Enterprise, Community and Complexity

Enterprise, community and complexity.  Slippery words.  So slippery that I wonder what can be meaningfully written about them.  But I will have a go.

Having worked on these ideas for many years I hold my beliefs tentatively.  But they offer the possibility of a very different direction for both promoting enterprise and building ‘harmonious and cohesive’ communities.  And few would argue that we don’t need a fresh approach.  That more of the same will get the job done.

It won’t.  We need to innovate and experiment.

Lets start with ‘enterprise’.  First, empty your mind of all those misconceptions that I must be talking about ‘business start’s, ‘cash flow forecasts’, ‘profits’ and ‘Dragons’.

I am not.

I am talking about enterprise as a measure of ‘agency’ in one’s own life.  The extent to which an individual is able to recognise what ‘progress’ (another slippery word) means and to take action its pursuit.  This is what I mean by enterprise.  It is the product of clear self-interest (I know what I want) and power (I have the confidence, skills and knowledge to take organised action in its pursuit).  An enterprising person is one who is clear on what they want from their life and actively pursues it.  An enterprising community is one which has many such people – because they are valued and supported.

If self-interest is ‘enlightened’ then it is likely that the product of enterprise will be a positive contribution to society.  If on the other hand self-interest is poorly understood then the product of enterprise may be damaging.  Enterprise in itself is not an inherently good thing. If we are going to pursue this route then we need to have faith in the essential positive nature of human beings.

If we are serious about developing ‘enterprise’, rather than managing the outputs that most enterprise funders are looking for, we need to concern ourselves with the development of self-interest and the accrual of power.   We are in the realms of person centred facilitation and education.  Not business planning.  This is an enormous shift both in what we do, and how we do it.   Helping people to clarify their self-interest and find the power to pursue it requires very different structures and processes.

It is worth noting that if you have money, there is a fair chance that at some time you will have hired a coach to help you with the difficult and personal work of clarifying self-interest and gaining the power you need to pursue it. And if they were a good coach they would not have manipulated you towards their preferred outputs – but would let you work on your own personal agenda.  If you have little or no money the chances of you ever having access to such a potentially transformational relationship are slim to none.  The relationship that you have with various ‘helpers’ is likely to be one where they try to manipulate you ‘back to work’, towards a ‘healthy diet’  or some such policy goal of funded output.

Over the last few years I have spoken with many enterprise educators, bureaucrats and practitioners and they have all accepted that this conception of enterprise has merit.  Not only will it help us to get more business start ups, but it will also help us to get large numbers of people acting in pursuit of their own wellbeing – however they define it.  It will also help us to make significant and real progress towards PSA 21 – Building More Cohesive, Active and Empowered Communities.

Which brings us to the question of how does this conception of enterprise  fit with ‘community’?

Community is a property that emerges when individuals and groups learn to negotiate their self-interest with the self-interests of others.  Community is an emergent property.  If this contention is right then it raises serious questions about approaches which attempt to provide short cuts to community (building community centres and one stop shops for example) without addressing the preconditions necessary in a complex adaptive system (such as society) for its emergence.

Community emerges when individuals learn how to associate and collaborate in pursuit of mutual self-interest.  When they recognise that the best way to achieve their own self-interest is to help others to achieve theirs.   When they understand the nature of reciprocity.  Or to borrow the words a well known Business Networking group that ‘givers gain’.

A beautiful by product of this is a raised awareness of the importance of difference.

If I learn how to associate and collaborate with someone who has different skills and knowledge, or a different cultural heritage to my own I am likely to gain more opportunities than if I associate with people who are pretty much the same as me.  Association across race, gender, age and so on provides the key to opportunity and provides a precondition that will allow harmonious communities to emerge.

With difference comes both opportunity and resilience.

Anti-discrimination and Equality in Community Development Work

Community development work is underpinned by a set of values.   The first of these centres on anti-discrimination and equality. According to Lifelong Learning, Community Development work ‘challenges structural inequalities and discriminatory practices.  It recognises that people are not the same, but they are all of equal worth and importance and therefore entitled to the same degree of respect and acknowledgement’.

This is a pretty radical position and one that is by no means self -evident.  ‘People are not the same, but they are all of equal worth and importance and therefore entitled to the same degree of respect and acknowledgement’. So a convicted killer is of the same worth and importance as a Nobel prize winner?  We should treat them both with the same degree of entitlement and respect?

We should offer equal respect and acknowledgement to a learned professor and a teenager with an ASBO? To Nick Griffin and Bonnie Greer?

This about approaching what Rogers called ‘unconditional positive regard‘ and what Gandhi was getting at when he said,

“All humanity is one undivided and indivisible family, and each one of us is responsible for the misdeeds of all the others.”

This is not about valuing and acknowledging people’s opinions, actions, beliefs and ideas equally – but about valuing the human being that stands behind them.

The latest draft of the occupational standards for community development workers go on to say:

Community Development practitioners work with communities and organisations to challenge the oppression and exclusion of individuals and groups. This will be undertaken in a way which:

  • Acknowledges where there is inequality and discrimination, and rejects and challenges any form of it
  • Supports and develops anti-oppressive policies and practices
  • Respects, values, supports and promotes the value of difference and diversity
  • Promotes and supports diverse communities to agree on their common concerns and interests
  • Acknowledges the diverse nature of society and seeks to understand and support others to understand the nature of social diversity and oppression with respect to marginalised communities and minorities.

This requires an incredible act of tightrope walking.

  • To reject and challenge inequality and discrimination without oppressing?
  • To promote the value of difference and diversity while helping diverse communities to agree on common concerns?