assisted universities such as UNISA, UJ and CUT with establishing NDP, Vision 2030 research partnerships with an M&E system model she developed in 2001 when working with several SADC Governments’ National Development Plans that required multi-stakeholder partnerships.  

Her current research and efforts focus on partnership establishment towards achieving the objectives of National, Regional and International Development Strategies for improved quality of life.  

Hart believes there’s no better vehicle than universities to establish partnerships with communities, private and public sectors because they not only provide skilled graduates but also critical thinkers and innovative researchers to resolve global challenges.  

And one university is uniquely positioned to provide strong leadership on this issue.

“I believe UWC can lead in showcasing such partnerships,” says Hart. “due to its historical role in achieving a democratic South Africa and its ethos of being an ‘engaged university.”