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Empowerment and Community Development

By Thomas Woodfin

Community development (CD) requires a particular set of values and activities which are aimed at alleviating poverty and other demerits in a society and many times this requires developing leadership within the community. Leadership practices in CD bring together a society through the promotion of a democratic way of life. Leadership in CD involves bringing together diversities of knowledge and skills within a community so that stakeholders can take part in handling the various matters that impinge on their daily lives (Cary, 1983). CD is often related to the development of local leadership. This relationship is established in that CD operates based on the principle of tapping in to the archives of wealth, skills and experience that are hidden within a particular community. This means that ordinary people in the community will be availed by taking advance of the opportunity to offer their abilities for the benefit of the entire community. As a result of this principle of allowing people to participate in solving the issues that have an effect on their lives, potential leaders are easily noticed and their capacities can be developed. As the people in the community participate in shaping their society, the potential leaders are then given the responsibility of overseeing particular groups as well as specific activities in their respective groups of operation. Therefore there is a direct and coherent relationship between CD and the development of local leadership.

How Community Development Relates to the Development of Local Leadership
A common aphorism is, "It is not what you know it is who you know." This sums up much of the conventional wisdom regarding developing local leadership. When a community falls upon hard times, it is the friends and family who constitute the final safety valve. Leadership is needed in every aspect of the community from large development projects to people's homes. Parents lead by devoting hours of their time to the school board and help their kids with homework. They lead and understand that a child's intelligence and motivation are not enough to ensure a bright future. Many times leaders are developed by talking with neighbors, sharing meals with friends, participating in religious gatherings, and volunteering on community projects.

An example of failed leadership occurred in Orange County's economic growth as Moffitt (1999) illustrates: "Small town after small town went through a predictable five- to seven-year cycle from sudden massive urban sprawl to rampant dissatisfaction by newcomers, then on to political upheaval in recall elections, and eventually to political exhaustion. Divorce ran high; ideological extremism was even higher" (pg 233). Economic growth in a community without effective leadership results in a lack of integrative networks, and newcomers usually find themselves socially adrift, politically lost, and culturally frustrated. Leadership is needed to make a community strong when the economy grows, and "the greater the change, the more viable community need be" (Moffitt, 1999 pg 238).

Leadership is a good thing for CD. In the last 50 years, leadership has put forth efforts to help solve many issues in society including poverty. Various countries have come from developing to "middle class" such as Brazil. A global team has done more in the last 50 years than it has done is the first 500. The leadership in the world came together and developed organizations such as the United Nations, which has created a global focus on achieving CD. To support this thesis, in 1997 the "UNDP Human Development Report observes that over the past 50 years the world has made greater progress in eradicating poverty than during the previous 500" (para.12).}

During the 1960's, leadership created a strong economy in Brazil and the high rate income helped get people out of poverty. The poor in Brazil benefited in the rapid economic growth of the decade increasing their incomes by up to 60% while the comparable figure for non-poor families is around 25 percent (Fields, 1977). These increases would have not of occurred without leadership from the community. Marches, protests and organizing allowed for Brazilians to receive a more equal distribution of the wealth the country received. The alleviation of poverty in Brazil creates a more sustainable developed situation. This accomplishment provides an example to other developing countries who wish to industrialize and modernize in a fair and ethical manner.

CD is also related to the improvement of local leadership in that community developers carry out their assignments by working hand in hand with individuals in the society. Local leaders are therefore developed because the goal of CD is only achievable by empowering individuals to grow in their respective areas of operation and abilities (Kirst-Ashman, 2007). This means that the specific individuals who will be accrued with the privilege of working hand in hand with the community developers will be able to tap in to knowledge and skills which will afterwards be passed on to their fellow community members. By looking at CD from this perspective, it is clear that community developers must affect and positively influence the lives of particular individuals who will in turn lead their people on the same path. The stakeholders working hand in hand with the community developers are therefore developed in to local community leaders.

How Leadership Impacts Positively or Negatively the Concept of Social Capital.
Social capital creates partnership and reciprocity in the society by underlining the importance of social networking as well as the advantages that the participants in the affairs of a community are bound to enjoy. The essence of leadership is embedded in social capital (Field, 2008). The aspect of leadership can affect this concept either positively or negatively depending on the quality of the leadership in place. Weak leadership can negatively impact social capital because there is an inability in the leadership to bring people together for a common objective. It therefore follows that the togetherness of the people living in the society will be impaired. The poor connectedness can be as a result of the people not trusting in the decisions made by the leadership. An example is a case in which a specific task is to be carried out within the community and positions are available for people to be hired. If the leadership is not able to make the decisions on who will carry out the task at hand, then the people lose their confidence. This results in a withdrawal of the willingness from the people. In such a case, the poor quality of leadership negatively affects the concept of social capital.
Popple (2002) states, the UK uses two main leadership methods for CD-a top to bottom and bottom up. The bottom up approach positively affected social capital, for leadership is developed from within the community itself. For example, in the UK, they attempted to solve why people in the community are not in good health. The UK discovered there is much interconnectivity within the health problems for UK citizens. The people increased their social capital value by investing to solve these interconnected health problems; thus, creating a collaboration of entities to tackle housing, unemployment, crime, pollution and other range of factors (Popple, pg 79). The interrelation between these problems within the inner city is an example of a failed community needing effective leadership, for leaders are needed to interact with other agencies and get all players involved to solve the health problem. A top down approach to solving problems negatively affects social capital, for is not as effective as it would be when stakeholders participate (Popple, pg 83). In a top down approach, social capital is influenced from where the money goes; thus, many people are forced to participate. Leaders that are formed from those within the community have incentive to help the community and may become better leaders and increase their social capital values.

How Culture and Values can Foster and Hamper Community Development Interventions
How culture and values could be seen as positive and negative may be interpreted differently, because those terms are relative and their understanding could viewed differently from one to another. Culture and values can hinder or promote CD depends greatly on whether the culture and values are positive or negative (Normore, 2008). An example of a community that is composed of people from two or more ethnic backgrounds, whether CD interventions will prosper or not will depend on whether the culture and values of the ethnic groups allow them to mingle with each other or not. In a case where one group or all of them have a way of life that does not allow their interaction, then CD efforts are more likely to experience hardships. This is the direct opposite of a case where the groups have cultural values that allow them to mingle freely. It is therefore evident that the success of CD interventions will largely depend on the degree to which the cultural values of the participants in the community allow them to interact.

In conclusion, the success of CD interventions will always largely depend on the levels of literacy in particular communities (Normore, 2008). It therefore follows that the cultural beliefs and values of the community towards education will likely determine whether the process is hindered or promoted by the community members. A community that has developed a culture that values education will have more people co-operating with the community developers as compared to a community that has downplayed the role of education amongst its members. Leadership is needed in a community to make sure that education is part of the culture agenda. Education increases social capital potential and leadership makes certain that education happens. Social capital is increased when the leadership champions for social capital by making the right decisions when it comes to the hiring of personnel. Socially, capital will be positively impacted by leadership when the leaders do not hire people entirely on the basis of their know-how and skills. This calls for a selection criterion that also looks at the individuals' abilities for establishing social contacts and relating with other people (Halpern, 2005). By doing this, the leadership will have a positive impact on social capital. Leadership has a positive impact on social capital when leaders come up with programs that encourage cultural interaction and individual participation in both organizations and at community level.

Read more: Urban Community Development: a key to change urban setting

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