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What is Community Development?

Guest Blog by Ross Nepia Himona

The following excerpt is from a paper “What is Community Development?” presented by Ross Nepia Himona to a conference of the Community Development Group, Department of Internal Affairs, 15 March 1999.

What is Community Development?

I could give you the definition of the USA based Community Development Society, which I belong to, but I won’t.

I will instead put to you the case for a profession of Community Development in Aotearoa / New Zealand, for I believe that we do not yet have a Community Development profession in this country.

Being community workers, as we all are, does not mean that we are necessarily community developers.

I remember well the decade from 1984 to 1994 when communities the length and breadth of Aotearoa / New Zealand were devastated by the economic turmoil created by the bloodless coup that saw the ideologues of the market seize power. I sat on the State Services Commission Social Impact Unit set up in 1986 or 1987 to give the impression that politicians and officials cared what happened in communities under threat of their livelihoods. We threw a token amount of money at a flood tide of problems, and in the end achieved nothing.

What struck me at the time was that a few well placed politicians, officials and businessmen – an absolute minority of the population – had seized the high ground and totally dominated the intellectual debate, and in a short space of time, came to totally dominate the economic, social and political life of the country – without any noticeable opposition…

Community is simply not on the agenda.

What does that tell us?

It tells me that communities come last in this country, and perhaps they always have, at least for a very long time.

It tells me that we don’t have a strong community lobby, that we don’t have any political clout, that we are not organised to properly represent our communities.

So what is Community Development?

It is of course a kaupapa or philosophy that puts communities first, and that fosters the individual within his or her community. It is a kaupapa that says that communities are best placed to identify their own problems, and formulate their own solutions and make their own opportunities. It is a kaupapa that says that political and business elites at the national level do not know what is best for communities.

But to me, it is also the development of a strong intellectual base, a strong academic discipline, to support that kaupapa, by communities in partnership with tertiary institutions…

It is a political stance by communities, led by Community Development professionals.

We need a profession of Community Development. And we need to be more than community workers.

We are all contributing good works through community service, as community workers, but unless we put community development on the political and economic agenda, that work will be in a vacuum, applying band aids to problems.

Community Development is a partnership between communities, Community Development professionals, academia, elements of the media, and local and central government.

But someone has to start somewhere. Someone, or some group, has first of all to put community development on the agenda.

Ross called for community development to be put on the agenda in 1999. Now in 2008 economic and ecological pressures are mounting and raising widespread concern. Strong local communities are needed that can understand what is happening and how to develop solutions. There is to be an election in Aotearoa New Zealand on Saturday 8 November. Is anyone going to prioritize community development as an agenda item?

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