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CED Blog

Three Kinds of People and Three Kinds of Communities

by Mark Peterson - December 8, 2017

Moving Manila Forward logo

A recent event triggered this realization – that there are three kinds of people and three kinds of communities: those that make things happen, those that watch things happen, and those that don’t know what happened. (This applies to businesses and non-profits as well). 

  • Community leaders and communities that make things happen are PRO-ACTIVE. They realize that world is moving fast, and if they don’t take action, they will be losing ground. They may also realize that their actions attract resources and opportunities, which we have seen many times, as a community development process becomes a catalyst for new businesses to open in a community. In Rison (pop. 1,344), county seat of Cleveland County, Arkansas, Kickstart Cleveland County has been a catalyst for attracting 8 new businesses, the first in 25 years!
  • Community leaders and communities that watch things happen are RE-ACTIVE. They may think things are just fine, and they will respond if a crisis happens. One limitation with this approach is that the process of going downhill is often slow, and not noticeable until there is a crisis, such as a major employer leaving, or downtown buildings collapsing.  
    • I recently visited a college town of 10,000 on an interstate with over 20 vacant buildings and several concrete slabs downtown. Seeing one business close is not a crisis, but stepping back and seeing 20 or 25 businesses close in a downtown is a crisis.
    • Sounds like the boiled frog metaphor – that if a frog is put suddenly into boiling water, it will jump out, but if the frog is put in tepid water which is then brought to a boil slowly, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death. I haven’t tried this with a frog, but it rings true for communities and their viability.
  • Community leaders and communities that don’t know what happened are IN-ACTIVE. Perhaps they just believe that things will get better or that someone out there will come and save them. Or they may be so busy in their silos that do not see what is happening around them. 
    • But the result of this neglect of the overall community as a whole is deadly. This is why there are ghost towns in Arkansas and every state of our nation. My wife and I visited Gethsemane, Arkansas recently, but WE GOT THERE TOO LATE.  Everyone had either died or moved away. All that was left was a water tower, a cemetery, and a town sign.

Moving Manila Forward is Making Things Happen

This last Tuesday I met with leaders of Moving Manila Forward, a community development initiative in Manila, Arkansas (pop. 3,342). Moving Manila Forward started when Mississippi County Extension Agent Staff Chair Ray Benson called and asked questions about how the community might develop and become revitalized. 

One of the keys to successful community and economic development is to engage the community so the process is driven by their needs and desires. In addition to public meetings, the chairman of Moving Manila Forward, Andrew Fleeman, engaged the community through a community survey on Facebook. Over 1,600 people saw the survey (watched what is happening), but only 300 filled it out (making things happen). Furthermore, Moving Manila Forward has involved over 146 people in the development process (those who are really making things happen).

Finally, those that make things happen remind me of this compelling quote about Africa:

"Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must outrun the fastest lion or it will be killed. Every morning in Africa, a lion wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the slowest gazelle or it will starve. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a lion or a gazelle, when the sun comes up, you’d better be running."             

-Sue Tabor, General Manager, Nordstroms, San Francisco