Sunday, October 2, 2011

Community Development: Decentralized or Streamlined?

   In the conception of most communitarians, community development, that is the economic and societal growth of a community, and community activism, the active participation of those within a community to facilitate this growth, are one and the same. In my opinion, this is both a logical and beneficial view. Working in the Dominican Republic with the abroad program CIEE service learning this semester, one thing that has become clear to me is that the most successful community projects are those that are organized specifically to suit the environment in which they take place. The key to any project is sustainability, and this is only possible if the apparatus’ for the continuation of the project are established down to the local level.

However, the fact is that some areas will have more human and material resources than others, which inevitably leads to unequal growth between communities. The eventual result of this sort of development is chronic wealth inequality from region to region within a nation. Therefore, while some communities will become empowered in the manner described above, others will simply remain underdeveloped if they must rely only upon domestic recourses.
I have noticed this trend in my own volunteer work, with the organization Oné Respé, located in Santiago Dominican Republic. In this organization, I help to coordinate youth groups in two communities; Los Platanitos and Los Peres. As a manager of the youth groups, part of my job is to organize sports events in Los Peres on Mondays and Los Platanitos on Tuesdays. To my understanding, the community Los Peres has markedly superior recourses to those of Los Platanitos. For example, Los Peres has a fully functional and well maintained baseball field where we are able to hold sports events while los Platanitos has only a poorly kept grassy area up in the hills. Predictably, sports events so far have been well attended and very successful in Los Peres while we have struggled to get the sports program off the ground in Los Platanitos.    
This phenomenon can be seen in the national development of the entire country as well, albeit on a grander scale. Over the past 20 years, the Dominican Republic has seen some of the most dynamic economic growth in Latin America and therefore some of the most extensive opportunities for community development. In addition, the Dominican Republic has, a relatively inactive federal government  (Pobreza y Desarollo) meaning that most community development is kept decentralized. The results are telling. While the poverty rate has dropped a full 10% over the past 10 years, all of the economic growth has been in the urban regions of the nation leaving a gaping 25% income inequality between the urban and rural regions. Attempts have been made by such organizations as the US Peace Corps to develop the campo, or rural regions, of the nation, but local recourses have so far proved insufficient to jumpstart development in these areas. 
            If development is to be pursued in areas with inadequate recourses to develop themselves, it must be catalyzed by an outside force with the power to harness and redistribute the resources of other regions; i.e. the federal government. To the communitarian, putting any aspects of development in the hands of the federal government (aside from funding) seems horrifying. After all, how can a distant central authority possibly be capable of meeting the specific needs of a community? Such worries however, are misplaced. It is easily feasible that any government programs for community development could work side by side with indigenous organizations and therefore combine a detailed knowledge of the local area with adequate recourses from the capitol to bring about sustainable development.
I am not saying that it is advisable to hand over the reigns of every aspect development from the communities themselves to the central government. Often, there may be uniquely local obstacles to advancement that can only be met at the ground level. However, to avoid intolerable inequalities, whether they be between the economic growth of Puerta Plata and Santa Lucia or between the quality of the sports programs in Los Platanitos and Los Peres, broad based development programs that harness outside recourses may sometimes be preferable to locally grown decentralized ones.

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