villager in Batu Barat, Borneo

What is "Radical Listening"?

Radical listening is trusting community members to be the best solvers of their problems. It means asking for individuals' ideas and implementing their solutions. We believe that Radical Listening offers a simple but effective approach to problems like poverty and environmental degradation.

What does radical listening look like?

Many aid programs falter or fail due to lack of cultural understanding. But Health in Harmony uses radical listening to design programs based on community needs. With this approach, we are able to connect with the communities we serve.

Before choosing a site or determining how the Alam Sehat Lestari (ASRI) program would work, we listened.

Instead of coming into Gunung Palung National Park with a preconceived idea of how to stop illegal logging, we met with individuals and listened to their input for over 400 hours. Through this process, the community clearly identified several drivers of illegal logging. They told us that they lacked access to affordable, high quality health care. They also lacked economic alternatives to logging.  We let these needs shape our programs.

As ASRI grows, it will continue to be guided by community input.

When the number of loggers dropped but some logging persisted, ASRI began to radically listen to village leaders. They suggested that each community appoint one person to work one-on-one with his logging neighbors to find them alternative livelihoods. The result was the Forest Guardians program, which has remained very successful since it began in 2011.

ASRI's Sustainable Farming program also thrived, thanks to radical listening.  When farmers in the program didn't have enough fertilizer to grow their crops, ASRI decided to try distributing goats.  These goats would produce manure, an ideal fertilizer. But ASRI needed to figure out how to distribute the goats fairly. Community members came forward and requested that the livestock go to widows, and ASRI listened.

They learned that widows were some of the most disadvantaged members of the community, with the least economic opportunity and the most need. Today, the Goats for Widows program has distributed several hundred goats. And they produce plenty of manure for the Sustainable Farming program!

The villages around Gunung Palung National Park are active members in protecting their rain forest and creating the ASRI programs that help them do so.

At Health In Harmony, we view radical listening as key to our success. We strive to use radical listening in our everyday interactions with staff, board members, donors like you, and our program partners.

Want to learn more about how to apply radical listening to your organization? Contact Us

*Photo credit: Erick Danzer