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Social competitiveness

[ Summary ]


Chapter 1:
Social competitiveness in the territorial approach


1.2 (Re)building the social competitiveness of rural areas


The situation of rural areas that are to a greater or lesser extent de-structured, other-directed, torn apart, or have no capital of trust would not necessarily cause concern if the market economy alone could ensure their development by integrating individual producers into the market. That is how many areas worked in the past and some continue to do.

However, things are now changing:

  • For businesses, economic globalisation and stiffer competition make access to lucrative markets increasingly harder to achieve. For small-scale producers, restoring the viability of businesses, especially agricultural ones, by integrating them into the right markets (quality products and regional produce, for instance) often calls for collective action.

  • In most cases, the handicap of scattered communities, services and businesses in rural areas can only be overcome by different forms of grouping within a single sector and between sectors themselves (links between agricultural producers, local processors, craft workers, hotel keepers, restaurants, tourist operators, etc.). In order to make businesses viable, it is becoming essential to put public and private sectors in touch with each other and to ensure consultation among public institutions which in the past were responsible for policies that were chiefly sectorial in nature.

These developments have exposed the limitations of the local dimension and the growing need for links between rural areas. The promotion and marketing of rural tourism often involves, for example, the creation of products from a number of associated areas. The “Turismo de Aldeia” network (village tourism) involves four Portuguese areas and the “Paralelo 40” network is a union of 20 Spanish and Portuguese areas promoting 800 business firms over the Internet.


1.2.1 Taking action to (re)build social competitiveness

Taking action through consultation requires a number of preconditions. The players concerned must be convinced that in the long term it is more beneficial for everybody to act together than separately. The area should be at the heart of their plans for the future; they should feel an integral part of it and should encompass their future prospects within the area. Finally, the institutions involved in the area’s development, especially the various public administrations, should back the idea of a concerted approach.

Social competitiveness is therefore achieved through a combination of a whole range of different strategies: participation, collaboration, consultation, conflict management and institutional and social adjustment to a changing environment.

It is difficult to measure how much of the added value is attributable to social competitiveness, but it cannot be disputed that it has an impact on the area’s development.


1.2.2 Social competitiveness as a source of added value

  • Social competitiveness can be an essential component of economic competitiveness. The ability to take effective joint action significantly contributes to the development of profitable economic activities.


      In the Coteaux du Lyonnais area (Rhône-Alpes, France), four farmers are partners in a collective farm inn that has been in operation for 16 years. The habit of joint working and a very good understanding between the partners have therefore existed for a long time. In 1994, a severe hailstorm hit the orchards, ruining 95% of the fruit and made it impossible to sell. Several months before, one of the four farmers had set up a plant for processing unused fruit and he mooted the idea of inviting consumers to come to the farm to learn how to make apple tarts using damaged fruit, as part of a visitors’ activity programme. Apart from making good use of the fruit, the main goal was to establish contacts with city-dwellers and to revive old traditions. An EIG of 19 farmers was then set up to achieve this goal. The result of all this was the “Sunday in the Country” project to boost the economic competitiveness of the farms concerned through a new marketing niche with considerable added value.

  • Social competitiveness as an important prerequisite for drawing up a territorial project

      This involves widespread consultation between players and institutions. Any territorial project that failed to include an important group of players (young people, women, the unemployed, groups in difficulty or certain ethnic minorities) would lose some of its legitimacy and long-term viability. Any territorial project that failed to include a state institution involved in rural development (regional planning and development, public amenities, educational institutions, etc.) would only be partially integrated and would as a result lose some of its force and impact.

      However, it is not necessary for the consultation to be all- embracing right from the outset. Initially a territorial project is often built on a limited base and only gradually comes to include other players and institutions.

      The LEADER experience provides a whole host of examples of this gradual process of bringing together different parties. Its experience of consultation between members of local action groups for implementing projects in certain sectors (tourism, craft- working, local products, etc.) has gradually revealed the need to expand to other sectors, other groups and other policies, a need that is starting to be felt more or less everywhere today.

  • Social competitiveness is a key factor of legitimacy for the area, its players and its representatives in dealings with higher decision-making bodies. Not only because it makes it possible to secure funding and support, but also because it empowers players and institutions to negotiate the autonomy they need to implement a territorial project tailored to them.


      The Italian clusters provide a good example of social competitiveness. In the Cadore region (Venezia), social relationships between local players, businesses, institutions, etc., have been organised around the production of spectacles for more than a century. Nowadays this small mountain region is home to more than 600 local businesses, which control 60% of the world market and collaborate by sharing the various production phases.

In conclusion, social competitiveness involves a complex set of interpersonal and institutional relationships that revolve around individual and collective interests and play a decisive role in the area’s development.

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