A Pre-Community Economic Development Process

There is an ever growing movement towards Community Economic Development (CED) as an approach to economic renewal in both the developed world and developing world as everyone adjusts to the transformations and shifts in industry, wealth and social needs.  There are many definitions, approaches and concepts which fall under what is called CED.  There are those who focus only on the economic aspect within this concept.  They narrowly define economy as business and enterprise.  Thus the efforts and resources are targeted towards business and the community aspect gets lost.  There are even some who suggest that CED is just a variation of a top down approach to local and business development, a concept which has fallen out of favour in most jurisdictions.  In some cases, proponents of these more traditional economic development approaches are gravitating to more community focus because they see it as a means to keep their organizations afloat and maintain their positions of power and control. 

This introduction is meant to build an understanding that preparatory work is required before unfolding a Community Economic Development (CED) process in a community or launching an education process to inform and educate people of the concept.  Its intent is to stimulate, clarify and raise issues that must be given further consideration even by those who would attest to be experts.  It is intended to cause reflection for those entering into this course of study.  But as importantly, to build an appreciation of the obstacles and challenges, as well as, the opportunities and benefits that will be experienced by those who intend to use the CED process as a means of community transformation and change.

A genuine Community Economic Development process is founded upon the basis of “people at the heart” and development as a process.  People must be are considered the core and raisin d’etre of any development process.  It is not just a linear approach to projects and funding programs but a much more integral and diverse concept.  Communities require people with belief in the place where they live, pride in what the community stands for and a spirit to do what is required for the betterment of all.  Economy needs community in order to be vibrant, balanced and sustainable.  The human element is imperative as without people there is no community, no economy and no future other than for whatever creatures that exist in the wild.

A CED process most often includes many (or all) of the following elements.  It is:

  • Based on values
  • Relates to a process – which is continuous, evaluated and adjusted
  • Founded in education (capacity), not ideology or indoctrination
  • Relates to freedom as responsibility
  • Built on knowledge, not control
  • Sustained through inter-generational sharing and learning
  • Founded on people’s involvement, support and influence
  • Resistance to complexity (of language, terminology, institutions, etc,)
  • Implicit in togetherness, cooperation and tolerance

CED evolves from the coming together of people for the common well being of all and as a means of ensuring more sustainability than possible by individuals alone.  CED is a genuine process of human education, development and improvement.  These are all long term endeavours.  Building community is fundamental to any healthy economy.  It is not easy, quick or without tension.  The opposite is true – it is arduous, slow and stressful for everyone.  Shifting the “collective mind set” is a challenge, especially after years; even generations of conditioning.  Sometimes building true community appears an impossible task and often only generational change shifts the thought patterns that have become engrained.

Unraveling flawed and even corrupt processes, rebuilding local institutions and recreating community economies are prerequisites to community transformation.  This will not happen quickly, nor will it be easy.  It will require involvement by many.  It will require a new awakening, a rebuilding of consciousness and much nurturing.  Overcoming a resistance to change even when this change is beneficial is perhaps the greatest hurdle.  Often influencing institutional and existing societal processes is as great a challenge as change at the grassroots level.  A community initiated and led development process must be founded in human compassion built on human kindness and sustained through human sharing.  The basis of a true CED process is rich in all three and addresses the social, economic and spiritual wrapped in the sanctity of our environment.

A true community economic development process has not only people at it heart but respect as its guide.  This means sincere respect for oneself, for others, for traditions and culture and, most of all, for difference.  That’s why there has to be varying approaches to CED to ensure there is respect for the different jurisdictions and conditions in which people find themselves.  It is also why there has to be varying approaches to the process and the educational programs developed which will provide the basis of understanding of this course of action.

Community and local development processes are initiated in a number of ways.  Some are spawned by local complacency, a crisis or economic or social change.  An individual or small group of local people come together in reaction to the dilemma.  Sometimes they are stimulated by a local organization or Non-Governmental-Organization wishing to initiate some local project or action.  Oftentimes the process is created by either local or other governments or businesses who wish to create new activities, infrastructure or to stimulate community life.  In some cases they are created by external organizations, for spiritual, social or economic reasons or simply because they want to do “good things”.

But, fundamental to a community driven process is a critical mass of citizens with the knowledge and capabilities to initiate, plan and implement, with the help of many.  The activities and tasks required for change to occur and social and economic conditions to improve must be shared.  The primary consideration is a positive attitude to acquiring new knowledge and skills that will be required in any new development process.   Cultivating this positive attitude to learning is often the most crucial element required to introduce and initiate an education process into a community.  Creating an education and training program requires much consideration in its development and delivery.

