Friday, April 25, 2008

Community Up

Dear Colleagues

The more one reads the newspapers and watches TV, the more it becomes clear that a community up approach to society's problems is needed rather than the domineering top down approach that seems to function almost exclusively by furthering more and more a destructive concentration of economic power.

There have been problems with concentration of economic power since the early days of the industrial revolution, and it can be argued that the problem was recognized throughout all of human history. But the science of how to maximize top performance has been perfected in business schools and popularised with initiatives such as EVA analysis (Economic Value Adding) to maximize stockholder value.

But "at what cost?" was never asked in a formal manner ... because externalities are ignored in corporate accountancy.

This is the justification for Tr-Ac-Net's development of a Community Impact Accountancy (CIA) system. In this system the rigor of accountancy remains, but the principles are not limited to the corporate organizational entity but applied to the community at large. The goal is for the community to have economic added value ... and for organizations involved to facilitating this to be profitable and sustainable.

With this CIA framework it now becomes possible for "community up" to work and be subject to a system of accountancy that facilitates its funding and its accountability.


Peter Burgess

Monday, April 7, 2008

What is needed for Community Centric development to succeed?

Dear Colleagues

There are enough examples of community centric development succeeding ... but success is by no means universal.

What are the key issues that differentiate success from failure? What are the patterns that will alert to future performance?

Natural potential
Some communities have all the natural resources needed to have success ... good agricultural land, good weather conditions, etc. Some do not. The underlying future potential is determined to some extent by what is scientifically possible. Maybe the community has timber, or mining potential ... natural resources that can generate socio-economic value.

Human potential
People potential is as important as natural resource potential. The power of people to make a difference is very, very important ... yet not well understood. People energy should produce valuable outcomes, but often does not because, as Dr. Yunus and others have said, there are systemic constraints that make sustainable progress impossible.

Systemic constraints
Systemic constraints are probably the biggest of the root causes of failed socio-economic progress. These constraints take many forms including a range of macro-economic issues that government has failed to address, organizational issues that don't get addressed, corruption at local, national and international levels, crime that is both local, national and international and both organized and ad-hoc, historic rivalries that get worse and not better over time, lack of knowledge about what is possible, issues of culture that constrain modernization and improved productivity, and so on.

Misguided assistance
The role of assistance ought to be positive, but this is not always the case. Assistance needs to be sensitive to local situations, but usually is not, and the assistance is all too often worse that the problem because it diverts scarce resources to secondary priorities of the community. Some assert that there has been a conspriracy to implement ineffective development ... and I would agree that development performance has been poor, but I think mainly it was well intentioned though extremely misinformed.

Need for learning ... need for information
Community socio-economic performance can be improved, but there is a need for learning, and for learning, there is a need for information. Much of the information that is needed is easily compiled at the community level ... but there is nowhere where this information can be styored and easily accessed. This is one of the goals of Tr-Ac-Net ... to create an easily accessible database of information that is relevant to the community. This should be every community, not just the ones that, by chance, an international NGO has chosen to support ... and this needs to be some two million communities and not some dozen or so, or even a few hundreds or even a few thousands. And if so many ... then there needs to be a systemic way of organizing the data and making the data useful for planning, allocation of resources and oversight. This is one of the things that modern social benefit accountancy has to be able to do ... and it can.

Local governance and local organizations
Good local governance and good local organizations are essential for success ... and these are far more common than is generally assumed. Outsiders usually don't know much about either, and the prevailaing systems of information are not much help. This component of information about communities must be strengthened so as to be a central part of any dialog about development and the allocation and use of resources for community development. These governance and organizational entities do not need to be big ... but big enough to have some relevance in the community and at the scale of the work. A self-help group (SHG) of women organizing micro-credit may well be enough as a start ... and far better than many of the better known NGOs that have rather little local community knowledge.

Local infrastructure
Infrastructure makes a difference ... but critical infrastructure need not always be built and maintained using external funding and external initiatives. What is wrong with doing most of the work with local effort and local resources. Of course, some items may be needed from outside ... like cement, perhaps, or mechanical items like pumps or generators ... but local initiatives are the key to having good local infrastructure.

Yes ... of importance ... but prevention is better than cure. What can the community do so that most disease is prevented? Better water, better sanitation, better living conditions, etc. ... and if there is illness, better care and medication so that the illness is cured and its spread is limited.

Education is important for children, but it is probably even more important for adults. Children need education to help them to understand what is possible, and with that to be able to make a contribution to society. But as adults that contribution can be improved year after year by continuing to learn, and especially to make the basics of learning more and more applicable in the local society. Though there is more education going on today than at any time in the past ... the value of his education is only a small proportion of what it could be if education we optimized for its relevance to society's needs.

Culture and sport
Life is about having fun ... and culture and sport are key part of this. Nothing wrong with different cultures, and healthy competition in the sporting arena ... but as a component of having a life that is fund and worth living.

Spiritual life ... religion
For many ... perhaps most people ... there is a spiritual component to life, and people do have religious beliefs that are important to them. To the extent that this is an enrichment of life, and gives meaning to life, and informs the ethical character of society there is a lot of good. Where is becomes a cause that justifies conflict and constraining the quality of life of others ... not at all good.
Because there are many components to successful community centric sustainable development ... there is a history of cutting corners and simplification. Neither helps to get a good outcome. Tr-Ac-Net is trying to create tools that will help to make it possible to optimise resource use in a complex situation.

What is missing from the above list? What needs extra emphasis?

What is wrong? What is right?


Peter Burgess