Compendium 2.1.4 Capacity building

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2.1.4. Community capacity building


The challenge

EQUAL projects show that entrepreneurial ability does not depend on educational qualifications, social status or race. Even the most deprived urban and rural communities can become "business incubators" – but this means designing long-term integrated itineraries that build individual and collective empowerment and link broader social issues to economic activity. The key is to start with small activities that spring directly from people’s concerns, and use these to create positive examples and role models that are the seed for entrepreneurship. Building trust through family and social networks is vital – as is the use of information and communications technology.

Secondly, public authorities can do a lot to strengthen the physical infrastructure for entrepreneurial activity. They can assist the growth of stable and responsible community organisations by transferring to them, under the appropriate legal and financial conditions, premises that are surplus to their own requirement. Owning physical property is important for stability especially financially, in balance sheet terms, because it can be used as security for a loan that may be necessary to provide liquid working capital. However it also leads to ‘ownership’ in the spiritual sense – it is a symbol that the community is in charge of its own destiny.

A useful study seting out a conceptual framework for capacity building with examples is: Alternative appoaches to capacity building - emerging practices abroad, published by Capacity Builders in Sep 09

How EQUAL has approached the issue – examples

The approaches described here are:

  • Entrepreneurship networking
  • Systematic staged outreach
  • Participatory diagnosis
  • Community innovation centres
  • Asset transfer
  • Festivals
  • Intergenerational linkages
  • Virtual communities

Entrepreneurship networking

In France, Réseau+ [1] proposes an economic model to help business creation in the caring field (elderly care, childcare). After an initial contact with a network manager, the parties sign a memorandum of understanding, which specifies the field of activity and the geographical coverage (minimum 60 000 inhabitants). This preliminary phase allows the future manager to examine the project’s feasibility, with the network’s support, for three months. A partnership contract is then signed, setting out four milestones:

  • the business plan, in which the future manager gets business advice from a network consultant
  • a legal study on the type of statutes and a survey of potential contractual agreements with relevant social services
  • a financial survey of potential grants, loans or facilities for setting up the business with the network’s financial partners (banks)
  • training adapted to the context (between 1 and 4 weeks)

Once the business is set up, the new manager signs a licence agreement under which the network monitors and supports his or her marketing, planning, etc. As long as the licence terms are respected, the manager develops the business according to his or her own aims in the territory agreed. One of the most successful developments of this entrepreneurship model is AD SENIORS (Aide à Domicile Seniors – Seniors Home Care) [2], which is expanding in many small and medium-sized towns where the public sector cannot meet the growing demand from the ‘silver economy’. Interestingly, a majority of these new care managers are themselves retired. They find in this model a way to turn their free time to a profit and limit the risk to their personal money (the minimum investment is €10,000) while improving the quality of life of their community. They also develop local employment as they improve skills in the nursing and healthcare sectors.

Systematic staged outreach

The Opportunity to be an Entrepreneur in the North of Cordoba EQUAL partnership [3] contradicted all the stereotypes by creating 67 functioning firms out of what seems like nothing – in under three years. It did this by drawing in all local actors into a concerted campaign to “blanket” the entire community and build a more entrepreneurial culture. It followed this through with a series of innovatory tools for making both finance and advice more accessible to self-employed people. Its methods have had an impact on regional employment legislation and deserve to be shared among other European projects, especially those working in rural areas. The driving force behind the partnership is the commitment and direct involvement of two federations of village town halls plus a total 32 other local organisations including youth and women’s organisations, associations of small firms, trade unions and local action groups.

Working in a rural area of Andalusia, the project addressed the issue of motivating through a four-stage outreach programme. It knew that a passive office-based approach would fail to reach people from excluded communities and groups. It saw that while there was a rather weak entrepreneurial culture, there was also quite a dense and active network of community organisations and front-line community workers. So it mobilised this grass-roots network to become the “funnel” for engaging with potential entrepreneurs at the earliest stage:

1. Research: The first step was to create a comprehensive database of all the local organisations and agencies that had any contact with the unemployed. They also analysed where the unemployed were to be found and what their profiles were.

