Concepts from the field of community organizing can be useful for leaders hoping to build momentum to make change in their communities.
Community organizing is the process of bringing people together to make systemic change, which is ultimately what leaders in small legacy cities are seeking to do as they work to build up their community’s capacity to prosper in the twenty-first century economy.
Self-interest is a foundational concept in community organizing, and is one that all leaders making change in their communities understand, perhaps intuitively. Self-interest is what motivates an individual to act, even in altruistic situations. Understanding how a stakeholder’s self-interest intersects with revitalization efforts is critical to recruiting them to be a part of those activities. This is especially important for bringing stakeholders to the table that may not typically participate in community or economic development efforts or for navigating partnerships that involve representatives from a number of different sectors or backgrounds.
Many resources from the community organizing field focus on self-interest. A useful resource for those who are new to the concept comes from the University of Denver’s Center for Community Engagement & Service Learning. Their Community Organizing Handbook gives an overview of the concept of self-interest and how it relates to building community power to get things done. Self-interest is discussed beginning on page 14.
For those with more familiarity with organizing concepts, the concept of self-interest is also discussed in a blog post from the LISC Institute for Comprehensive Community Development by David McDowell of the Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP). The blog post discusses how savvy organizers will think about self-interest on multiple levels:
Partner: Organizing is about finding overlapping self-interest with your partners and working together to achieve shared goals.
Institutional: The self-interest of an organization may be different than the self-interest of the people running it – keeping both kinds of self-interest in mind is important in building strong coalitions and partnerships.
Powerbroker: Successful organizers also understand and cater to the self-interest of the people with the power to make the change they want to occur (referred to in this blog posts as “targets”).
Personal: Successful partnerships require trust from both sides – organizers must understand and be upfront about their own reasons for taking on this work to build and maintain trust.