Empowerment Theory

Empowerment Theory
Definition: According to Ledwith (2005), "Empowerment is not an alternative solution to the redistribution of unequally divided resources." Empowerment is more than providing the resources for one to help themselves out of poverty, it is the act of providing the necessary tools to shape the whole person and promote a critical way of thinking and consciousness. (Ledwith 2005).
Application: This theory can be applied to development work through the action of going to a community and waiting on the outside to be invited in. The idea of "treading lightly" is to work alongside individuals and not possess an overarching power. Action needs to be taken through advocating for change on both an individual, community, and policy level. Empowerment can be attained through working together and forming a collective state of consciousness that promotes and encourages change.
Adapt: This theory could be adapted into an office business amongst the employment team. Instead of the leadership exerting power over their "trainees," the empowerment theory could be used to promote a collective voice in the work environment. This theory, when executed correctly and collectively, has the potential to change the face of business centers and the ways in which people of power interact with people of lesser power in the business world.
Source: Ledwith, M. (2005). Community Development (pp. 1-55). Portland: Policy


  1. Apply: Empowerment theory can also be applied in community development by involving members of the community in organizational planning processes. In this way community organizers can engage community members and provide an opportunity for members to take ownership of the direction and future of their own community during transitional times.

    Adapt: Empowerment theory could be adapted to education in a classroom setting. Instead of working in the traditional teacher-student roles in which students listen and absorb all the information that the teacher is giving them, teachers can invite different students to be responsible for different topics that will be covered in class. This would empower students by allowing them to be an "expert" on a given topic and provide them with an opportunity to play the role of the teacher.

  2. Apply: Empowerment can be used in community organizing when developing new initiatives in a specific community. By empowering the citizens the community organizer can instill a sense of pride and ownership that the citizens may not have had. Empowering citizens can help them understand they have strengths to offer the community and that their community belongs to them and not someone else.

    Adapt: Empowerment theory can be used in working with people in recovery or therapy settings. By empowering people who have dealt with substance abuse or depression you help that group recognize shared feelings and experiences; realizing they are not alone. Helping them realize this can help them to overcome different problems they have faced in the past.

  3. Apply: Empowerment is often used in the social action model, as it seeks to motivate communities in the change effort as they challenge power structures. Community organziers, leaders and groups often form in the communities that are experiencing oppression, but they may tend to deal with the symptoms of oppression, rather than the root of the issue. Therefore, Organizers may create a food pantry, a shelter, or an after school program to combat the issues found among the oppressed group. However, it is more effective to challenge the system and encourage citizens within the community to mobilize. Empowering citizens by awakening their “consciousness” is vital for community change.

    Adapt: Empowerment is also beneficial in treatment groups. Using this theory in groups allows for members to gain consciousness through critically thinking about their feelings, behaviors, and thoughts. Groups can be powerful because members in the group assist other members by encouraging them to face the deeper challenges that are present within their lives. The group facilitator also uses empowerment, as they seek to motivate group members to take initiative and work on the goals they have set while in the change process. In this perspective, the group leader does not provide the answers to the group members, instead the group leader seeks to have members resolve their issues, and use the other members as resources.

  4. Apply: Empowerment can be use in community building process. Members in community building process could be provided with tools to help themselves rather than community leaders finding solution for the members.
    Adapt: the new "business incubator model" that was created by one of agency located in Detroit, adopted the empowerment theory in their business model. According to this theory, the organizers facilitates the community members' discussions of their entrepreneurial ideas and goals, and help them strategies their plan of action with the help of each other with in the community; therefore, once the organizers leaves the community, the members could continue to support each other. Also, the idea and the goal of the business comes from the community members, and the organizers are only there to facilitate the process of information and skill sharing among the members.