April 1998 // Volume 36 // Number 2 // Ideas at Work // 2IAW2
Leadership Development Program Serves As a Change Agent in Community Development
This article describes Cooperative Extension serving as a change agent in the community development process. Because of major changes in both demography and rural social dynamics, communities now need alternative ways and approaches of addressing community problems. In order for Extension to continue a good working relationship with communities, Extension must serve as a change agent to present new ideas and techniques to adequately address community problems and break down barriers. The article discusses community leadership, developing teams of leaders to bring about change and new ways to approach community problems.
"There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things." - Niccolo' Machiavelli, "The Prince"
Change is a difficult objective to achieve in the community development process because community residents have built up barriers prohibiting discussion and action. Southern University Cooperative Extension Program has designed a leadership training program to help residents communicate and become change agents in community development by introducing new ideas and alternative action.
Southern University Cooperative Extension program, over the past three years, has been serving as a change agent in rural communities across Louisiana by providing a leadership development program called Building Opportunities through Leadership Development or (BOLD). BOLD is a four-month, eight- session leadership training program targeting forgotten community personnel who might not be attracted to other leadership training programs for various reasons, such as cost, logistics, and time constraints. The program's major strength is that all meetings are held in rural communities at no cost to the participants. The leadership program is structured to bring change because it encourages participants to discuss issues and areas of concern.
The program, mainly focused on group dynamics and shared goals, assists community leaders with the basic principles of leadership. BOLD is an evaluative and technical assistance program designed to develop teams of emerging leaders in the community working together in innovative ways across racial, class, and community boundaries to promote community and economic development.
The target participants are emerging leaders willing to assume leadership roles in their communities, but who do not, for the most part, hold established positions.
Program objectives include: recruiting and educating community leaders who might not participate in traditional leadership training programs, raising awareness of individual importance in group dynamics, increasing participation in community related problems and improvements, providing educational opportunities for community residents who want to make a change in their communities, and expanding collaborative efforts among nontraditional groups.
This paper discusses a BOLD program consisting of 28 members from three connected communities. Participants, between the ages of 21 and 58, were referred by the mayors of the communities. The group met every two weeks to learn new ways to work together and how they, as individuals, could work as a team to bring about change.
The communities of White Castle, Donaldsonville, and Napoleonville are located in the southern part of Louisiana. The Mississippi River is a defining landmark connecting the three communities. Agricultural-based industries and chemical plants are the major sources of employment.
A variety of teaching methods and educational experiences were used to accomplish the program's objectives. These included inviting local and state elected officials, local bank officials, and university personnel to present material related to the subject matter.
The first goal of the leadership training program was to promote teamwork among community residents. Teamwork is vital in planning and implementing community economic development strategies. The second benchmark is strategic planning. The participants were introduced to strategic planning and its application to economic development. The participants set goals and objectives for themselves and the group as a whole with benchmarks to stay focused on the objectives that were set by the group.
The third benchmark was community vision, which presents methods of developing a community-based vision of the future. This encompasses economic trends that provide information about global, national, and regional trends affecting rural economies. The fourth benchmark was community assessment, used in identifying local economic strengths and weakness, data collections and analysis to provide training in methods of research. This could be used for conducting surveys and interviews and to identify sources of secondary data. The community assessment segment provided the teams an opportunity to present the results to the community.
The fifth benchmark addressed problem-solving techniques. This session provided information on problem-solving, decision- making, and priority-setting techniques. The most important benchmark was communication. This session demonstrated the importance of communication skills and provided training to increase the effectiveness of personal communication skills. The sixth benchmark focused on motivation, which presents strategies that may be used to motivate constituents to become involved and stay in community activities.
The seventh benchmark focused on conflict management, discussing skills that can be used to reduce resistance to community change and to manage conflict between groups. The final sessions were used to discuss how non-profit organizations could be used to address community problems.
Through extensive training, exercise, skill development, and individual and group activities, participants were able to effectively and efficiently develop leadership roles in their community through a logical approach. In addition, it enabled the individual to share his or her leadership skills and principles with others in the community and develop teams who know how to work together and to bring about change.
The leadership training program resulted in the formation of the Tri-Parish Community Development Corporation, a 501-(c)-(3) organization serving the three target parishes. The Cooperative Extension Program provided technical assistance with the articles of incorporation, bylaws, and the 501-(c)-(3). As a result of BOLD, community leaders are working together to address such issues as housing development, educational problems, environmental concerns, and economic development.
The project was a positive experience to team members and the change agents involved. One team member commented, "Before this program, I did not know all the resources that were available in my community and if we work together we can solve our problems." The BOLD project was successful in building a consensus around the issues of mission, vision, and values, which is an important step toward creating a cohesive approach to address issues affecting the community.
The project is viewed as the beginning for rural communities to empower themselves to become more productive and more task- oriented to develop their communities. The world would be a poorer and duller place without community residents prepared to take on the established systems and make them better. Although community residents may not realize it, individuals participating in the BOLD Leadership Development Program became change agents and they are on a journey that many others have traveled to improve their community.