The community information and support movement - a walk through time

At our 2016 AGM, CISVic had the fortune to hear from Merle Mitchell, who was instrumental in leading the growth of Springvale Community Aid and Advice Bureaux (now South East Community Links) in the 1980s and 1990s to become a key community, grass roots service in the south-east region. 

Merle spoke about the Citizens Advice Bureaux movement in its early days, of the power of collective action, and reminds us that what ultimately matters is that we must not lose sight of "personal interaction – the one on one contact, the relaxed friendly approach.  No technology will help the woman who rings up frequently to ask how to get rid of her old papers and after gentle conversation says she has been bashed again.  Yes it’s a real story and it took several phone calls, all a repeat of the earlier ones before she took the actual step and left."

Merle concluded with a challenge CISVic to reinvigorate the movement and face contemporary challenges head on:

"So I’d like to finish with a challenge by describing the philosophy on which I believe every human services organisation should be based. If I help a person whose problem comes from a systems failure and I don’t do anything to work to change that system then I have failed that person.  People are not failures.  It is the system that lets them down.  What are you as an individual, or your organisation, doing to stop the increasing divide between ‘the haves’ and ‘the have nots’, the disappearing Aussie notion of ‘a fair go for everyone’, the loss of important services?  Who are you networking with? Who are you talking to?  What are you doing to ensure the voice of the grassroots community is not lost?

As I said earlier, collectively you can become a real voice for change.  Be that voice.  You are needed!"

Merle Mitchell's speech can be downloaded here.