This CED Educational program is as much about creating this positive attitude towards learning, as it about creating awareness of the true value of self determination.  It is about laying the foundations that lead to the creation of a true mosaic of people groupings and local action.  It must provide the basis of transformational thinking, deeds and activities necessary for community renewal and advancement.  This program has to identify and reinforce the talents, knowledge, skills and interests of not only participants but those with whom they will encourage and influence to engage in their communities.

This learning experience is also about the exploration of ideas, opportunities and hidden talent that lie dormant in the environment of the community and its people.   These learning sessions should reveal how creative thought, caring feelings and attention to peoples’ true values are critical to societal and economic renewal and enhanced quality of life for all.  These courses should lead to a discovery by all of the shared hopes and aspirations for the future that people hold in their hearts.  Most of all the courses have to generate create passion, excitement and confidence for those who participate, as they will be the follow on educators for people in their communities

These courses have been designed to give people a perspective on CED, its philosophy, its foundations and its ability to achieve change.  Most of all, they have been designed to give people a flavour of its complex nature but simplistic focus of people at the heart of their own development.  They are based on a particular set of local experiences and reflect this.  They have been designed to provide information, build knowledge and develop certain skill sets.

Educators know that genuine education process is meant to inform and stimulate and open one’s mind to new possibilities and approaches.  But they also know that any course or series of courses has limitations.  CED in itself is a community education process meant to open peoples’ minds to new thoughts, wider horizons and ultimately a different way of life than what they are experiencing.  It too has its limitations and is not a panacea.  Neither is it meant for everyone, like this educational program – they are both intended for people with a genuine interest in their own development and that of their communities.

In the pre-development stage of any community economic development or education process there are many things to consider.  They include such issues such as:

  • The approach to gaining access to people and acceptance by them – gaining the trust of an individual or a small group of people is a pre-requisite to such processes.
  • Finding ways and means to tap into peoples genuine feelings in order to reach their true passion
  • Understanding the knowledge and perceptions of those whom you wish to engage
  • Clarifying with them the relationship of their understanding with current realities
  • Clarifying peoples values and beliefs as a starting point for education
  • Stimulating the awareness understanding and confidence of people to attend and fully participate
  • Providing the awareness of the importance of continuous learning as a necessity in a changing world

These courses (like CED) are not the definitive approach to education or development and won’t guarantee that life will be different or better.  But the essence of these courses will validate that CED in other areas has opened wider vistas, new experiences and knowledge to those that have genuinely been engaged.  It can be demonstrated, for many, it has created a definitive improvement in their lives.

Like the community process itself this educational program must be delivered and implemented in a number of ways in order to provide different experiences to those who participate.  The elements of these courses have to be considered as tools that need to be molded and shaped to accommodate the diversity of people who will have an interest.  They are just the building blocks and stepping stones to a wider sphere of knowledge.  Learning is a personal experience as is one’s experience in the development of their community.  A functional, healthy and genuine community evolves from the collective personal growth that fits their character, talents and feelings of its entire population.  A successful educational program achieves the same.  As such, because individuals learn in different ways so this program needs adaptation, personalization and flexibility in its delivery.

The optimum means of utilizing this training and furthering its development is in conjunction with a community economic development process.  This allows the incorporation of peoples aspirations, needs experiences, and natural talents to be incorporated into the development process.  The basic uniform model that is presented must be adapted to real learning needs so that a whole new learning experience emerges for the participants.  The deeper it is tied to real issues and opportunities the richer the learning and the more enhanced the development process that it is meant to support.

By way of suggestion here are some approaches to the utilization of the material and courses found in this book:

  • As a stand alone program for anyone who would like to attend.  This is usually delivered in three – three day educational sessions.
  • Over several months with exercises and practice session scheduled between each session – this would be best suited to those engaged in development activities in their communities.
  • Adapted to a development process which has started and progressing in a community or region – components can be offered when people happen on an issue or a challenge and need new ideas, techniques and tools.
  • Built into a development process being planned for implementation in a community or region.  The courses can be offered systematically over a scheduled time frame allowing real life experiences to be built into the learning process.  The time frame should be enough to allow methods and tools to be tried and tested – perhaps over a two year period.

It is evidenced that the educational program encompassed in this book can be used in a global sense to provide awareness and to inform.  Likewise it can be equally used in a more individualized learning experience where people acquire what they need when they need it.  And there are many variations between both these methodologies.  Most importantly, is to recognize that the richness of the learning will be enhanced the more it is adapted and to local people, their own learning needs and their own personal applications.  The more it reaches into the hearts and souls of those participating the richer the experience for all and the more rewarding the education and the subsequent community economic development process.

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