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Community Economic Development

Community economic development (CED) is said to consist of three main principles: Self-help; Empowerment and Capacity Building. This page will provide an overview of Community Development (CD), CED (which is a subset of CD) and definitions of these three terms.

It also provides a presentation on Community Based Development that led to the establishment of the Kankakee Community Development Corporation, the award-winning Community Economic Development Resource Center and CAN DO!



"Community development is the process by which the efforts of the people themselves are united with those of governmental authorities to improve the economic, social and cultural conditions of communities, to integrate these communities into the life of the nation, and to enable them to contribute fully to national progress. This complex of processes is, therefore, made up of two essential elements: the participation by the people themselves in efforts to improve their level of living, with as much reliance as possible on their own initiative; and the provision of technical and other services in ways which encourage initiative, self-help and mutual help and make these more effective." United Nations' definition of community development.


The idea of self-help is one of several distinguishing features of community development theory, practice, and ideology. Self-help is based on the premise that people can, will, and should collaborate to solve community problems. In addition to the practical problem-solving utility of this perspective, self-help builds a stronger sense of community and a foundation for future collaboration. It embodies the notion that a community can achieve greater self-determination within constraints imposed by the larger political economy in which it is embedded. Without a commitment to self-help, a community may exist as a place, an organization, or an interest group but be lacking the capacity building strategy. It is a style of planning, decision         making, and problem solving which is endemic to the very idea of community, especially that of the small, face-to-face community.

Self-help is emphasized not only as a goal to be achieved in and of itself, but also as a strategy for the accomplishment of broader development objectives. Helping communities achieve a capacity for self-help is fundamental to both the theory and practice of community development. If a spirit of self-help doesn’t exist within a community as an extension of the members' dedication to common goals and mutual respect; then, from the perspective of community development or empowerment, a capacity for self-help may be instigated with the assistance of an outside community development practitioner.

" It is this idea of intervention to produce a greater capacity for self-help among residents of a place that is a cornerstone of the community development profession. In community development practice, it is rudimentary that the solution to community problems is sought first within the community, and its resources and capabilities. While the community development approach does not assume that all important social, economic, or political problems of communities can be resolved by a community's own efforts, the idea of mobilizing broad community participation is prescribed as a goal of any community development effort and most definitions of community development include self-help.

Self-help embodies two interrelated features: (1)it is expected to produce improvements of people's living conditions, facilities, and/or services)" and (2) it emphasizes that the process by which these improvements are achieved is essential to development of the community. The "developed community" is both improved and empowered as a result. Of these two features, the self-help perspective emphasizes that the process is more important in the long run than the improvements, because the collaboration that derives from a strong sense of community can be the means to continuing improvement of community services and quality of life. By contrast; if community services, facilities, or improvements are contributed by an outside agency or organization with little or no community involvement, such "improvements" are likely to be transitory, to increase community dependency,  to contribute little to a greater sense of community, and to diminish the community's future  capacity to act on its own behalf. Thus a self-help approach not only emphasizes what a community achieves, but more importantly, how it achieves it. Another way of stating this is to distinguish between development in the community (the improvements) and development of the community (how these improvements are achieved).


The rationale for local capacity building bears repeating here: local governments alone simply do not have the human resources to cope effectively with the changing social, political, and economic environments which they now confront. If the base of human resources that local governments can draw upon is not expanded, then communities and people will never achieve the quality of life they want and deserve. The three general types of strategies for local capacity building are: (1) expanding the base of citizen involvement; (2) enhancing the leadership pool; and (3) enlarging the information base of local communities. While each is important, it is together that they establish a solid foundation for citizen participation in community development. These strategies have multiple purposes and outcomes. They contribute to capacity building by nurturing and strengthening local organizations, by generating citizen interest to participate in community decision making and actions, and by increasing the vehicles for citizen involvement."     Excerpts from Community Development Perspectives edited by James A. Christenson and Jerry W. Robinson, Jr. Iowa State University Press/Ames 1989


“Empowerment is another concept often discussed but not always practiced. In broad terms, empowerment is enhancing the possibilities for people to influence those persons and organizations that affect their lives. Empowerment involves recognizing and nurturing the unique strengths and competencies of people that derive from the wisdom of their everyday experiences. Empowerment also entails strengthening social networks and community institutions by promoting a diversity for approaches to deal with social life. An important route to empowerment is building local capacity. When a community and its people are empowered, they have the capacity to articulate their needs; to identify actions to solve these needs; and, to mobilize and organize resources in pursuit of community defined goals. When the people of a community come together to visualize a common future and then work together to achieve it, there develops a recognition that everyone -­regardless of education, job, race, background or whatever -- has something important to contribute to that process. Indeed, the greater the diversity of the participants, the richer the vision and the more effective its accomplishments.  Excerpts from a speech given by Lorraine Garkovich before the Twentieth Annual Conference of the Community Development Society, July 1989.




An article presented by Charles Betterton to Community Leaders in Kankakee, IL in 1988

Community based development is a process, usually long term, which is aimed at the development, and not just the immediate relief, of a community and the individuals who live and work in that community. It is a process which initiates, sustains, and manages long-term growth, improvement, and change in ways that foster a positive community vision and a sense of personal and community empowerment. The National Council for Community Based Development defines this concept as "the range of activities carried on by community controlled non-profit organizations, designed to improve the social and economic conditions of low-income communities in both urban and rural areas",

According to the National Task Force Report on Community Based Development, what distinguishes community based development from other efforts to revive depressed areas is the emphasis on self-help. Self-help is the presumption guiding successful local revitalization efforts throughout America with projects ranging from simple initiatives such as neighbors volunteering to help weatherize homes to complex models such as real estate syndications and commercial developments. Regardless of the type of endeavor, community based development translates into local ownership of strategies, projects, and achievements. It is this ownership that makes self-help a powerful approach for it produces not only calculable results but also the intangibles that are fundamental to an area's improvement: local expertise; pride; and forward momentum.

