Why Community Help?
Often when we think of community, we think in geographic terms. Our community is the city or town where we live. When community is defined through physical location, it has precise boundaries that are readily understood and accepted by others. Defining communities in terms of geography, however, is only one way of looking at them. Communities can also be defined by common cultural heritage, language, and beliefs or shared interests. These are sometimes called communities of interest. Even when community does refer to a geographic location, it doesn’t always include everyone within the area. A common definition of community emerged as a group of people with diverse characteristics who are linked by social ties, share common perspectives, and engage in joint action in geographical locations or settings. Community was defined similarly but experienced differently by people with diverse backgrounds.
The Benefits of Working Together
Most of us belong to more than one community, whether we’re aware of it or not. For example, an individual can be part of a neighborhood community, a religious community and a community of shared interests all at the same time. Relationships, whether with people or the land, define a community for each individual.
Community development is a process where community members come together to take collective action and generate solutions to common problems. Community well-being (economic, social, environmental, and cultural) often evolves from this type of collective action being taken at a grassroots level. Community development ranges from small initiatives within a small group to large initiatives that involve the broader community.
Effective community development should be a long-term endeavor, well-planned, inclusive and equitable, holistic and integrated into the bigger picture, initiated and supported by community members, of benefit to the community, grounded in experience that leads to best practices.
Community development seeks to improve quality of life. Effective community development results in mutual benefit and shared responsibility among community members. Such development recognizes the connection between social, cultural, environmental and economic matters, the diversity of interests within a community, and its relationship to building capacity.
Community development helps to build community capacity in order to address issues and take advantage of opportunities, find common ground and balance competing interests. It doesn’t just happen; capacity building requires both a conscious and a conscientious effort to do something (or many things) to improve the community.
The community development process takes charge of the conditions and factors that influence a community and changes the quality of life of its members. Community development is a tool for managing change but it is not a quick fix or a short-term response to a specific issue within a community, a process that seeks to exclude community members from participating; or an initiative that occurs in isolation from other related community activities. Community development is about community building as such, where the process is as important as the results. One of the primary challenges of community development is to balance the need for long term solutions with the day-to-day realities that require immediate decision making and short term action.
We know that a strong and thriving society requires everyone participating in the public square. To solve challenges, to decide what kind of society we intend to be and how we can advance those shared values, we need informed and empowered Volunteers whose voices contribute to an open exchange of ideas. In the foundation sector, we traditionally define impact by quantifying the services that our monetary donations help nonprofits deliver. But the most deep-seated issues that challenge our society today — issues of violence and justice, of equity and opportunity — require more than charitable donations. They require new models for how individuals, businesses, nonprofit organizations and governments can collaborate for the common good.
This is how we will create a community where no one is left behind.