(This picture was taken after one of many training sessions that were held for all who participated in the project. Education was a major component of this Community Economic Development project.)
Why Community Economic Development is so Important to Ukraine:
It is not hard when one first arrives and travels in Ukraine to feel despair for the land and sympathy for the people. Traveling through the countryside and visiting communities one is able to view the seemingly endless array of empty and rusting factory and large mostly derelict farm buildings, the street lighting that is no longer operational and the rubbish heaps that seem to be everywhere. These are the remnants of broken systems of economy and of local services that people are struggling to renew.
But in a short time one is able to realize that that perhaps twenty or more years ago when these factories and collective farms were in production and community infrastructure was working that people must have felt they lived in prosperous times. Much the same as people in the most western countries must feel today as they struggle with the changing balance of economics and influence. Everyone was apparently employed, people were busy going about their daily chores and local services were available even though they had to endure the repressive environment under which they lived.
A new image starts to emerge of these huge producing factories, fully operating municipal services with very significant community infrastructure and buildings and the local routine of people as they worked in these large factories and large farming operations. Tracing the evolution of decline to what one sees today with these huge rusting hulks, little by way of municipal services (not even waste removal in many places and streets and sidewalks crumbling) and people selling produce and goods wherever they can find a niche in a marketplace or along the streets and highways. Both images of course only relate to the physical, the rational and the visual.
It takes more time, insight and probing to get a fuller picture, an image of the social and spiritual, attitudinal nature of those that live here. This is the where the real essence of community shows and where the vitality of community rests and where the beginning of renewal begins. It is this image that must be exposed and shared and built as that is what will begin to change the notion of sympathy to empathy and the feeling of despair to that of hope. This image is slowly emerging as one sees the signs of renewal, the development of new infrastructure and the awakening of people to the positive realities of where they live.
Ukraine has a wonderful and picturesque countryside and natural attributes that others can only envy and resources beyond their own understanding. It has a history that is rich in intrigue, dynamism and depth and a culture that has emerged from this long and varied history. It is a culture that many in the developed world can only imagine as they have pushed their own cultures aside for the new “mono” culture that seems to have much of the world in its grasp.
Most importantly Ukraine has warm hearted people and family based community beliefs that are only a fond memory for most of the cities and towns in many areas of the world. It has a level of education that is unrivalled in most of these countries as well. But most of all, it has a sense of spirit and belonging that I only can compare to the those of places where migration has not fully taken root in the developed world and is certainly not evident in most of the nouveau cities. It has a level of security and safety in its towns and cities where people roam by day or by night and enjoy many of the freedoms long lost in the west because of fear and legislative responses to the fear. Yet most of this is lost on the local people in their isolation and the quest by the young to capture all that is perceived to be advantageous in a consumer society. This causes a level of rigidity of thought as people rush to embrace a new openness without full appreciation of what they already have.
I see the rigidity of thought and mindset here as local groups attempt to push the limits of what could be. There is, among many, a belief that life, society, law and governance operate in a field of colour that ends at black and white. For many there is little room for experimentation, innovation or flexibility. For some their interpretation of democracy is as a rigid construct where people and government are separate and not a harmonious relationship between people and those they choose to be their leaders that true democracy must be. Some of these attitudes are perhaps historical but also a partial means to protect the advances that they have made over the past decade or so.
What I am learning in my short time here and from my experiences in communities that systems are only as flexible and malleable as the people within them. Rigid thinking and mindsets influence the systems that have been created. This rigidness and intransigence is where the corrosion starts and the break down begins. And that is where a true approach to Community Economic Development (CED) (as outlined in my other essay “Building the Foundations of Community”) is of value.
It is why a Ukrainian created process of CED is so fundamentally important to this country at this particular juncture of history – a process to address the recurring themes that are heard when one visits local villages, communities and towns. It is a continuing refrain of the need for attitudinal change, of the requirement for self belief and confidence and the opportunity for people to be able to develop their own potential. But, I believe that the most important need of people is to be aware, understand and appreciate their values and the value of what they have already which is clearly evident to someone from away. A CED approach, if fully embraced, will hopefully balance both the external pressure to adopt social and economic approaches causing devastation to communities in most countries. It will also bring awareness internally to those most anxious to have all that they perceive people have in these countries and an appreciation of the societal costs and what will be forfeited.
The basis of a genuine locally developed CED process would be of tremendous value as it will truly engage people in a community process and not just business projects. It will ensure that the value system they have been able to maintain, throughout their horrific period of suppression, continues to flourish. Such a people centred process will assist them to identify and build their own leadership and organizational base. There are many lessons to be learned from such processes in other jurisdictions of the world where others have they have adopted such approaches, only after the destruction has been more severe and communities in real jeopardy. The awareness and understanding by people and their appreciation of their “place” and true values will enhance their confidence and true community spirit. Entrepreneurial attitudes will evolve and locally based economies will emerge, have true meaning and full recognition in the whole economic order.
But the basis of a locally created CED process will require dedicated leadership, willing people and a belief that people themselves have all the answers they need to solve the seemingly insoluble problems they now encounter. It will take a leap of faith by many to adopt a new approach and build on the positive attributes and provide support to the many fledgling efforts now appearing under the banner of CED. In Ukraine people have an awareness of their history; have pride of place and many have a sense of hope for the future. Now they just need to create a process of true openness, trust, collaboration and sharing that will take them to the next level of their own consciousness. The foundations of education are evident, the institutional tools are in place and the willingness for change is spreading. The catalyst for action has to be identified and the support system developed for such a process to take root and become a dynamic force for human progress.
There are some things in life that we can control and others we can’t, that is fact. But in life we can influence everything, if we have the belief, the will and the support. Ukraine has the ingredients for a new and vibrant future but needs to ensure the right combination and mix and create a process of CED to be the blender.
Written by Bill Pardy
For the CEDU Project, Ukraine
November 10th, 2005