While there have been many significant positive developments throughout the Kankakee county community since the Fantus Study was conducted, there are still many opportunities for the area to cooperate more effectively and build upon these recent successes. In response to these opportunities, a number of community based development projects have been developed to facilitate the establishment of new more effective partnerships between the public and private sectors, non-profit organizations, and private citizens in order to facilitate the future evolution of the greater Kankakee area.

To help explain these programs and their relationship to existing programs in the community, the enclosed chart was developed to present an overview of the existing and proposed community and economic development organizations and activities. The enclosures present more detailed information on each specific community based development program and a chart depicting how they are interrelated and how they are serving as "upward mobility ladders" to facilitate greater participation by low income individuals, minorities, and youth in community and economic development activities.

The impact of the Fantus report has included a greater awareness in the local religious community that the churches may offer the only hope if the area is to progress and overcome our past problems. As a result, the greatest support the community based development projects have received has been from the religious institutions which are expanding their ministries into the community. Community leaders used a request for proposals from the Lilly Endowment as a vehicle for furthering these community based development initiatives. As a result of these efforts, we have made substantial progress toward our goals. For example:

* For the first time representatives of the four ministerial organizations met to explore the possibility of greater communication among the religious community.

* The religious organizations are cooperating on a community unity event which will include presentations by all the participating churches and community organizations involved in personal and community development.

* For the first time in the history of the community which has a minority population of 35%, minority and non-minority residents are beginning to share a common vision of community and the means of learning how to facilitate communication and cooperation.

* The Kankakee Community Development Corporation, a new not-for­ profit organization, was established to provide expanded opportunities for low and moderate income residents to participate in residential and commercial revitalization and small business development. The CDC will also develop an affordable housing project using a block owned by the City which has already committed over $100,000. to fund this project.

* A vacant downtown building is being acquired which will be the location for the first Self-Help Empowerment Incubator Center. This multi-purpose community development center will include the offices of the Kankakee Community Development Agency, the new Community Development Corporation, the Foundation for Personal and Community Development and Empowerment, Project Trailblazer, an entrepreneurial training program and incubator facility), a

  Community Development Volunteer and Resource Center, and YOUTH 2000, a county-wide youth leadership development program which has brought together over 50 community and human service agencies to provide educational and recreational opportunities for youth.

* The Foundation for Personal and Community Development is offering regular programs with speakers and presentations which foster the further development of communication and cooperation between religious organizations, community organizations; the business community and financial institutions f and rank and file citizens who are responding to the invitation to play a co-creative role in community and economic development and the future of the community.

The Foundation was established to facilitate personal growth, community and economic development  and the resolution of political, cultural, and racial concerns which adversely affect the community, The Foundation is an organizational vehicle for furthering implementation of community based development initiatives in partnership with the participating organizations. The Foundation has developed five separate community educational programs which it offers:

(1) Kankakee County Can Do!; periodic one to two hour seminars with a nationally known motivational speaker

(2)  Annual Professional Development Conferences with several national known presenters

(3) Monthly meetings with speakers who share their communities' and organizations' successful experiences in addressing economic, political, racial, and geographic divisiveness

(4) Ongoing seminars and workshops on personal, community, and organizational development

A resource library with books, periodical~, and audio and video cassette learning programs about personal, organizational, and community development,

The biggest obstacles we have had to overcome in this community were negative thinking, lack of cooperation, and failure to consider rank and file citizens (particularly youth, seniors, minorities and low income residents) as community assets. To address this lack of vision, the CDA and Foundation for Personal and Community Development and Empowerment have brought in a number of programs and speakers who have presented success stories from around the country.

These have included the Corporation for Enterprise Development, the Institute for Community Economics, Jeff Bercuvitz of the Regeneration Project, Gwen Jordan, Director of Community Development for the Community Renewal Society, Dr. Richard Poston, author of eight major books on community economic development and founder of the Graduate School of Community Development at Southern Illinois University, Dr. George Pintar, Executive Director of the Illinois Community Education Association, Dr. Steven Balkin, Professor of Economic Development at Roosevelt University and author of Self-Employment for Low-Income People, and Charles Whitnel; President of the Resource Group of America.

In an attempt to address some of the negative findings in the Fantus Study, the CDA held several community brain-storming sessions to identify problems and potential solutions. The questions asked and top three answers to each one are provided below. The community volunteer resource center and the Foundation's programs are designed to address these findings and recommendations and build upon the recent positive developments.

(1)  What are the greatest problems which affect the quality of life in Kankakee?

Inadequate citizen involvement in community affairs
Inadequate leadership throughout government

Lack of community unity and cooperation

(2) What corrective measures can be taken to address the problems?

Expand community and church involvement
Develop more community based programs

Provide resources which will enhance the self-help capacity of individuals, organizations, and the community.












The CAN DO! Empowerment Resource Center is a joint venture of three affiliated non-profit organizations: Ultimate Destiny University; CENTER SPACE (The Center for Personal, 
Spiritual And Community Empowerment); and the
Center for Conscious Sustainable Living.


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