2. Mobilise the intermediaries: They then carried out a massive campaign of 213 informal meetings, organised to suit the timetables of the key actors. They inform them of what the project could do and established a permanent channel for referring unemployed people. Altogether the project mobilised a major network of 275 local actors in this way.

3. Mobilise the beneficiaries: each local contact person organised a small meeting for 10–15 unemployed people with whom they had regular contact and trust. One of the EQUAL staff animated these meetings using a specially designed presentation that looked at the main barriers and risks of setting up a business from the point of view of an unemployed person and then provided a range of possible solutions. Altogether the EQUAL team organised 70 such awareness days with 893 potential entrepreneurs.

4. Channel the potential entrepreneurs into an integrated support itinerary (see Compendium 2.2 Business support).

Participatory diagnosis

In the urban core of Lisbon, the K'cidade (pronounced capacidade) project, promoted by the Aga Khan Foundation and supported by EQUAL, is tackling the root causes, rather than just the symptoms, of social exclusion and low entrepreneurial spirit – by first mobilising communities and raising levels of confidence in individuals and among the community. K’cidade gained buy-in from the local community by organising a process of participatory diagnosis involving 100 organisations, to identify key issues and perspectives. The team subsequently mobilised nearly 70 of these organisations to devise, plan and implement activities for the communities in an integrated and mutually reinforcing manner. Local beneficiaries implemented six projects, reaching about 600 people, which provide a good platform from which to mobilise other local people. More than 6,000 residents have been mobilised, with 28% of them being actively involved.

Community innovation centres

K'cidade then established three easily accessible Community Innovation Centres in Alta de Lisboa, Mira Sintra and Ameixoeira. These are designed to be "creative and innovative spaces, planned and managed in the future by the residents". These serve as the base for Community Innovation Projects (CIPs) proposed and led by residents. K'cidade’s leaflets and website ask residents in the target communities to approach them with ideas. Once interest groups start to emerge, they are helped to plan and implement their projects. The Foundation’s experience in implementing this style of bottom-up community development plan in rural areas of developing countries has taught it not to provide solutions – rather the participants are encouraged to find their own solutions. External resources are thus used to reinforce local capacity and not to substitute for it.

A crucial strength of the project was that it involved a great diversity of partners, both public and private. It combines top-down and bottom-up approaches and stimulates a common learning process. Eighty-one workers from six organisations have been involved in capacity building processes leading to the strengthening of three local partnership networks and 218 local development agents. Activities such as joint training sessions and workshops for local development agents, on-the-job consultancy for local organisations and exposure visits have raised the participating agencies' awareness of the issues at stake and the project's approach.

Asset transfer

Asset transfer was one of the avenues of work explored by the C3 – Competitive, Confident, Credible EQUAL partnership [4] in Bristol, UK.

In 2005, Bristol City Council wished to improve the use of its enormous stock of property and land, which amounted to one-third of the land within the city boundary. It commissioned a report on its asset transfer policy. The consultants found that in the past a number of pieces of property had been transferred to social economy organisations. Altogether, about 100 properties with an annual rental value of £0.5m (€0.7m) are currently being used under concessionary leases – that is effectively for free. For instance:

  • In Southmead, a piece of land was sold for £1.5m (€2.2m) and the proceeds given to the Southmead Development Trust. This enabled it to be financially independent and to raise match funding from external sources;
  • In Southville, the council sold 60% of a site to a housing association, and used the money to build a community centre on the remaining 40%.

However the report also found that the transfers had taken place on a case-by-case basis, and thus many potential benefits were being missed. For instance the transfer of an asset can be compensated by the provision of a service by the receiving organisation. The report therefore recommended a move to a more systematic way of assessing the added value of such capacity-building measures. By providing a stable financial base, owning a building is an important means of helping a community organisation to escape dependency on grant aid and become self-sustaining. It can be used as security for loans which can provide the liquid working capital that businesses require. A community-owned asset base can therefore be the foundation stone on which inclusive and socially entrepreneurial activity can be built.

