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The attitudes and behaviours underpinning successful community and economic development

Peter Kenyon

Summary of Address Given at 1998 Positive Futures Conference


Apologies to those of you in the audience who will have heard some of my themes regularly over the last 12 months during my regular visits to Queensland. But then I too have a good Irish streak and I am comforted by Irish wisdom.

"First tell them what you are going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you've told them!"

I am totally committed to the concept of communities taking responsibility for their own economic and social destiny, rather than expecting 'someone else' to deliver. This view is best summarised by the following 2 quotes:

“All the historic evidence indicates that significant community development only takes place when local community people are committed to investing themselves and their resources in the effort. That's why you can't develop communities from the top down, or from the outside in
(John McKnight, John Kretzmann, Mapping Community Capacity)

'Destiny is not a matter of chance, It is a matter of choice. It is not a thing to be waited for, It is a thing to be achieved'
(William Jennings Bryan)

Today, I would like to focus on what I see as eight actions that build such attitudes and behaviours, and thus effective community and economic development.

I. Foster a positive and self-reliant 'CAN DO' spirit and attitude.

A positive mindset is the foundation stone for effective community and economic development. The following quotes capture the essence of such an attitude.

"They Can because they Think they Can " (Virgil)
"A positive attitude is the outward manifestation of a mind that dwells primarily on positive matters. It is a mindset tipped in favour of creative activity rather than boredom, joy over sadness, hope over futility. A positive attitude is that state of mind which can be maintained only through conscious effort".
(Elwood Chapman, "Attitude: Your Most Precious Possession)

"You can do anything if you have enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is the yeast that makes your hopes rise to the stars. Enthusiasm is the sparkle in your eyes, the swing in your gait, the grip of your hand, the irresistible surge of will and energy to execute your ideas.

Enthusiasts are fighters. They have fortitude. They have staying qualities. Enthusiasm is at the bottom of all progress. With it, there is accomplishment. Without it, there are only alibis".
(Henry Ford)

"I think negative people should be taxed. They require an incredible amount of energy. They're like corgis nibbling at your ankles and I'm sure they exist to show us the difference between heaven and hell"
(Mayor Vicki Buck, Christchurch City Council)

It is great to see communities beginning to develop strategies that build positive attitudes and ; behaviours. Examples:

i. The Can Canterbury Campaign in New Zealand had the following aim:

  • To acknowledge those who have achieved success by hard work, determination, .f innovation and individuality. This success might have been achieved by individuals, groups, businesses, cultural, social or sporting organisations.
  • To encourage others to achieve their potential.
  • To generate recognition of Canterbury’s uniqueness and the realisation that most things f - are possible if you have a positive attitude.
  • To share the good news coming out of Canterbury.
  • To create a generic promotion vehicle which facilitates the promotion of a variety of individual initiatives supportive of the campaign.

ii. The Positive Carnarvon Campaign adopted the following objectives:

To create a sustainable, vibrant community within Carnarvon where the economic and social benefits and opportunities are realised, and community support and unity is strong.

iii. Here in Queensland, the communities of Landsborough and Caloundra have incorporated specific strategies targeting mindset as part of their business development plans.

Build community capacity

Communities must take practical steps to strengthen their capacity to adapt to rapid change. Such capacity building is a product of the following:

  • focussing on healthy and sustainable con1munity behaviours
  • investing in local leadership development
  • fostering diverse, but inclusive citizen involvement
  • encouraging youth participation
  • committing

The following summarises simply the difference between a healthy community and an unhealthy community.

Characteristics of a healthy community




Optimism, hope and 'we are in this together'


'We can do it' '

Nothing works'

Value intangibles of vision, values

Emphasis only on tangibles

Consensus building




Focus on the future

Debate the past



Broad community participation

Few do everything

Leadership renewal Same old faces


Think and act in long term

Short term thinking




Holding grudges

Win-win solutions

Win-lose solutions

Politics of substance

Politics of personality





Challenge ideas

Challenge people

Problem solvers

Blockers and blamers

We need to foster behaviours that build community.

