We’ve reached the end of our winter series, Rural Development From the Ground Up. Thank you to all who have come along on the journey! If you’d like to review the past posts or share them on, the full series is here.
Our exploration of grassroots development set out to be practical. That means it’s time to gather up some practical takeaways you can use when working in and with rural communities.
First, we’ve learned that grassroots development is a hopeful idea that actually works. If your aim is to solve problems in rural places, start by recognising the power of the people on the ground to create change for themselves. Remember: You don’t have to do it for them!
Second, we’ve learned that rural communities are diverse, and they don’t think or act in unison. So when you are working with communities, don’t expect to find a single spokesperson or a single point of view. Pay attention to what different people say… and listen for the differences!
Third, we’ve seen that positive change can start with anyone, anywhere. The key… is to start, rather than waiting for change to arrive. Grassroots development happens when individuals and groups mobilise resources and support to make their ideas happen. So don’t be afraid to start!
Fourth, we’ve seen that people have different ideas about what positive change looks like, and different ideas about how to get there. In the end, development looks different depending on who you are! So don’t be surprised to find different visions of positive change in the same rural community. Importantly, pay attention to whether everyone has the opportunity to create change.
Finally, grassroots development requires space: to think and act; to mobilise resources and support. When people and communities seem stuck in poverty, pay attention to what is blocking them. How much room to manoeuvre do they actually have? What needs to shift to create space for change?
In the end, I still love the shiny hopeful idea of Grassroots Development, just as much as I did years ago when I read about it in books like Kevin Healy’s Llamas, Weaving and Organic Chocolate and Charles David Kleymeyer’s Cultural Expression and Grassroots Development. Perhaps I even love it all the more now that I understand the messiness of change on the ground. Messiness is creative; messiness can spark new ideas and make space for voices we haven’t heard yet. In Knowledge Partnering for Community Development I talk about how bringing different kinds of knowledge together in communities can catalyse new solutions. I learned that from working with rural communities…and it works. I keep learning!