Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Change Challenge

Today, around the world, a battle is raging between two powerful and competing themes. While global in nature, the conflict has profound implications for local communities like yours and mine.
The first theme is that change is inevitable and powerful, and that humankind must adapt to new realities. It believes that we will adapt through education and training and by constantly revisiting, reviewing and revising old norms. The desired outcome is an optimistic and egalitarian society in which social and cultural values and norms morph into a more global sense of community citizenship.
The competing theme sees change as a negative force requiring powerful resistance. Change is a threat to traditional social and cultural values, and is an inherently destabilizing force in communities. This view sees comprehensive public education as an agent of that threat, undermining the anointed or appointed community leadership. “Educated elites” are mistrusted and gender separation is encouraged.
That’s the general nature of the opposing forces in this global battle- and it is truly a global conflict. French lawmakers are debating legislation forbidding women from covering their faces in public. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, girls attending school are the targets of acid attacks. Israeli political debate swirls over whether or no there should be forced gender segregation on public transit. The legal code of Saudi Arabia mandates caning for women observed talking to men other than their husbands. In the U.S., recent federal government initiatives to reduce the public health threat posed by the over consumption of salt is being strongly resisted by groups raging about “Elites” trying to regulate and change “the American way of life.”
That’s a snapshot of the nature of this very nasty battle. It’s a war without rules and without boundaries. Canadians– including Albertans– are seeing the opening tussles in our communities. In Quebec and British Columbia’s lower mainland, we have already seen community pushback against the changing face and values brought about by change.
Where does your community stand on the preservation of its’ historic nature? Does it see change as inevitable, manageable and desirable, or is it as seen as a threat to the community value structure? Is the community focus on planning for the evolution of the community, or is it on protecting and preserving tradition and heritage?
Active, committed and engaged communities should thoughtfully prepare their response in this battle for the future direction of their communities. How they respond could well determine their long-term community survival.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Open For Business

In a world of internet-driven “instant fame”, we sometimes forget that enduring success doesn’t happen quickly or easily. That’s true in our personal and professional lives, and it’s true in community-building. Active, committed, and engaged communities don’t happen by accident, and they don’t happen overnight. They are the result of hard work by all community sectors working together.
One of the key elements in progressive communities is a strong nucleus of support from their business sector. Yet there is very little public discussion about the role and responsibility of business in the evolution of the communities in which they operate.
Why is that? I suspect that it is at least partly due to the powerful influence of key “anti-tax”, “pro-business” lobbies like the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. These organizations reflexively resist taxation- the source of capital for public investment- as an impediment to business growth. Their media sidekicks portray tax increases as a flagrant attack on the interests of those patriotic Canadian (and multi-national) businesses who bring jobs to Canadian communities. Such groups give short shrift to the significant business interests in community social investment or community environmental protection.
Does business really have an interest in community self-investment? Do successful, sustainable businesses require good roads in the community to serve their customers, suppliers and workers? Does a school educating current employee’s children and tomorrow’s workers benefit a sustainable business? Does a company operating in a community for the long haul benefit when its’ host community has a sustainable physical and social environment?
There are many businesses in Alberta that answer with a resounding “yes”, and they back their words with their resources. They contribute their taxed and donated dollars, and provide the volunteer contributions of their staff to the community. It’s worthwhile noting that these community-minded businesses include businesses with local, Canadian, and/or multi-national ownership.
There are also companies that drive hard bargains with host communities for free land, tax holidays and other perks paid for by the community. Yet, as the people of Edmonton recently learned, companies like Dell Computers quickly hightail it out of town when the going gets a wee bit rough.
Sustainable businesses are an integral part of holistic, sustainable communities. Community leaders are right in working hard to attract business that generates employment. However, it’s a two-way street, and it’s two-way bargaining. The community needs to sell itself to the business and the business needs to sell itself to the community.
That’s why active, committed and engaged communities will continue to seek businesses that are in business for the long haul and the common community good. They will quickly weed out those who are looking only for the “least-cost site”. After all, who needs a business that’s here today and gone tomorrow?