"Truly involved people can do anything"
(Tom Peters)

Communities can often be compared to an Australian football match where 20,000 people who need the exercise watch 36 players who do not.
(Peter Kenyon)

'The most critical factor in determining the growth or decline of rural communities is leadership, the most critical investment to ensure the future of rural America is leadership education
(Glen Pulver, Professor Emeritus, Rural Development, University of Wisconsin, Madison)

III. Develop a comprehensive strategic community economic development agenda.

This is an action which must incorporate the following:

  • shared vision
  • realistic objectives
  • regular achievements
  • short, medium and long term plans
  • clear marketable identity
  • an appropriate development organisation group

"The seedlings of twenty-first century life are sprouting all around us if we have the wit to identify them”
(John Gardner)

"Communities need social glue -a means for social cohesion, a way to bring people together to define the common good, create joint plans, and identify strategies that benefit a wide range of organisations and people in the community addition to the physical infrastructure that supports the daily life and work in roads, subways, sewers. electricity, communication systems -communities need a social infrastructure, an infrastructure for collaboration to solve problems and create the future ...'
(Rosabeth Moss Kanter "World Class -Thriving Locally in the Global Economy")

IV .Recognise the importance of local business vitality through actions of appreciation and support

Evidence overwhelmingly shows that existing businesses are responsible for the following positive effects in a local economy:

  • Creating between 60-80% of new jobs, providing most of the investment for new community economic initiatives.
  • Generating most ideas for new business, opportunity, and acting as a major attraction for outside businesses to relocate or establish within the community.
  • Thus it is vital that communities implement strategies and actions to strengthen its business base. The Business Retention and Expansion Program is one such strategy - a number of Queensland communities are exploring its implementation (see Appendix II for details). .

V. Become a best practice culture

Communities are recognising the need to strengthen their community through actions that highlight best practice in terms of:

  • Customer service
  • Physical appearance, and
  • Residents and local businesses acting as positive ambassadors for the community. Identifying, organising and rewarding such actions are vital.

VI. Be opportunity obsessive

It is important for communities to become learning and searching places by:

  • Encouraging a never ending search for appropriate development options and action
  • Fostering local idea generation
  • Becoming a smart consumer of outside resources

"A limited awareness of the full range of economic possibility usually leads to a limited development agenda composed largely of the latest fads with minimal critical review of the opportunities "
(Ron Schaffer)

"In the fields of opportunity, it's ploughing time again”
(Neil Young)

VII. Forge partnerships with neighbouring communities for collaboration and peer learning

Community collaboration and peer learning/sharing is essential. One of the best examples of a strategy that encourages such actions is the Community Builders Initiative (See appendix I). Such a program is currently being piloted in Queensland within the Mackay region.

"The reason that astronomers around the world cooperate so well together is that you cannot stand in one place and see the entire sky. We can apply the same principle to communities, organisations and departments"

VIII Maintain enthusiasm, passion, hope, involvement, belief and expectation

These intangibles need to characterise a rural community and its leadership. In the end these attitudes are what will ignite and maintain community optimism, participation and determination.

"The first and last task of leadership is to maintain hope" (John Gardner)
"Enthusiasm is the greatest asset in the world. It beats money and power and influence"
(Henry Chester)

The words of Anita Roddick, the founder of the international business "The Body Shop", are not just applicable to business, but also to communities:

"If I had to nominate a driving force in my life, I'd plump for passion every time. My passionate believe is that business can be fun, it can be conducted with love and a powerful force for good"
"To me, what is wonderful about the Body Shop is that we still don't know the rules. Instead, we have a basic understanding that to run this business you don't have to know anything. Skill is not the answer, neither is money. What you need is optimism, humanism, enthusiasm, intuition, curiosity, love humour, magic and fun and that secret ingredient -euphoria. None of this appears on the curriculum of any business school"


In conclusion can the following story and two quotes summarise my thoughts.

A man found an eagle's egg and placed it under a brooding hen. The eagle hatched with the chickens and grew to be like them. He clucked and cackled, scratched the earth for worms, flapped his wings and managed to fly a few feet in the air.

Years passed. One day the eagle, now grown old saw a magnificent bird above him in the sky; it glided in graceful majesty against the powerful wind, with scarcely a movement of its golden wings.

Spellbound the eagle asked "who's that?"

"That's the king of the birds, the eagle" said his neighbour. "He belongs to the sky. We belong to the earth -we're chickens ".

So the eagle lived and died a chicken, for that's what he thought he was.

"Whatever you vividly imagine, ardently desire, sincerely believe and enthusiastically act upon, must inevitably come to pass"
(Paul Meyer)

"Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has ".
(Margaret Mead)

Appendix I Community builders:


Community Builders is a six -month program that seeks to identify, encourage and empower f local residents to become more involved in building their community and its economy.

A cluster of communities provides the geographical basis for the Community Builder program. Between six and ten communities constitute a cluster, each being represented by a Community Team of two to five people. These Community Teams meet together monthly. The meetings enable shared learning and discussion about community economic challenges, opportunities and options; enhanced awareness of available resources; and the discovery of the diversity and interconnections of their local and regional economies.

