Adopting the Concept of Community
Editor’s Note: This blog is part of an ongoing series of contributions from participants in The German Marshall Fund’s flagship leadership and development program, The Marshall Memorial Fellowship (MMF).
“This is what I do for my community,” “our community,” or “this community.” I heard these words throughout my stay in the United States as a Marshall Memorial Fellow. Translating them into Spanish (“mi comunidad” ?) sounds, unfortunately, quite strange. Why is it that Spanish society takes for granted that most elements of a thriving community must be provided by the public sector instead of being built from within? Is it true, as some people would argue, that the more the state provides, the lazier its citizens become?
I honestly do not believe that is true. I see thousands of people within my community willing to work and participate but without an understanding of what can be done to complement and enhance public investments and public efforts. What could be done to foster this sense of community among Spanish citizens?
The first step is education. In Spain, we may not be aware of the impact that our own initiatives might bring to our communities. We lack role models to follow and, to a certain extent, imitate. Publicly recognizing the efforts of grassroots community leaders who are doing a great job without being properly recognized could be a first step, as it would increase the awareness of community-based systems, both within Spain and those in the United States. With the constant flow of information coming from the states, I find it surprising that we Europeans do not know much about how local systems actually work there — let alone how to adopt similar models in our countries.
We should also make the Spanish public system more meritocratic and less dependent on tenure-dependent politicians. Promotion in the public sector in Spain, perhaps because it has a stronger impact on our daily lives than in the United States, is mostly based on seniority level. This creates a barrier for potential community leaders to engage, as they fear facing senior civil servants with few incentives to work hard or make courageous changes that would benefit their communities. If the public sector would take field experts to lead in areas of their expertise, the outcomes would not only be far better, but community members would also feel encouraged to participate and collaborate with their elected leaders and civil servants.
Last but not least, capital should be made available for private initiatives to be able to thrive and complement public efforts. In Spain, it is still very difficult to raise funds, as it is regarded as quite shameful to ask for money regardless of its intended use. The culture of allocating funds for social initiatives with uncertain outcomes is not quite there yet and wealthy individuals are more interested in the capital returns on their investments than on their social returns. In order to facilitate communication and engagement, the gap between wealthy individuals and passionate community leaders should be narrowed through the support of both private and public initiatives.
Taken together, all of these ideas borrowed from the United States might help Spain overcome the challenges it is currently experiencing across its communities.
Leire Mancisidor, investment director for Mundi Capital Partners, is a Fall 2016 European Marshall Memorial Fellow.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.