Organizations, including governments and corporations, cannot empower people, but they can give them the proper tools and the capacity to work actively in achieving the outcomes they want. For instance, incentives for good trusteeship of a local community’s natural resources by the community itself can replace tax breaks used to recruit multinational corporations with little or no stake in either the ecological sustainability of a community’s natural resources or the high-quality jobs needed to sustain a community’s cultural well-being.
In addition, organizations for economic development can provide expertise and financial backing, rather than merely ladling out grants, so that local community partnerships can learn how to create their own vision and plan strategically how to achieve their goals. Such support would include assistance in strategic planning for businesses, including marketing, to help communities retain those small businesses deemed critical to their social sustainability.
Local leadership can also employ measures of performance for agencies and their staffs to reward those actions that help the growth and sustainability of community partnerships. In this spirit, a governor, mayor, or city council can require the use of cross-agency or cross-departmental decision making and can combine funding for programs in order to increase the effectiveness and efficiency in the access of local communities to resources at the agency’s or department’s disposal. And greater devolution of decision-making authority to the local level can make participation in community partnerships more effective, which creates the opportunity for community self-empowerment.
A prerequisite for sustainable development in a local community is that it must be inclusive, relating all relevant disciplines and special professions from all walks of life. Setting a good example is one of the most important functions of any local organization or government involved in implementing the principles and practices of sustainable community development. Leading by example—breaking down bureaucratic barriers of turf through interdisciplinary crossing of departmental lines, recycling and buying recycled goods, providing day care, encouraging car pooling, and offering flexible working hours—increases not only the capacity of an organization to govern its own people but also its effectiveness and efficiency.
It is thus important for organizations to both identify departmental and community links concerning mutually interrelated issues and to bring all people affected to the table in an effort to collectively resolve shared problems, which means dealing with human diversity. Understanding and accepting diversity allows us to acknowledge that we each have a need to be needed, to contribute in some way. It also enables us to begin admitting that we do not and cannot know or do everything and that we must rely on the strengths of others with complete trust.
Diversity of thought, culture, expertise, and economic status thus allows all persons to contribute to the development process in a special way, making their unique gifts a part of the effort necessary to create a sustainable local community. Accepting diversity helps us to understand the need each person has for equality, identity, and opportunity in the process. Recognizing diversity gives us all a chance to provide meaning, fulfillment, purpose, and a gift of our talents to our community and future generations. Conversely, just as simplifying an ecosystem or complicating a mechanical system increases its vulnerability to destruction, so, too, will segregating diverse elements within a community lead to its social, moral, and economic decay, which may then spread throughout society, one community at a time.
Assuming people accept the notion of diversity, what is it they most want from the development process? People want the most effective, productive, and rewarding way of working together to achieve a common end. They want the process and the relationships forged therein to meet their personal needs for belonging, meaningful contribution, a commitment to a special place (their community), an opportunity for personal growth, and the ability to exert reasonable control over their own destinies.
Control over personal destinies and thus the destiny of a community can be increased if federal agencies will focus on a community’s goals for social-environmental sustainability. Having said this, however, it must be recognized that federal agencies (not the local community per se) have jurisdiction over public lands and thus are ultimately responsible for and accountable for the ecological sustainability of those lands as a national legacy for all generations.
It is also possible to create organization-to-community trusteeship contracts (including the government, local and otherwise), which recognize it’s the results that count, not necessarily how many rules were followed. Such action can devolve authority closer to the citizens of a community and simultaneously allow employees at all levels of government to empower themselves to achieve quality results, which may well improve citizen participation in the process of crafting a collective vision for sustainable community development—to the collective benefit of all communities within country.
Series on Leadership Challenges:
Return to the First Set of Posts
Text © by Chris Maser, 2010. All rights reserved.
This article is excerpted from my 1998 book, Vision and Leadership in Sustainable Development. Lewis Publishers, Boca Raton, FL. 235 pp. It is updated in my 2012 book, Decision Making For A Sustainable Environment: A Systemic Approach. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL. If you want more information about this book, want to purchase it, or want to contact me—visit my website.