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Changing the economic paradigm through developing community enterprises in rural areas

By Murray Hunter - posted Tuesday, 29 April 2014


There is an incidence of neglect and poverty throughout rural societies around the world. While urbanization is quickly taking place across the Earth, rural societies are very quickly slipping behind. This is not just a 'developing country' affliction, the rural regions within many developed countries have declined economically, where potential opportunities are sparse.

One of the greatest problems of today's rural societies is finding culturally sustainable activities that provide both material and social wellbeing for the individuals and families within them. In the developing world, this occurs because of the erosion of traditional skills, and lack of access to the logistical supply chains that can propel rural products to international market places. Due various reasons, there is a general loss of access to sustainable opportunities within many rural regions around the world.

Rural communities require a new paradigm to achieve their aspirations. Too often, government agencies try to develop these communities within the 'occidental development paradigm' which destroys traditional skills, cultural integrity, and the social fabric of local communities. Too often rural communities are destroyed with the intrusion of factories, plantations, and other corporate for profit endeavors. When enterprises are located within an area purely for profit purposes, there are usually dramatic costs to traditional communities, like deforestation, erosion, and loss of the means to live off the land.

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In post industrial societies like Australia, the problem is the opposite. Government agencies and support services have been mostly wound back or closed completely, leaving the members of local communities to fend for themselves.

The craftsman died in favor of the industrial man, who is becoming extinct in post industrial societies. The industrial man is not a sustainable economic or social entity within any community. This paradigm will always travel to the lowest bidder, where we have seen industry transferring itself from Detroit to China, and beyond; service industry from Las Angeles to India, and corporate headquarters moving from a single location into the legal cloud, where single legal jurisdictions, accountability and transparency are almost non-existent. The industrial man has proved only to be a temporary phenomenon.

Possessing the skills of a craftsman is no longer something to be proud of. It's all about achieving higher education qualifications and credentials which have no craft base anymore. People today tend to aspire to a white collar existence, where ICT skills replace craft skills. We live in a brave new world where skills become redundant very quickly.

In 2014, which is already in the second decade of the new Millennium, so many rural communities exist within a form of poverty which is not even defined by the Millennium Development  Goals. The greatest ignored form of poverty is the absence of opportunity to better oneself on one's own terms within one's cultural persona. From this perspective, ways should be found to assist communities to create their own opportunities, where opportunity poverty can be eliminated.

In Thomas Friedman's "The World is Flat", markets have become concentrated with few players, and no real competition. They shut out the individual and restrict the concept of market cooperation among small economic units, in favor of dominance by large corporate multinationals. This shuts out opportunities for community based enterprises, which are seen as 150 years outdated, from the current corporate and industrial paradigms we have assumed as givens.

To all of this there must be an alternative, or else the gap between the urban wealthy and rural poor will certainly widen due to lack of rural entrepreneurial opportunity, bringing two distinct and different worlds to this Earth - economically unsustainable urban clusters and neglected rural hinterlands. This is the basis of concern for our very existence, where the only spiritualism that exists is materialism of excessive consumption without any thought, defined and shaped by the urban cultural frameworks  that exist today.

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The quality of rural life is declining due to neglect, where something must be done. An alternative mode of social-economy needs to be created to assist in the reversal of this trend.

This is where community enterprise can provide some hope that alternative paradigms can help elevate the imbalance between the out of control urban virus and growing rural death. The international Fair-trade and Thai One Tambum One Product (OTOP) movements have shown that this is possible in making positive impacts upon local communities.

Community enterprise should be one of the people, for the people, and by the people. Community enterprise is about finding new ideas and developing them into opportunities that may allow a community to exist and prosper on their own terms, rather than those imposed by others. Community enterprises act upon local values, which are allowed to evolve naturally, rather than through the imposition of external values through outside programs, or a bulldozer. Most importantly, community enterprises can be the natural guardian of the local environment and eco-system and protector of local culture.   

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About the Author

Murray Hunter is an associate professor at the University Malaysia Perlis.

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