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Social competitiveness

[ Summary ]


Chapter 3:
Improving social competitiveness


3.3 Examples of strategies for improving social competitiveness


Our analysis has shown that strategies for improving social competitiveness depend first and foremost on an area’s specific situation.

In areas where there are already many acquired skills in terms of social competitiveness (existence of local organisations and established links with the outside world, habits of consultation, relative social cohesion and trust in institutions, etc.), there is quite a lot of room for manoeuvre and improving social competitiveness is not seen as key to the territorial strategy so much as one factor among many.

However, in areas where major obstacles hamper the local players’ ability to engage in collective action, there is much less room for manoeuvre and the acquisition/ improvement of social competitiveness becomes the key element determining the entire territorial strategy.

Below we present a few examples of possible strategies to address the problem, based on five standard situations where the lack of social competitiveness determines the area’s entire development process. Note that this typology is not exhaustive but simply a series of examples.

  • Type 1: areas marked by despondency and a lack of faith in the future - areas that have suffered heavy rural depopulation, the departure of young people and project promoters, the decline of traditional activities and the disappearance of services, where no sector appears set to replace them.

  • Type 2: areas suffering from a lack of social structure - areas where traditional forms of organisation have died out and which have remained removed from the major trends in society (intensification of farming, revival of civic associations, etc.).

  • Type 3: areas marked by mistrust between players, due to a series of past dysfunctional situations or rivalry between sectors. Another cause of mistrust can arise where methods for controlling organisations or markets have been damaging to some of the players.

  • Type 4: areas suffering from a lack of project promoters and of entrepreneurial spirit. Often these are areas with a strong wage-earning component (areas with major industrial firms or large farm holdings employing hired labour).

  • Type 5: “other-directed” areas where local players could potentially be mobilised, but where the area does not attract their interest. More often than not, these are rural areas close to large cities where the human resource potential is absorbed by the urban centre.


3.3.1 Examples of strategies for type 1 areas
(Despondent local players who do not believe in the future of the area)

In such areas, the acquisition of social competitiveness relies on first awakening a collective awareness of the area’s potential and gaining renewed confidence in the future, especially among young people. Below are a few examples of strategies for achieving this:

a) Restoring confidence by mounting projects with demonstration value


      In Sierra de Bejar-Francia (Castilla y León, Spain), an area in decline, the LEADER group chose to launch a number of quite large- scale attention-grabbing projects in order to provide concrete proof of what could be done to revitalise the area. These projects aroused the inhabitants’ interest and led to the creation of new project ideas.

b) Restoring confidence through coordination activities


      In Serra do Caldeirão (Algarve/Alentejo, Portugal), an area that has suffered from severe rural depopulation and apparently had a bleak future, the LEADER group restored the community’s confidence in its future by means of a “grass-roots” coordination effort using young coordinators recruited from the villages and given training. Their task consisted mainly of promoting a series of economic, social and cultural activities, which were based first and foremost on making the most of the area’s traditions. An annual fair organised by the LEADER group to gather together local producers provides an opportunity for cultural events aimed at reinforcing the inhabitants’ attachment to the area.

c) Restoring confidence by calling in people from outside

    It is sometimes difficult to recruit and train young project promoters from the area in order to restore confidence. Calling in outsiders may be a solution, especially for identifying local potential and encouraging the local players (including district councils) to consider alternative courses of action.


      In the Burgenland Objective 1 region (Austria), an area where there are relatively few project promoters, the four LEADER groups concerned have combined forces to establish permanent links with the University of Vienna. Now, students supervised by teacher- researchers regularly come to the Burgenland area on assignment. The effort of these students to take stock of the local heritage has reawakened the community’s interest in the area and given rise to new ideas and projects, leading to developments that have been vital to restoring confidence in the area’s future.

d) Restoring confidence by consolidating identity values

    Reinforcing certain strong features of the local identity is sometimes a powerful lever in restoring social cohesion and confidence in the future of the area.


