The Community Collaborating program is intended as an initiative that will help isolated communities (initially in California) become fully sustainable as vibrant communities, while facing the exceptional challenges of a fragile economy, often dysfunctional government, and disrupted climate and physical environment. The key to building fully sustainable communities lies in the building of something called community capital – which consists of three elements: (a) natural capital (all the things that nature provides for us), (b) human and social capital (the people that make up a community) and (c) financial and built capital (the built structures, manufactured goods, information resources and credit and debt in the community).
Human and Social Capital
The second element, human and social capital, lies at the heart of the Communities Collaborating program. This program is intended to honor the existing leadership resources of the participating communities that is to be found among those men and women who are either emerging in their exercise of leadership in their community or are now serving as leaders in their senior years. The power of this program lies not only in the identification of these leaders and in the collection of their life narratives, but also in the connections that are being made among these leaders and between these leaders and other members of the participating communities.
Human and social capital concerns the way people work together to solve problems or run the institutions that exist in a community. It involves volunteer efforts and the community’s governing structure. It involves the enhancement of skills, the provision of education and the provision of adequate health services to members of the community. Human capital is the recognition and full use of the human potential that exists in organizational settings. Set in sociological terms, social capital is the building of social cohesion and personal investment in a community.
How does a community build human and social capital (especially the latter)? This element of community capital is built through civic engagement. Civic engagement, in turn, helps to build human and social capital. On the one hand, it takes human and social capital in a community to build the foundation for effective civic engagement. Just as a building can’t be constructed without sufficient financial capital, so a civic engagement project can’t be mounted without the requisite skills, knowledge and motivation of men and women in the community who wish to become engaged.
On the other hand, it is through civic engagement that men and women build new skills and knowledge, and discover the skills, knowledge they already have – as well as discover and intensify their own motivation to “give back” to their community. Communities Collaborating operates on both sides of this dynamic interdependence. This program enables leaders to identify and trace out the implications of their own skills, knowledge and motivation (the human and social capital side of the equation). It also enables these leaders to fully explore ways in which they can more fully and effectively participate in and address the critical needs of their community (the civic engagement side of the equation).
What then about the third element of community capital—financial and built capital? How does this third element enter into the equation and relate to the Island Community Project. The link between this third element and Communities Collaborating might be found in yet another strategy that is becoming quite important in the field of community development. This strategy is called social entrepreneurship and it involves (as the name implies) the use of entrepreneurial principles (from business) in the organization, creation and management of ventures that achieve important changes in social structures and improvement in social services.
First encouraged in the creation of new social service agencies to serve the severely underserved human needs found in many third world country (Bangladesh being a prime example), social entrepreneurship is now being embraced by many men and women seeking to address the unmet needs of North American communities. Typically, a social entrepreneurial project involves collaborations between nonprofit organizations, for profit businesses and government agencies. In some cases, these projects involve micro-funding of key demonstration projects, while in other cases the project involves bringing organizational and managerial expertise to the men and women who have identified an unmet need and have successfully advocated for the addressing of this need in their community.
This translation of advocacy into action resides at the heart of social entrepreneurship and offers an important challenge to Communities Collaborating in terms of future directions and broader participation of community leaders in further building this third element of the community capital equation. Social entrepreneurs create and maintain institutions that generate financial capital, that enable previously disempowered men and women to build things, manufacture things and provide services, and that build the infrastructures that enable information to flow and commerce to take place. These are enterprises that enable a community to address the fundamental economic issues of credit and debt.
How do community leaders help to build new alliances that involve nonprofit, for profit and governmental institutions to address critical needs in the community? What additional skills, knowledge and motivation is needed (if any) to work as social entrepreneurs in these communities? How do banks, corporations, small businesses, educational institutions, health care institutions and human service agencies come together to establish entrepreneurial enterprises that effectively serve the community (while also being sustainable enterprises)? Communities Collaborating has been initiated as an inter-community effort to answer these questions.