Two sides of the same coin: community development and economic development go hand-in-hand

Two sides of the same coin: community development and economic development go hand-in-hand

“Lasting and sustainable change comes from local people.” – Deb Martin, community director at Great Lakes Community Action Partnership.

After 5 years testing models of community development throughout the Republic of Moldova, Institute for Rural Initiatives (iRi) plans to incorporate a new element into its initiative – local economic development.

Last week, iRi hosted a four-day (June 19-22) event covering the ‘ABCs’ of community economic development. American experts Deb Martin, Community Director at Great Lakes Community Action Partnership, and Blanca Amador Surgeon, Training Coordinator at Rural Community Assistance Corporation, discussed the process of including economic development within the framework of community development with over 80 invited participants (mayors, counselors, entrepreneurs, local NGOs and community people) from 30 communities across Moldova.

The conference was part of iRi’s Minority Empowerment in Moldova project (MEM PLUS) implemented in Moldova by the Institute for Rural Initiatives (iRi) in partnership with Great Lakes Consortium Action Partnership – a US-based NGO tackling rural development for more than 50 years. Creating practical solutions to complicated problems, the ‘ABCs’ of economic development as part of the MEM PLUS initiative provided practical tools of implementing economic development at the local level.

Both American experts over four days provided information and models about the process of economic development, engaged all in activities relating models to participant communities, and discussed individual problems in a public setting. This event was important in recognizing that there is no community development without economic development. As Ms. Deb Martin pointed out, “they are two sides of the same coin.”

Several innovative ideas and practical examples from US were introduced at the event. The participants learnt that each community has different assets and different types of wealth. Capitalizing off this wealth is a key process in developing any community. Constituents must have real-time conversations with officials, organizations, and average citizens in order to include everyone in the process of economic development.

“Communicating through gadgets does not build [a relationship of] trust.” – Ms. Bianca Amador Surgeon, training coordinator at Rural Community Assistance Corporation.

In this respect, the American experts recognized the importance of entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs drive any community. It is important that we give entrepreneurs the resources, connections and tools they need to build up the local economy. We are part of the entrepreneurial ecosystem. When we empower them, we see the returns (financially, socially, etc.) within our community. Entrepreneurs bring real capital. But the potential of any entrepreneur cannot be realized without the support of local administration.

“Sometimes we have to keep talking. It is very important for the local administration to understand they are part of that entrepreneurial ecosystem so that they understand the only thing that keeps the community alive and youth in Moldova are entrepreneurs.” – Deb Martin.

One of the main problems addressed by the American experts and Moldovans alike was the outmigration of youth to larger cities. Nowadays, young people leave their communities because they see no prospect of a better life in their own communities. The surge of outmigration takes with it capital. Communities now face the large task of not only keeping youth within the community, but also giving them a reason to. It is just as important to include young people in the community as it is leaders. For more on empowering the youth of Moldova, read about iRi’s ongoing initiatives on

“Why are we not capitalizing on youth’s energy? We have to change our mindsets to encourage young people to come back and stay. When young people leave, the wealth ends up leaving with them. Engage young people in the decision-making. If they understand they can make a change in the community from a young age, they are more likely to return.” – Deb Martin.

“I really liked the idea proposed of how to bring youth back to the community. Because youth are leaving for new infrastructure and a better life. I came back from a large city myself and I am proud of that. Now I am thinking what I can share with young people. If one young person returns, I will feel proud.” – Lidia Uzun, entrepreneur, Cazaclia.

As the conference drew to a close, many participants voiced their appreciation for the information given by the American experts. Mentors said they would have never believed economic development would have worked had it not been for the expertise of Ms. Deb Martin and Ms. Blanca Amador Surgeon. Many agree that community development and economic development have the same goal: increase the quality of life within the community.

“I will try to share this information with my community. If you don’t have a vision of what you want to do, you won’t succeed. You really gave us necessary and good information for the communities we come from.” – Valeriu Caldararu, Roma activist, community mentor, Minjir.

“We made the conclusion for us that economic development has a core role for our communities to be successful. All models – Tupelo and so on – this is the basis for us. We have to share it with our communities. We have to analyze our wealth and resources. We didn’t understand how to analyze them. Now we do.” – Galina Capsomun, community mentor, Gaidar, Gagauzia.

MEM PLUS is a common initiative of the Institute for Rural Initiatives (iRi) in Moldova and Great Lakes Community Action Partnership in OHIO, USA implemented with financial support from the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor.

More photos from the event can be found on the Facebook page of the Institute for Rural Initiatives (iRi).