      In the South Gwynedd LEADER area (Wales, United Kingdom), which is characterised by a strong sense of belonging to the Celtic culture and a shared desire to be different from neighbouring England, the LEADER group has promoted initiatives aimed at both economics and relaunching the Welsh language and culture. By founding its strategy firmly on asserting the value of bilingualism, the LAG secured the community’s support whilst at the same time opening up new development prospects, especially in cultural tourism (literature, music, cultural scene, architectural heritage, historic sites, etc.).

e) Restoring confidence by strengthening links with the area

    Focusing on attachment to the area and on the local heritage is another means of restoring confidence and encouraging the community to create activities in the area.


      On the Lassithi plateau (Crete, Greece), an area marked by rural depopulation and the abandonment of farming activities, the 14,000 or so traditional windmills formerly used to pump irrigation water to the plots of land had been abandoned. The LEADER group mobilised the community’s efforts in recovering these windmills, which are an integral part of the area’s identity. Although only a small-scale operation at the outset (300 windmills), the action sparked the inhabitants’ interest in their area and led to further activities being launched.


3.3.2 Examples of strategies for type 2 areas
(Weak social structures)

a) Turning the local partnership into a social structuring element

    In areas that have no local organisations able to initiate a local development process (trade, social, cultural or other associations), building the local partnership can be ideal in laying the foundations for structuring the community. Some LEADER groups therefore built their partnership by involving a broad range of people. These players went on to organise themselves into groups within the association and these groups became the seeds of more specific organisational structures.


      In the isolated mountain region of Serrania-Rincon de Ademuz LEADER (Community of Valencia, Spain), the LAG took the form of an association that includes more than 160 people, in which all of the economic, social and cultural sectors are represented. Four thematic consultation committees were set up: culture/environment/ tourism, training, SME/craft-working/services and promoting local products. These consultation committees act as working groups and forums for debate and for setting up projects. These projects are then discussed within the association’s steering committee. The consultation committees were also a starting point for the establishment of other associations.

b) Encouraging cooperation through training

    Faced with the difficulty of creating partnerships between players in areas where there was a very limited cooperation culture, many LEADER groups have used training in order to achieve cooperation.


      In the Sousa valley (northern Portugal), finding it extremely difficult to boost collective initiatives due to the reluctance of local players to engage in any form of partnership, the LEADER group decided to launch a special civic training programme targeted at a small group of people, who were then called upon to play a catalyst role in putting across the benefit of civic projects.


3.3.3 Examples of strategies for type 3 areas
(Climate of mistrust between players)

In areas where mistrust prevails, especially between varying sectors, it is often not possible to begin with a process of negotiation or cooperation between the players concerned. It is first necessary to identify an initial approach that avoids direct confrontation, whilst at the same time opening up an opportunity for a process of restoring mutual trust. The type of initial approach used depends on the reasons for such mistrust. Initiatives that develop and expand outside the area often foster the will to cooperate in spite of mistrust.

a) Activities to create a mechanism for collaboration between different sectors that are either in conflict or have no tradition of cooperation


      In the Garfagnana LEADER area (Tuscany, Italy), small-scale farmers were constantly at loggerheads with processors and traders, whom they needed in order to sell their products but who imposed prices that the farmers considered much too low. In order to settle this conflict, the LEADER group introduced an initiative to exploit the potential of typical products (honey, chestnuts, etc.), which was initially meant to serve as a demonstration project but which gradually developed into a widespread programme to promote the area. A wide range of coordination measures and a detailed programme of activities prompted farmers to join an existing local association of processors and traders, culminating in the creation of “Consorzio Garfagnana Produce”. Today this is one of the few examples of coexistence, within a collective organisation, of local players who for many years were at loggerheads.


3.3.4 Examples of strategies for type 4 areas
(Lack of project promoters due to a lack of entrepreneurial spirit)

a) Encouraging “anything that moves”

    Where there are too few project promoters, one course of action is to encourage any and every initiative that emerges, in order to develop confidence within the area. This is the approach chosen by many LEADER groups. In many cases, giving support to groups of young people to start up a business, even if it means assuming a high risk, can be a way of triggering potential that would otherwise never have emerged.

b) Starting up businesses and projects from scratch

    Very often, in such a situation, the local action groups are obliged to implement projects themselves or to create businesses that can later serve as an anchor point for encouraging new initiatives.


