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Social competitiveness

[ Summary ]


Chapter 1:
Social competitiveness in the territorial approach


1.3 Lessons learned from LEADER


One of the key elements of the LEADER Community Initiative has been consultation and the creation of social competitiveness in rural areas. In this respect, several lessons may be drawn from the implementation of the LEADER Initiative.

Lesson one: preparing a territorial project makes it possible to find solutions to offset the demographic dispersion that characterises the rural world.

    According to conventional approaches, features such as low population density, remoteness from urban areas and fragility of the social fabric, which characterise many rural areas have often been considered to be insurmountable obstacles making it impossible to maintain activities in rural areas. They therefore recommended closing down services to the population or grouping them in more populated centres, measures which led to the gradual de-vitalisation of rural areas.

    This raises a number of questions:

    • Is demographic weakness really an obstacle to the development of rural areas?

    • By changing the concept of proximity (geographic proximity giving way to virtual proximity using networks), do advanced communication technologies make it possible to overcome the constraints associated with a dispersed population and, if so, under what conditions?

    • Does social demand in sparsely populated areas open up new development prospects for such areas?

    The LEADER approach has made it possible to start supplying answers to these questions which, in the medium to long term, should provide inspiration for new rural development policies.


      The Maestrazgo LEADER group (Aragon, Spain), whose area of intervention has only 5.17 inhabitants/km2 (the largest of the 43 districts has no more than 3,000 inhabitants), is seeking to make its area benefit from services and new activities through information technology. The electronic newsletter “Buenos dias Maestrazgo”, which is available over the Internet and provides local players and external partners with information five days a week about activities in the area, the Intranet network linking local schools and the teleworking centre are all examples of a strategy aimed at offsetting demographic and geographic handicaps.

Lesson two: by establishing contact with the community and bringing decision-making closer to local level, LEADER has fostered social and economic integration in rural areas, as well as services to welcome new populations.

    The presence of technical teams in situ makes it possible to enter into direct contact with the inhabitants and provide them with the information and support they need to develop their activities. For instance, support has been given to “minor” project promoters who otherwise would never have been able to secure the support they needed.


      Numerous LEADER groups, such as Santa Maria de Leuca (Calabria, Italy), have established a pro-active relationship with minor project promoters, by helping them to put together their funding applications, rather than confining themselves to passively selecting from among the applications received. In the case of Santa Maria de Leuca this fostered a relationship of trust in a local context formerly dominated by mistrust of public and civic institutions.


      At Pinhal Maior (Centre, Portugal), the LEADER group succeeded in providing financial support to illiterate project promoters by setting up technical groups at micro-local level in order to prepare funding applications.

    This local presence also makes it possible to organise services to welcome new populations.


      The Espace Cévennes LEADER group (Languedoc-Roussillon, France) has developed the “RELANCE” project to identify farms and local businesses that are falling into a state of neglect and, by raising their owners’ awareness, to arrange for these entities to be transferred to city-dwellers wishing to move to the countryside.

Lesson three: LEADER has made it possible to strengthen the sense of belonging to an area.

    This has meant consolidating:

    • links between players and the area, in particular everything that binds the community to its environment: landscape, heritage, architecture, shared values, etc.

    • links between groups of players, especially

      • between public and private players, in order to ensure the viability of measures where success depends on the level of consultation;

      • between players from the same category (farmers, hotel keepers, restaurant-owners, women, young people, etc.), in order to carry out collective activities;

      • between different groups of players (livestock farmers and restaurant-owners, craftspeople and artists), in order to promote the creation of new cross-disciplinary interests, to revive skills, to propose new products and services and to encourage the emergence of other collective players;

      • between generations (passing down resources and know-how), in order to keep young people in the area and counter the risk of there being no heirs and to prevent knowledge specific to the area from dying out;

      • links that generate solidarity and mutual aid.


      At Branda de Aveleira (Portugal), the LEADER group and the district council have offered the owners of mountain sheep farms the chance to participate in a project to renovate these buildings and revive the traditions associated with transhumance. This has led to the creation of tourist activities and the local population has got back into the habit of spending part of the summer in the “brandas”, reviving their traditional festivities.

Lesson four: LEADER has highlighted the fact that many significant local changes rely on the visionary force of a few individuals. Any forward-looking inhabitant who is in touch with the past can become a resource person playing a key role in local development.

    By forging closer links with the community, LEADER has increased the number of individuals and collective players able to exploit opportunities. By “spreading the net wide”, the programme has brought to the fore new community leaders away from the paths generally trodden by institutions or social groups already involved in development processes.


      In the Zeulenroda LEADER area (Thuringia, Germany), a young joiner has restored an old house and set up an art gallery and cultural centre to which students, artists and craftspeople soon flocked, creating the association “ARTigiani”. Thanks to him, the small village of Zickra (120 inhabitants) is now a centre for cultural activities and training in building techniques using traditional materials.<:P>

Lesson five: LEADER has demonstrated the importance of coordination in bringing together people, institutions and ideas.

    In all of the above four instances, coordination proved to be an essential tool. It not only facilitated meetings between people and organisations in highly geographically dispersed areas, but has also provided the impetus to train new collective players.

    In certain cases, coordination has been accompanied by setting up or reviving structures for encouraging meetings between different social groups. Where a collective and multifunctional forum existed, in many cases it played a key role in the exchanges.

    In other cases, it is training which serves as the main coordination tool, by opening up to rural communities and its leaders access to new skills and forums of debate.


      The Offaly LEADER group (Ireland), in partnership with the University of Galway (UGC), invited local community leaders to prepare a community development diploma. This training programme (25 participants in the first year, 16 in 1999) has had a significant impact on the involvement and social competitiveness of communities in the county of Offaly. Communities have participated actively in putting together projects that the trainees then had to present as part of the training course. Networks were created between participants and populations subsequently to extend the exchange of experiences.

Lesson six: LEADER has highlighted the importance of forming broad local partnerships and links between the local action group and other organisations and local players.

    One of the first tasks that LEADER set itself was to encourage collective and individual players to adopt the territorial approach by explaining what the programme was all about. Its first contribution to the acquisition of social competitiveness was therefore to set up a local partnership.

    In some cases, the composition of the partnership reflects established interests, leaving out less well-organised social groups or players. However, in other cases, there are coordination activities to encourage the structuring of new social groups that can later join the partnership.

    Often the partnerships set up by LEADER establish consultation relationships with certain institutions or certain local players in ways other than through a formal partnership. This has led to the creation of forums for dialogue that are key to the acquisition of social competitiveness: advisory boards, strategic planning boards, discussion forums, etc.


      In the case of the Cavan-Monaghan group (Ireland) and other Irish LAGs, attention has focused on the social structure of the area and the integration of new groups into the LEADER partnership. A strategic council comprised of the various organisations concerned by the area’s development was set up, making it possible to develop a global territorial project that incorporates a range of different measures.

Lesson seven: LEADER has shown that the driving force behind the acquisition of social competitiveness at every level is consultation.

    LEADER has inserted territorial development into processes of democratic consultation. New know-how has been forged as a result of organising measures.


      The Margem Esquerda Do Guadiana LAG (Alentejo, Portugal) was set up as a local development association that includes a large number of the area’s inhabitants (over one hundred), with the goals of becoming a “permanent local development forum”. Apart from citizens, it includes representatives from the district councils and the area’s leading public and private institutions. This new consultation practice, which is entirely new to the region, was then adopted by the districts, which went on to set up micro-local consultation groups called “local action cells”.

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