Each Community Builder program is coordinated by a Facilitator. In addition, the Facilitator acts as a coach and broker to help participants develop initiatives within their own communities.

Program Objectives

  • To foster community and economic leadership;
  • To provide local residents with the necessary skills, information, motivation and confidence to become more involved in their community and economy;
  • To develop people, communities and businesses that succeed in the global economy; To identify and develop new local and regional economic development initiatives;
  • To stimulate collaboration between communities, and To create a peer support network and friendships across the region.

Program Benefits

By participating in Community Builders, participants:

  • Gain a better understanding of their community
  • Develop personal skills in such areas as presentation, meeting and media skills;
  • Learn to identify community capacities, needs and opportunities;
  • Understand the range of economic development strategies, tools and resources available;
  • Connect with appropriate development programs and resources, and
  • Work and collaborate with neighbouring communities to achieve mutual benefits.

Program Principles

  • The development of positive 'can I do'/self reliant attitudes is fundamental to positive community change.
  • The key to economic success in rural communities is tied directly to investment in rural economic leadership development.
  • Most answers to the challenges of community and economic development can be found in the local area.
  • Local residents are best suited to define what economic development is appropriate for their community.
  • Economic development leadership is enhanced by doing economic development.
  • It is possible for communities within a region to collaborate rather than view each other as rivals.

Program Elements

1. Residential 24 hour workshop retreat -An opportunity to:

  • Understand the Community Builder model and its principles
  • 'Get to know each other'.
  • Develop an understanding of community and economic development, and its
  • Variety of options
  • Determine the group' s future priorities
  • Receive a Community Builder Resource Kit

2. Cluster Musters -Workshop locations ro1tate around participating communities and allow:

  • a study tour of the host community
  • a meal time to enable informal sharing
  • a resource information session and a ,chance to meet local and regional resource
  • people.
  • a practical workshop in specific topics/skills

3. Community Audit Exercises -Community Builder focuses on learning by doing. Each Community Team undertakes a series of simple exercises using a variety of tools to better understand their community, its advantages, limitations and opportunities.

4. Community Team Meetings -Held by each Community Team between the monthly Cluster meetings to enable discussions on the local application of that is being learned.

5. Community Project Participation -Each Community Team undertakes two practical projects in their community during the course of the program.

6. Other Skill Development -The Community Builder Program will enable participants to discover and participate in other skill enhancement experiences.

'Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.
(Margaret Mead)

Appendix II Business Retention And Expansion Visitation Program

The Business Retention and Expansions (BR+E) Visitation Program represents a community response to the fact that 70% plus of job creation emanates from existing business growth. A BR+E Visitation Program allows a community to demonstrate pro-business support for \ - existing local businesses through a systematic and regular business visitation program.

The BR+E Visitation Program utilises a structured interview process that allows the discovery of:

  • Local business needs and concerns
  • Perceptions by local businesses that prevent expansion
  • Any business considering relocation outside the community and why Perceptions about local government actions -what helps and hinders Opportunities for match making local businesses Current and future labour and market needs
  • Good ideas people have for improving the local economy and the business environment

The BR+E Visitation Program is flexible: and can be administered in a number of ways.

Depending of the needs and size of a community, the following are possible.

  • A regular systematic monthly visitation of all local businesses.
  • A one off visitation to a sample of local businesses
  • A systematic visitation program that would include all local businesses over a period of time.

The structure of the program involves the following:

  • Formation of a local community BR+E task force
  • Recruitment and training of local interview volunteers
  • Visitation of local businesses to assess needs, concerns and opportunities
  • Review of the results of the business surveys by local task force, resulting in: referral of immediate requests for assistance
  • identification of 'red flag' issues requiring response and action, including acting in 'ombudsperson' role to investigate and try to resolve concerns and complaints formulation of a report on outcomes
  • feedback to the wider community through the media and public/business meeting(s) about outcomes

The benefits of the BR+E program to the local business community includes:

  • Knowledge that their community and local government values their presence, and is \ interested in the needs and concerns
  • Opportunity to air complaints about any aspect of the local environment
  • Referral to appropriate sources of information, advice and support programs
  • Input into future local economic development decision making and action
  • Opportunity for local business matching

A procedural manual, various interview forms for different businesses types, training and analysis support is available from the IDEAS Group.

The Business Retention and Expansion Visitation Program is a regular feature of many North American communities. An Australian model version is currently being developed and trialled. In July 1998, a nationally accredited training program for program Facilitators will be conducted in most state capitals.

For further information contact:
Peter Kenyon
The IDEAS Group PO Box 606
YORK W A 6302
Phone: (08) 9641 2410 Fax: (08) 96412417

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