      In Saxe-Anhalt (Germany), the lack of project promoters led the Kultur Landschaft Haldensleben LEADER group to focus its efforts on setting up a renovation project from scratch. They turned a castle and former industrial estate with great historic value into an economic and cultural development centre with ramifications for the entire region. The underlying aim of the approach is for the centre to serve as a reference for potential project promoters and to encourage other initiatives.

c) Cultivating a spirit of enterprise among children

    Where the entrepreneurial spirit needed for setting up businesses is lacking at local level, in-depth work among young people can sometimes push things along.


      This is what the LEADER group in the county of Tipperary (Ireland) did. Having noticed that primary school pupils (aged 5-13) showed themselves to be more inventive and enterprising than teenagers, the LAG decided to target its activities on 10 primary schools, proposing that the pupils should set up a business. This project, which cost a grand total of EUR 15,600, involved 600 children and culminated in the creation of a host of small school-based businesses, ranging from the production of brochures and videos on local crafts and heritage to the production of Christmas cards, and including gardening and selling flowers and vegetables, paper recycling and organising a breakfast service.


3.3.5 Examples of strategies for type 5 areas
(“other-directed” areas)

“Other-directed” areas are subject to the influence of a particularly attractive development hub situated outside the area, which attracts the interest of local players by offering jobs, services and a wide range of activities. These are usually areas situated on the outskirts of cities.

These can easily turn into dormitory towns and, since local leaders (elected representatives, etc.) often choose to turn their attention to the investment resources of the urban centre, there is a great danger of such areas losing their own character only to become absorbed into the metropolis.

In such cases, the development process involves first refocusing attention on the life and potential of the local area, which calls for strategies with the power to mobilise strong community support.

a) Refocusing attention on the area by creating participatory partnerships to group specific interests

    One way of attracting the players’ attention to the area is to implement local agreements on specific interests that require short-term solutions, thereby harnessing ideas and resources that can be invested in collective projects.


      In the Mugello-Val di Sieve LEADER area (Tuscany, Italy), the district of Firenzuola, near Florence, has implemented an initiative to exploit the potential of the “serene stone”. This is a relatively young marlaceous sandstone from the Miocene era, deposited around 15 million years ago. The collaboration of all the local players (district council, associations of local businesses and individual firms) has made it possible to create new products using this stone. The main advantage of this approach has been to alert local businesses to the potential of the raw material with which they work. This has resulted in product diversification, a significant increase in jobs and more widespread promotion of the area. This local agreement on a specific interest has had a very marked impact. Seven medium-sized and four small businesses employing 174 people were organised, creating an equivalent number of outsourced businesses and jobs. In 1999 there were two associations. The first, COPSER, provides services to businesses, distributes explosives, equipment and tools and negotiates with institutions and businesses. The second, COGIVAS, specialises in restructuring measures for historic centres.

b) Recreating a business hub by taking advantage of a nearby urban market

    Other-directed areas can take advantage of a nearby urban market by creating a business hub that involves local players.


      The Ile-Crémieux region (Rhône-Alpes, France), due to its proximity to Lyon (2 million inhabitants) is in danger of turning into a dormitory area. A local group, supported by the district councils, therefore decided to exploit an archaeological site and to set up a series of associated activities (museum, visitors’ itinerary, educational visits and residential courses, managing the heritage, etc.). This led to the creation of a centre whose proximity to the large Lyon market makes it more readily viable.


      The Marsica LAG (Abruzzes, Italy) was well aware that the region’s development problems were not economic, but of a social nature: the local population’s lack of self-esteem and its economic, social and cultural dependence on the Rome metropolitan area and neighbouring urban centres. The aim was to devise initiatives that would both re-enhance the value of the local cultural heritage and guarantee certain core social services (in the broader sense, i.e. ranging from health to cultural services). This basic philosophy guided the implementation of several highly integrated actions. The “micro-receptivity” project, for example, was the result of a specific analysis of the number of weekend visitors. Marsica is interested in a heavy influx of tourists at weekends. It turned out that such tourists are mainly people from Rome and Naples who own second homes in the area. These non-residents represent an important resource in terms of local council taxes (on property and household waste). However, they do not receive adequate services and could, in fact, contribute much more to the area. So the LAG decided to implement a tourism strategy which, whilst being diversified, targeted non-resident homeowners. The aim was for them to extend their stay from 64 to 90 days per annum and step up their consumption in the area.

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