In 2010 the local authority of Hebden Bidge in Yorkshire, England, tranferred its town hall to the ownership of the town's community association, and rents back the facilities it uses.

Community share offers

One very straightforward way for local people to take contol of local resources such as businesses or buildings is for the them to buy them. A pilot project in the UK called Community Shares is looking at how local communities can organise to do this. It is studying ten such projects.

Share issues for community purposes can successfuly raise very large sums - fair trade organisations such as Traidcraft and Shared Interest have raised millions of pounds. By 2006 approximately 80 initiatives, registered as either companies and industrial and provident societies, had been set up, and the pace is quickening. Since then a further 50 IPSs have been founded, and 1989 alone saw 28 registrations.

Download The Community Shares Programme: one year on


In a project supported by the UK’s Phoenix Fund, Bristol East Side Traders (BEST) [5] used people's love of a good day out to help foster and encourage emerging businesses in some of Bristol's poorest areas. By organising street festivals in St Marks Road and St Paul's Market, two of the city's busiest inner-city trading areas, the group helped create a sense of pride in the local community. The festivals enabled people to run stalls and tryout their business ideas, and gave local traders the opportunity to get their products to customers. They also made closer links with other businesses operating in the two streets.

Intergenerational linkages

One idea that has been tested is bringing different generations together. The Maillâges (‘Link-ages’) project [6] tested the idea of bringing an older person together with a younger one to create a business. Young and older entrepreneurs who may have a similar or related idea and are looking for business support are put in contact to look for complementarities and to assess the benefits of setting up a business together. This is being tested in Rhône-Alpes.

The idea is to organise training days on business creation issues where the entrepreneurs get together. "Intergenerational link-ages" can help them to bring their projects together and develop a stronger company than either individual would be able to develop on their own. Often, young people have theoretical education, but older workers at a later stage of their professional life have practical experience that complements it. The older person will have more knowledge about how a business operates in the real world. However it could well be that the young entrepreneur has the skills to carry out a market study, which the older worker does not have. "Intergenerational link-ages" aims to create 150 entrepreneur couples.

Virtual communities

With the advent of ’Web 2.0’, the internet is becoming a ubiquitous tool for reaching out and building community capacity. The new generation of collaborative software, combined with fast, cheap ‘always on’ broadband connections, allow people to communicate in groups in an increasingly rapid and intuitive way. Several of the many ‘social networking’ websites number users in the hundreds of millions: Facebook had 132 million unique visitors in June 2008, while Wikipedia has 8 million registered editors (plus an unknown number of anonymous editors). Many EQUAL partnerships made good use of the internet. For example the ‘Alternative Entrepreneurship’ EQUAL project [7] set out to promote entrepreneurship among women, and used the web to develop innovative solutions and joint systems. The project adopted participatory techniques to foster a creative atmosphere and a shared approach to problem solving. As well as regular face-to-face meetings, the project used a web portal to share information, knowledge, skills and experiences, and to publish the project’s results.

Several projects used Wikipedia as a dissemination medium, by creating articles relating to their projects or activities. Some projects went further and created their own wikis as online collaborative workspaces under their own control. The chief example is this wiki, Wikipreneurship, which was launched as a support for COPIE, the Community of Practice on Inclusive Entrepreneurship. In its first nine months it has grown to host over 700 articles relating to inclusive entrepreneurship.

Recommendations for mainstreaming policies

Quite apart from barriers to starting a business, members of disadvantaged groups also have to overcome barriers to participation in society generally. Outreach into minority communities therefore cannot be conceived of as a tool to rapidly generate new business start-ups. Nor is it particularly cost-effective in these simple terms. It should be carried out as part of a broad strategy for social inclusion.

In the case of elderly care, one of the major challenges is to improve coherence at local level so that high-quality skills and services are guaranteed to the whole community. In many small towns and suburbs, where the sense of community life and generational solidarity tends to vanish, planning care is becoming as important as planning transport or water supply. There is a tentative trend among local authorities to implement such planning schemes in the field of care and social services, which should be pursued and expanded.

Links to EQUAL case studies

Other useful links

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