Economic Development – the conundrum of community

During the seventies and eighties it was relatively clear that economics was about business, and as such, development was about business attraction.  This picture began to blur with advances in technology, global mobility and governments reaching the limits of theirs fiscal abilities.

This shift poses a dilemma for policy-makers in Canada and those elsewhere in the developed world, as centralisation of power reaches its apex. Current government retrenchment with its ensuing devolution of responsibilities to more local areas is causing interesting dynamics in the field of economic development.  Traditionally considered the domain of more senior levels of governments, such development has gradually been taken on by those involved in activities and governance closer to the local level. The need for local development initiatives is becoming evident and thus the necessitity for new policy development. 

There is a conundrum as questions arise. Can local governments or development organisations really represent and provide all the needs of a geographic community or is there a broader milieu that needs to be harnessed and supported?  Is development a service to be delivered or is something that evolves from initiative, activities and a supportive environment?  And, there is the continuing struggle to define what constitutes community.  I have discovered in my journeys, that the issues that rural people everywhere are addressing are the same and those of urban environments not dissimilar.

Twice during this century, other generations experienced the precursor of the change we now appear unable to avoid.   The economic depression of the thirties and the social revolution of the sixties challenged established concepts and institutions.   Processes that were utilised in working in the margins of those times became adopted as mainstream endeavours.  Especially, as the significant challenges were eventually being experienced by those more in the mainstream of society.  It was only when the economic and social impacts were felt outside the margins that such activities were encouraged.  Only then, were forms of community development allowed to surface, bringing to the fore the potential of people when they coalesce around issues.

The nineties brought us to another similar but profound juncture, as in the thirties and sixties, the impacts of technological advancement and societal evolution began to impact those further up the chain in society.  As we enter a new millennium, local initiative and involvement are again being espoused as the route forward.   Similarly, as in other times, I would suggest, it provides those that would advocate authority a release from their responsibility, as they promote more local control, devolution and individual responsibility.  By enunciating decentralisation, more senior levels of government perhaps feel that they can deflect accountability yet, retain their position of power.

With all this posturing, will real community building be allowed or, as in the previous eras, when the crisis is past will it be relegated back to the margins?  Will community development be recognised as a continuum, or will it stay the perceived medium of retrenchment during periods of dramatic or rapid change, utilised by those in power when their own solutions are found wanting?

Development, I would argue is not something that can be delivered either in the form of programs, grants or infrastructure as governments have attempted.  It has been clearly demonstrated that money and organisational support in themselves are not the solution for rural and other marginalised communities.  The real challenges, are human issues.  These could be alleviated with more feelings, better knowledge and more willingness by those who characterise themselves at the top and those perceived to be at the bottom to confer – to communicate and then to act.

Policy and ensuing initiatives must focus on linking people, often those with disparate interests, so that real communications can take place, and the legitimacy of those disparate interests recognised and understanding achieved.   The real challenge in development and in governance is the encouragement of people participation, thus providing them forums for legitimising their own talents, skills and beliefs.  Obviously, following this, will be the need for polices and methodologies that support the growing milieu of individuals and organisations who are pursuing local and personal interests so that society is improved and enhanced – the real purpose of development.

Personally, I believe that the essence of community is about feelings.  Feelings emanate from knowing and knowing comes from awareness.  The more that we become aware of our environment, our circumstance and those who share the world with us, the more our knowledge grows.  Expanded knowledge creates stronger feelings, deeper relationships, and an enhanced recognition of our inter-connectivity resulting in a stronger sense of community.

Terms such as awareness and knowledge are the language of education and that is why, I believe, education and development are intrinsic.  The interrelationship of education to community development in both the thirties and sixties suggests that.  Thus the focus for development, education and community must ultimately be on people and their inherent talents, capabilities, needs and ambitions.

It is my contention that community begins when two people share.  The sharing is what creates the economy, and subsequently, lifestyle.  Development is neither the beginning nor the end; it is the process and the measure of our ability to share.  It relates to people, their aspirations, their dreams and, fundamentally, their own efforts to bring these to reality.  Thus each sharing is a new beginning, new development and a new reality.

Prepared by

William W. Pardy

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