All service activities should be aimed at meeting real and expressed needs in a community. Service activities must be planned and intended to contribute to addressing specific community problems or concerns. Service activities should always be carried out ‘together with’ or in ‘solidarity with’ the community and not done ‘for’ or ‘at’ members of a community. Service activities must involve community members not merely as passive recipients of the activity, but rather as active participants who are involved in the planning, execution and assessment stages of the service activity. In service-learning the ‘beneficiaries’ are not only the community members, but also the students who find opportunities for citizenship and learning through service in the community space. For this reason it is beneficial to form a partnership with a community based organisation which will assist in co-planning the educational and social goals for the service activity for your service-learning course or project.
For service-learning to be genuinely beneficial for community partners it is crucial that service activities are closely aligned with the community partner’s organisational goals and their mission. The Community Engagement Division works closely with a number of community based organisations in Grahamstown to develop our partners’ internal organisational structures to support their involvement in service learning as well as to adopt the perspective that students involved in service activities have skills and expertise to contribute to their organisations. It is therefore encouraged that you build on the relationships established through the Community Engagement Division between the University and these community based organisations when planning service activities for your service-learning courses.
Community-university partnerships bring the knowledge and expertise from the community and the university together in an attempt to find innovative ways to address issues of local and national importance. These kinds of partnerships can not only enhance the development within communities, but can also help to strengthen higher education. Building a strong partnership on the following guiding principles (Seifer and Conners, 2007) is crucial for the success and sustainability of any service-learning project:
- Partnerships are formed between parties to meet a mutually agreed upon goal
- Partners share in mutual accountability for the activities and outcomes of the partnership
- Partners identify each other’s strengths and assets and invest these in planning projects
- Partners are aware of the balance of power among partners and a partnership enables all partners to contribute equally
- Partnerships are founded on open, honest and ongoing communication, and partners strive to reach a shared understanding of all partners’ needs and interests
- Partners are all involved in a continuous process of mutual-reflection aimed at improvement of the partnership and the achievement of the mutually agreed upon goal
- All partners share equally in the benefits, rewards and awards for the achievements and outcomes of the partnerships
Community-university partnerships also bring together diverse groups of people with different backgrounds, cultures and working styles. The Community Engagement Division should be seen as a resource with knowledge of community partner organisational structures and cultures to assist staff members in navigating diverse spaces. It is important to keep in mind that community partners may keep different working hours to the university schedule, and it is also import to keep in mind that community partner organisations might not have access to the internet and email facilities or telephones. As with all partnerships, relationship building is essential. Maintain an open channel of communication with your community partners and make time to meet with them face-to face whenever possible, for example, take the opportunity to invite your community partners to campus to join in some of the classroom activities (meeting students and discussing their community organisation and site before students perform their service activity; joining in student reflection sessions; taking part in final student presentations or report back sessions). When communicating with your community partners it is important to ensure that the expectations you have for the whole course are clearly communicated and mutually agreed on, and you should have their expectations of your role and the role your students will play in their organisation clearly established from the outset. If any changes to your course or student’s service project(s) do have to be made after the initial communications were made it is imperative that all parties agree to the changes.
When a partnership is strained, when there is conflict between partners, or when the partnership does not appear to be mutually beneficial, partnerships are often dissolved. However, before dissolving a partnership it is worthwhile to try and work through the challenges which can often be resolved by employing various conflict resolution strategies or simply by opening up the channels of communication and allowing all partners to restate and clarify the initially agreed upon goals of the partnership.
Erasmus, M. and Albertyn, R. (eds.) 2014. Knowledge as Enablement: Engagement between higher education and the third sector in South Africa. Bloemfontein: Sun Press.
Lasker, R. 2001. ‘Partnership Synergy: A Practical Framework for Studying and Strengthening the Collaborative Advantage’. The Milbank Quarterly 79(2): 179-205. Available at:
Sandy, M. & Holland, B. 2006. ‘Different Worlds and Common Ground: Community Partner Perspectives on Campus-Community Partnerships’. Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning 13(1): 30-43. Available at:
Last Modified: Wed, 24 Aug 2016 12:10:19 SAST