[ Summary ]
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
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
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
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
- 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
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
Lesson seven: LEADER has shown that the driving force behind the
acquisition of social competitiveness at every level is
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”.