US counterparts share valuable insight on community development

Annette Willemse -- Wed, 08/19/2015 - 16:35

US counterparts share valuable insight on community development

Greater collaboration, active participation, greater understanding of issues such as economics, social culture and politics, strategic leadership and the capacity to formulate and implement developmental strategies. These elements, in a nutshell, are the principles of community development as implemented in the United States.

The delegation from the NWU Vaal with some of the other conference goers

This is according to Dr Danie Meyer – an expert in Local Economic Development (LED) and a lecturer within the School of Economic Sciences on the Vaal Triangle Campus of the North-West University (NWU Vaal). Dr Meyer – together with Prof Herman van der Merwe (Executive Dean of the faculty) and Prof Wynand Grobler (Director: School of Economic Sciences) recently visited Lexington in the State of Kentucky in the US to learn more about how Community Economic Development (or LED as it is known in South Africa) is handled in terms of curriculum expansion and community engagement and development.

International Community Development Society Conference

The delegation also attended the 46th International Community Development Society Conference with the theme: “Creativity and Culture: Community Development Approaches for Strengthening Health, Environment, Economic Vibrancy, Social Justice and Democracy.”  The conference reflected the changing global landscape while at the same time revealing the myriad ways in which community development professionals are finding to foster smoother transitions to new realities. “The conference was very interactive with a number of workshops as part of the programme,” says Dr Meyer and adds that a large number of connections were made with researchers in the field of Community Development. These experts hail from institutions such as the University of Kentucky, the University of Wisconsin, the University of Minnesota, the Sam Houston State University in Texas, the University of Botswana, Arizona State University and the Vanderbijlt University.

Important lessons learnt

According to Dr Meyer some of the aspects that are worth noting from the visit that could be implemented on the Vaal Triangle Campus include:

  • Continued search for international collaboration regarding community development and Local Economic Development (LED), especially with universities in the US.  These collaborations will include, for example, the sharing of research data with the University of Kentucky.
  • State universities in the US have massive community development programmes with substantial capacity with, for example: agents in all 120 counties of the state of Kentucky.
  • The community development academic programme at the University Of Kentucky has many outstanding components that could be included in future programmes such as leadership development, grant application training and mentorship modules.
  • The host town of Lexington, where University of Kentucky is based, has a population of approximately 300 000 people. The community development efforts of the university are visible throughout the town. The intensive effort has many spin-off for the university such as massive support from all residents with a very strong and visible brand, a feeling of community and patriotism and a strong private social-welfare system.
  • Some of the actions that could be implemented is to proceed with a university driven Vaal LED forum to promote the local economy and community development, development of board games/serious games in LED, government strategic planning and entrepreneurship, the identification of local mentors to boost the incubator on campus with more community involvement, and establish formal linkages between research groups.