Changing the Economic Paradigm through Developing Community Enterprises in Rural Areas

By Murray Hunter, Eurasia Review, April 30, 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 well-being 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 to 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.

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 Los 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.

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.

Community enterprises could empower communities through encouraging the re-acquiring of traditional cottage industry skills that create products of exceptional quality, just like the artisans and guilds did in the 18th and 19th centuries. These products can be distributed through new personalized supply chains around the world utilizing the internet and ability to travel across the globe very easily with the air transport boom. This community enterprise initiative can connect urban communities with the most remote rural communities across the world and bring a new face to consumerism.

So imagine a world where products can once again be individually produced by proud craftsmen which have an intrinsic quality that industrially manufactured products cannot provide. This intrinsic quality coupled with the knowledge that it sustains a remote community carries with it a sense of humanistic spiritualism. Thus through this compassionate consumption, any and every individual can make a difference and change the nature of modern economy, which has brought so many such heartache over the last few decades through downturn, manipulation, and fluctuation.

Through compassionate consumption, we can keep in check the ever more concentrated economy, and put in place an alternative people based system based upon community rather than multinational. Entities can become truly economically independent and evolve through interdependence based on people based rather than corporation based supply/value chains. Communities can then trade with each other on their own terms rather than those imposed by traditional market based economic paradigms.

We can have a society where people can use the finest traditionally made soaps and cosmetics, handmade bags and home-ware, where we appreciate the beauty of indigenous art, while domiciled in the centre of New York, Oslo, London, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, or Sydney. Anybody through their purchase can vote for maintaining cultural integrity of far away communities, and help to sustain them.

Trading enterprises can develop to assist these products reach urban communities through alternative supply/value chains to the “Wal-Marts” of this world. If a small percentage of consumer spending can be diverted to products produced by rural communities, sustainability can be supported in many eco-systems and hinterlands around the world.

So opportunity exists for people of the world to create an alternative economy, where the benefits go back to community based enterprises based upon traditional skills and appropriate technology rather than corporations. Achieve this and the world economy may expand beyond a one-dimensional system, which has failed to date to solve our economic problems.

This invisible hand has been devious and dealt the world a bad hand. It is time to make the invisible hand visible and seek a more sustainable world. Production, technology, supply chains, and the way we consume are important components of sustainability.

It is time to adopt alternative economic visions. Governments and consumer movements have to date been unable to do this, and this initiative can only be achieved through people genuinely working together. It’s time for new economic thinking which must start at the micro level, being building community based enterprises, that base their activities upon cultural pursuits where goods are transferred to other community connected enterprises that are empowered to make a difference. This is the brave new world that could be, as an alternative to a world controlled by multinational corporations, which are bigger than many governments.

Community enterprises in rural areas will bring a revival in the use of simple artisan based appropriate technologies which bring meaning to producers and value to consumers. It will allow people to exercise some sense of spiritualism towards humanity in knowing that their purchase sustains others with low access to economic opportunities than themselves. Moreover, community enterprises will provide an alternative, be it small, to the dangerous trend of massive multinationals that control the supply chains that urban communities rely upon for survival.

There are numerous barriers to this concept, mindset and acceptance of the status quo being very powerful forces. The current economic paradigm is supported by government regulation all around the world which states what enterprises must do to start-up and comply with economic rationality prevailing around the world today. These very regulations for example that have stifled many small businesses in the food and beverage sector within the EU, allowing multinational chains which have the financial resources to comply to regulation like, McDonald’s, KFC, Dominos, and Burger King, etc., dominate many markets at the expense of family businesses.

It is well time to take a re-look at the current economic models that dominate our lives and question it’s sanity and long term consequences to our social existence.

Murray Hunter has been involved in Asia-Pacific business for the last 30 years as an entrepreneur, consultant, academic, and researcher. As an entrepreneur he was involved in numerous start-ups, developing a lot of patented technology, where one of his enterprises was listed in 1992 as the 5th fastest going company on the BRW/Price Waterhouse Fast100 list in Australia.

Murray is now an associate professor at the University Malaysia Perlis, spending a lot of time consulting to Asian governments on community development and village biotechnology, both at the strategic level and “on the ground”. He is also a visiting professor at a number of universities and regular speaker at conferences and workshops in the region.

Murray is the author of a number of books, numerous research and conceptual papers in referred journals, and commentator on the issues of entrepreneurship, development, and politics in a number of magazines and online news sites around the world. Murray takes a trans-disciplinary view of issues and events, trying to relate this to the enrichment and empowerment of people in the region.

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