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Introducing Community Economic Development
by Charles Betterton, MSCED

 “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.

The primary goal of community development is to help people improve their economic and social conditions. Community economic development, a subset of community development, is a people-initiated strategy that seeks to develop the economy of a community, region or country for the benefit of its residents. Community economic development strategies seek to develop efficient, productive and profitable ventures and programs within the context of a community’s social, cultural and political values. Community Economic Development (CED) is said to consist of three main principles: Self-Help; Empowerment and Capacity Building. CED strategies include issues such as:

* local ownership of economic resources;
* citizen participation; and
* building the capacity of people to participate in and manage the development process.


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. 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.

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. 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). --

Excerpts from Community Development Perspectives edited by James A. Christenson and Jerry W. Robinson, Jr. Iowa State University Press/Ames 1989. Click Here for the expanded definition of Self-Help in Community Development


“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.


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

The cofounders of Universal Stewardheirship, Inc. and the CED Resource Center have a shared vision that includes reaching, serving and blessing millions of underserved people and helping create and save jobs. Our strategy for accomplishing that is to provide expanded access to some of the world's best development training programs, partly through a network of Community Economic Development Empowerment Resource Centers™ as described at  

Our programs are based on about 40 years of experience in designing and implementing innovative new ways to help Expand the Circle of Success. We know from personal experience that many if not most leading training companies focus just on the top 10% to 13% of the population. That is why we are introducing our strategy for bridging the access to creative thinking, problem solving and other Successful Living Skills in response to the recent $100 million dollar Request for Proposals from the MacArthur Foundation to "solve problems that affect people, places and our planet."  (

In our work as community organizers and community economic development specialists, we have conducted visioning, planning and strategic planning exercises for businesses, non-profit organizations and communities. Two of the main questions we usually include and the top three answers to each one revealed through The Three Round Method of Brainstorming (developed by the National Center for Community Education and the CS Mott Foundation) are provided below:

(1)  What are the greatest problems affecting the quality of life in the community?

Inadequate citizen involvement in community affairs.
Inadequate leadership throughout government.
Lack of community unity, cooperation and collaboration.

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

Develop more community-based programs.
Expand church and community involvement.
Provide access to resources and successful models that will enhance self-help, empowerment and capacity building for individuals and organizations.

In response to those results, several model Community Resource Centers have been established and Ultimate Destiny is launching the Expanding the Circle of Success campaign to help establish a network of locally initiated non-profit Community Economic Development Empowerment Resource Centers

Excerpt from Graduation Remarks for the CED Master’s Program by Charles Betterton

During one of the classes in the 1990-1992 Community Economic Development Master’s program at Southern New Hampshire University, we spent time discussing the root causes of the problems that threaten our society. We developed the following list:

The me generation
Getting away from God
Lack of spirituality
Lack of common vision
Absence of wisdom
Focus on accumulation versus circulation
Spiritual and cultural disintegration and the
Lack of an appropriate value system and ways to express it

The following month we considered potential solutions to these problems by reflecting on the values of community economic development which we described as including:

Spiritual underpinning, a sense of oneness
Application of cooperative principles
A focus on human development along with community development
Retention of wealth in the neighborhoods
Valuing community and the larger society
Consideration and appreciation of multicultural differences in religion, values perspectives and communication and
Enabling people and communities to empower themselves

We defined the role of CED as an educational process to help people become empowered and connected with others, thereby becoming the curative process. Through the information, exercises and experiences we shared during the Master’s program, participants all completed another upward spiral in our lives and careers. We acquired skills and techniques and access to resources that can transform our lives, our organizations, our communities and our world.

 “After twenty-five years of serving in various management capacities in community and economic development programs at the local, state and national level, I can attest to the significance and relevance of these CED Principles. Many communities are discovering that the principles and practices of community economic development provide a framework and formula for addressing the root causes of major concerns such as crime, drugs, gangs, quality of schools, increasing multi-cultural diversity and the need for jobs. CED also helps communities manifest more of the positive qualities presented by Arthur Morgan in his booklet on The Great Community.” – Charles Betterton, MSCED

“Mr. Betterton’s project for the 1990-1992 Community Economic Development Masters program at Southern New Hampshire University was to promulgate CED principles and practices. The fact that he turned down a HUD Community Builder Fellowship worth $250,000 in 1998 (when he was earning less than $25,000 a year) to continue the non-profit community empowerment work he and his team had underway at the time demonstrates his commitment to what he and his classmates defined as the foundation of CED: self-help, empowerment and capacity building.” — Michael Swack, Professor, the Carsey Institute, University of New Hampshire and founding Dean, School of Community Economic Development, Southern New Hampshire University