local community - global networking
Franz Nahrada and Gleb Tyurin in their interview to the Russian information Agency REGNUM came up with their vision of a postindustrial future of rural areas and offered new approach to international cooperation in the sphere of community development. They offered to combine international efforts and information exchange to promote new pilot places of advanced development (starting with Archangelsk region in the North of Russia). It is an important incentive, as it necessary to promote new forms of cross-border exchanges in the sphere of community development.
In terms of the focus of our work in Russia is there important learning that can be applied from your experience?
Naturally, there are different national contexts and particular peculiarities but we have much in common, and operating as we do in modern industrial societies with all the issues that we face, it is right to say that we are in one boat. Looking at the situation in different countries, I am struck by the similarity between the conditions that appear to contribute to success and by the common obstacles and problems that act as a barrier to development. We really can and should learn from each other in order not to waste time and money and to get more understanding from shared experiences.
Rural development first of all is about changes. Demographic trends and changes in food production policy at global and European level have in turn brought about changes in rural societies and rural economies. The drift of population from rural to urban centres continues as people seek better earning opportunities and a better lifestyle for their families. As a result the level of services and opportunity for social interface also declines in rural areas. Food production has also become more centralized and has gradually been integrated into the flows of the market economy.
Implementing rural development initiatives that can engage with these forces and build socially and economically sustainable rural communities is a challenge. Introducing a momentum for social change to communities whose viability is threatened, and whose expectations are rooted in a different era is a very core issue, but one that is crucial in order to stop decline and destruction of rural areas and to overcome impoverishment and alienation. It is not an easy task and all I can do is share some of my ideas from the Irish perspective. I hope it can be useful.
The Irish perspective
Ireland has a long history of community development. There is a tradition of cooperative and collective working from earliest times. But we can say that modern community development started in Ireland at the beginning of the 1970s and it was stimulated through the introduction of European Anti-poverty Programmes. Ireland had a number of these programmes and they focused on trying to cope with rural and urban decline, unemployment, poverty arising from lack of income, discrimination and social injustices. In rural areas there was a focus on rural migration and other striking problems within rural areas, such as poor services – school, healthcare, transport etc. Although these projects made some impact and were helpful in developing models of work it was difficult to see meaningful outcomes that were bringing about fundamental changes in people’s lives.
Attempts to analyze why was it so, led to a deeper understanding, especially to the realization that when people were given everything from above, while it helped, it didn’t change things. It was necessary to involve people and to make them active players in the process. And it meant focusing on bringing about deep structural changes: changing the institutional arrangements that governed the way things got done and changing the roles and perceptions of key actors. It was necessary to build a new model – a partnership of stakeholders, agencies, business people, trade unions and, most importantly, local community activists . Only when this happened did we manage to take a step forward.
As a result of this, the third Anti-Poverty Programme at the beginning of 1990s introduced the concept of a regional partnership approach. This partnership approach was then embedded as a national model for local development and anti-poverty work in Ireland as part of the Community Support Framework funded under the Structural Funds. And it was fairly successful in Ireland. It became a real Irish model. The Organisation for Economic Cooperative Development (OECD) regarded it as a very successful model and promoted it in their member states. It could be shaped for Russia and would appear to fit very well towards the conditions and issues which you describe in rural regions of Russia. In any case it should be studied and taken into consideration.
What is the Irish model, and what can we say about partnerships?
Partnership is a consortium in which state institutions, business, trade unions, farming organizations and local communities combine their efforts in order to promote real changes in disadvantaged urban and rural areas. They have to work together, as there is no single actor or agency that can on its own address all the problems of rural areas. Each partner is really important as each brings their own specific abilities, resources and insights. Partnership unifies all these resources and applies sufficient critical mass to impact on problems, to force real change. We believe that in these partnership consortia communities should play the first violin, be the lead agent. They have to take the main role because sustainable ongoing development of rural areas requires a fostering of this ownership. The tools that make this happen are involvement and empowerment which enables people to be initiators and leaders.
The new role of Government
Sometimes it is not easy for representatives of authorities to understand partnership concepts; they are used to perceiving themselves as the main mandated players, and they are accustomed to supervising everything. But it is very important to accept that rural development can’t be provided by government agencies and authorities alone. By their very nature developmental processes are holistic and require enabling rather than directives. Decades of practice have proved it. Authorities can arrange a lot of activities, make decisions, start programmes, but without the fostering of a wider ownership many of them became self justifying items of expenditure and, when measured impartially, show no real impact. A top down approach doesn’t work. This lesson has been learned everywhere and applies to all countries. It is an important lesson to be borne in mind when planning.
Changes came about when governments became a partner. They provided the basic framework of objectives, main focus, target groups etc. They also provided the monies means, but didn’t assume a right or authority. When authorities make all the decisions they have a need to justify their decisions. Outcomes get blurred and communities remain just the passive objects of the exercise. But when communities are involved and have a say in what gets done, where it gets done and how it gets done they become a force capable of implementing it all.
