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Fighting social exclusion in rural areas

[ Summary ]


Chapter 4:
Consolidating the fight against social exclusion
by including it in an area-based approach?


4.3 Potential and limits of the LEADER method


What can be done about the unsolved problems with the territorial approach to social inclusion? What solutions have come from the LEADER programme itself, deliberately designed to promote the territorial approach, and can LEADER provide more answers? Finally, what exclusion problems do the LEADER groups face? These are the questions that we will now attempt to answer.

The coordination provided by the LEADER groups has turned out to be a powerful instrument to identify and take advantage of marginalised resources and skills. But it has also been a way to understand the characteristics of exclusion in rural areas and laid bridges between people, resources and institutions.

LEADER has helped find solutions for:

  • the composition and evolution of the Local Action Group partnership;
  • the project selection criteria and methods;
  • the consultation with government agencies about the local use of public funds - including unemployment benefits.

a) The composition and evolution of the partnership of the Local Action Group

How can the forms of local partnership set up by LEADER serve as a model for the partnership approach to social inclusion?

The composition of the LEADER partnerships depends on whether the social or political forces, which are the expression of the economic interests in the area, consider it in their interest to work together to elaborate a common project. This structure, fundamental in any LEADER intervention, brought about a form of consultation between representatives of local interests and between public and private sectors, particularly there where the mixed nature of the partnership was preserved.

However, the experience of LEADER I and LEADER II shows that over time these structures tend to become rigid, refusing to expand, particularly to include representatives of weaker social groups. But there are exceptions which show that the road remains open. In Ireland, the Cavan-Monaghan group asked the community groups that its coordination strategy had created (associations of voluntary workers, organisations of mutual assistance, of social and cultural action, etc.) to join the LEADER partnership. Other LEADER groups chose to encourage participation in local activities in other forums of community debate where the excluded or their representatives were included.

Therefore greater thought has to be given to the matter so that the LEADER partnerships take better account of the need for social cohesion, which is the purpose of the actions being organised. The main problem is determining how the excluded can be given a voice within local partnerships. Just deciding that disadvantaged social groups must be able to express themselves is not enough.

The LEADER partnerships could therefore encourage lessons in participation, democratic debate and the building of a community voice by creating the necessary conditions for the establishment of representations where the most disadvantaged social categories are included. If forums are not created where the weakest segments of the population can talk about their difficulties, the measures adopted and the actions taken may very well not translate into any substantial change.

The “local partnership approach” is therefore the method needed to break down the ghettos, because it opens the debate to all the social categories and to all the local interests while encouraging awareness of one another [26].

b) Project selection and financial assistance criteria

The LEADER groups developed a series of techniques to encourage the elaboration of projects and to select them according to the main strategies defined in the local action plan [27]. When the composition of the partnership lent itself to this, they developed methods to guarantee a certain balanced access to opportunities for the different segments of population in the area.

One difficulty nonetheless remains: the people, businesses or associations in the mainstream of society are obviously more likely to come up with dynamic projects, not to mention the fact that certain local action plans do not have interventions explicitly aimed at encouraging social cohesion.

Debate and discussion must therefore look in two directions:

    1) What forms of mediation are needed so that the weakest segments of the population or the people in the area worst off also have ways to elaborate dynamic projects? What kind of coordination and identification work has to be supported by the local relays to ensure the success of projects by people or groups in difficulty?

    2) How should the development strategy be designed so that it has an impact in terms of social acceptance and therefore results in a balanced improvement in the quality of life?

Some answers already are to:

  • help the people and communities develop local services so that new activities of solidarity are created and places are created where people can meet and there can be an expression of citizenship;

  • encourage the various businesses and structures “to mutualise” the jobs, in other words to collectively manage the human resources to deal with the impossibility of hiring full-time salaried employees for certain jobs - eg. a manager can work for several companies at the same time;

  • develop forms of assistance for local credit and for investments where there is shared liability (guarantee funds, loans on trust, ethical investments, etc.);

  • encourage non-monetary trade and networks of solidarity (alternative economy poles, time bank, etc.);

  • help schools take initiatives to introduce learning about their area in the curriculum.

c) Consultation with government agencies about the local use of public funds

This review of the lessons of the area-based strategy devised by LEADER would not be complete without mentioning the consultation with the public institutions present in the area.

Three methods are important and they are to:

  • favour, in the context of a local development and social cohesion strategy, the intervention of these government agencies in the projects selected. The theme may be retraining the long-term unemployed, setting up mobile services or introducing accompanying services to stabilise the local population;

  • encourage the signing of agreements between local associations and government agencies with a view to personalising the services for the categories in difficulty;

  • involve the government agencies in debates on the local use of public funds so that the institutional answers can be compared with the resources and answers of the local actors.


[26] For more about this, see: Amouroux op.cit.

[27] See “Selecting projects”, Dossier of the
LEADER European Observatory, Brussels, 1998.

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