Archive Article: Building Communities 5th April 02
December 30, 2008

Communities are more than just the physical spaces in which we live, work and play. They are as much about the people we interact with in different facets of our lives, as they are about geographic locations. A new report brings all this to life in a very useful way.

Last Tuesday, Mission Australia launched a very important report entitled “There’s Something Different About this Place”: Local, National and Global Directions in Community Capacity Building.

“Community capacity building” is part of the new way of looking at social welfare. An example from assistance to developing countries helps to clarify the importance of community capacity building. There are two types of foreign aid. There is the immediate disaster relief following a war or natural disaster. Second, there is the long-term development to improve the lives of people by building up them, and their communities.

By the same token, the old approach to Australian social welfare used to be the provision of cash and some other items in kind: a form of disaster relief. There is still a need for some emergency relief because people do from time to time get caught out in their own personal disasters.

But there has to be more attention to long-term development. Otherwise, there is a risk of people becoming too dependent on welfare handouts. Instead of such handouts, there should be hand-ups.

Returning to the Mission Australia report, then, the report looks at the four approaches to building up communities in Australia. First, there is the need for community economic development to put money into a locality. This could be done via for example, government expenditure on infrastructure or housing.

Second, there is social enterprise, such as the Boys from the Bush project involving Indigenous young males in northern Queensland, who learn how to distil, package and market oil from eucalyptus and tea trees and the oils are then sold (gift packs were given to the leaders at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Queensland as a souvenir of Australia). The project has contributed to a reduction of crime in their localities.

Third, there is the involvement of the business sector in community-business partnerships. Businesses are expected to put something back into the community and their employees (especially younger ones) want to work for companies that display a social conscience. The report shows how businesses are contributing to community capacity building.

Fourth, there is the role of micro-business (businesses that employ less than four people). This is a growing area of employment. Therefore, people are encouraged – such as through the New Enterprise Initiative Scheme – to learn how to set up and run their own business. Such businesses are based in the local community.

To return back to the example of helping developing countries, some countries have grown well and others have not. There is no one single key to success. But a great deal depends on moving away from just disaster relief to helping people stand on their own feet. By the same token, assisting Australians will require more than just cash payments. There needs to be more attention to long-term development. This report shows how it can be done – and there are some illustrative case studies.

Broadcast On Friday 5th April 2002 On Radio 2GB’s “Brian Wilshire Programme” At 9pm And On 7th April 2002 On “Sunday Night Live” At 10.30pm