In addition, it is a huge benefit for authorities because things work, the actions fulfill the objectives and communities benefit. So that’s what has to change. Sometimes authorities can not believe - or can not even imagine - that the population of marginal and excluded rural areas can be effectively involved into the development process. If we are agents of change then we need to assist authorities into this new role. Condemning them for there intransigence will change nothing, so they have to be encouraged to take risks, sometime small steps need to be taken until trust and confidence is built.
The need for a Development Agency
Development agencies are an absolute necessity. This is another important lesson: rural development requires development agencies - teams of people who can work professionally and apply themselves in a coherent and thought-out way to issues of local development. That’s what Gleb Tyurin did in Archangelsk region in creating a new reality for Russia. Someone has to involve and inspire people in the countryside to get them united and enabled to make shifts, to move things. This development infrastructure has to be able to bring inspiration, drive, belief and knowledge. It means special work with the population, making a catalytic intervention. This enables a special shift to take place inside communities. We can compare these agency interventions with hubs in digital networks. Each hub creates actions that contribute to significant positive change and becomes attached to another hub, thus building a network of developers capable of creating widespread innovative actions. As a result we have a set of interconnected agencies that work.
POBAL, where I work, is one of the key development agencies in Ireland. It was set up by the Irish Government and the European Commission in 1991 to promote community development and local development. It manages some €400M per year of state and EU funding implemented through a range of programmes and initiatives. There are other organizations where stakeholder interests are united through networks like the Community Workers Co-Operative, the rural link network, housing association networks etc. These hubs play absolutely crucial roles as they provide knowledge, skills and know-how to actors on the ground. This is what enables people to initiate and sustain changes. Knowledge and skills development is what moves everything along and these networks and agencies provide a vehicle for that to happen. As Nelson Mandela contends: education is the driver of change. If you look at really successful models of local and regional development it all starts with education. That’s where it gets started and that what allows it to grow.
Good Practises: The Case of Conemara
We can find very good examples of positive rural development actions in Ireland. Sometimes these projects bring new activities because they operate out of a widened sense of imagination. For example, in the Western part of Ireland in County Galway there is a village called Letterfrack where Conemara West operates. Hugely significant progress was achieved in a very small village and hinterland. It used to be a small settlement with almost nothing in terms of development activity in the area and outward population movement.
Conemara West provided the context to bring people together to develop the area. They built holiday homes for renting to create jobs and stimulate local economic activity. This gave them the confidence to move on to a more ambitious project, the creation of a furniture design centre. They started a furniture design school and eventually got university status. They have established a centre of excellence that is sought out by students across Europe and created many stable and permanent jobs. It is something nobody could even imagine at the start of the initiative.
From Farming to Adding Value
In the Archangelsk experience most projects are concentrated on farming, or let’s say part time farming.
In Ireland we try to sustain part-time farming as well as small production of selected food items - cheese, jams etc. Another important area of activity is promotion of small enterprises such as fashion industries producing tweed or linen. Tweed is a particular cloth made from sheep’s wool. It is a traditional tailoring cloth in Ireland and in some places people work on producing fashion items. There are also associated jobs created through the processing of wool and so on. There is a long tradition of promoting the development of tourism. While there are limitations to tourism – it creates seasonal and low paid jobs and profits tend to accumulate among a few local business owners – it does also creates jobs and does stimulate certain economic activity.
Most of these enterprises are very small, employing three or four people, but they constitute a variety of activity in these areas and many do very well. They contribute to the creation of local markets and regenerate the production of food locally, in a context where people are more discerning in their choice of food – reflecting concerns about healthy eating and the use of chemicals in mass food production.
Certainly they are based on technologies, often advanced modern technologies (digital or linked to computers). But it is small technology that people are comfortable to use such as the micro technologies for small scale production of special select beers, smoked fish, micro bakeries etc.
And there are growing local opportunities. For example, there is a growing demand for quality food. People are fed up with mass produced tasteless food and the organic market concept is becoming popular and is growing.
We need to think in terms of tangible things that are meaningful to the forces of supply (producers) and demand (consumers). We also need to create jobs so people can stay in the area and generate some kind of local economy, that’s what makes people stakeholders in their local area. But this to a very big extent depends on local democracy, and the participation and the stage of development of a local community. People think about creating viable and sustainable villages but this is only possible when there are equal opportunities within communities. This is what partnerships can help to promote.
I really wish success to all those promoting and assisting community development in Russia. I wish success to the initiatives taken by the Institute in which Gleb Tyurin works and to the Global Village network. I hope that greater links are established between Irish and Russian communities in the pursuit of knowledge and mutual learning. Links is very important in promoting new thinking.
With new technology it is possible to arrange video bridges between communities in Ireland and Archangelsk region (or any other region in Russia). In this way we can establish exchange of knowledge and experience.
I wish you success in your work, bearing in mind that the biggest challenge is the mind set of people. If they see no hope, can’t see the horizon, as often happens, there is not the slightest hope for the village or community. But if we manage to create hope and vision, things will change.