Franz Nahrada / Workspace /
Original in Russian:
Contributions by/JeffBuderer /SteveBosserman
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Innovative rural development
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Archangelsk region will help Russia introduce new social technologies
On February 12th, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev spoke in the Kremlin for broader application of information technologies in Russian life. He said that progress is not possible without new information technologies, neither in science nor in management. The primary tasks include establishing e-government and fostering digital society. An IA REGNUM correspondent discusses how to do this effectively with Franz Nahrada, the leader of GLOBAL VILLAGES NETWORK, an international network of experts and innovators. Franz Nahrada is joined by Gleb Tyurin, Director of the Institute for Social and Humanistic Initiatives.
>REGNUM: Mr. Nahrada, we are glad to meet you again. Continuation of our interview was postponed for more than two months. Why was that?
Franz Nahrada: Before our conversation, I wanted to get a reply from the leadership of Archangelsk region in order to understand how Governor Michalchuk is treating our proposals and what we can talk about.
>REGNUM: Did you hear from the governor of Archangelsk region?
Franz Nahrada: Yes, the answer has come. It was signed by Vice Governor Mr. Sergey Molchansky. The letter informed about current work on sustainable development of rural areas in Archangelsk region. It said that the Administration of Archangelsk region is interested in cooperation and is ready to support the undertakings which I wrote about. In particular it was mentioned: “Let me assure you that we are interested to develop rural territories and are ready to render support in arranging this work in Archangelsk region”.
>REGNUM: So we can conclude that Archangelsk region is ready to become an international pilot project of rural development?
Franz Nahrada: As far as I understand that was exactly the meaning. So, it seems that indeed there is a movement or interest to make Archangelsk region an international focal point for innovative rural development. While at the same time I would say that we have got only very preliminary consent on what it means. We need to go on discussing and formulating what can be done. I hope the Administration of Archangelsk region will come forward with its own vision. I think that for the beginning we need to create a joint understanding what is rural development, what is it about, what kind of process is that.
REGNUM: Let's talk about that.
Franz Nahrada: Ok. I invited Gleb Tyurin, Director of the Institute for Social and Humanistic Initiatives in Archangelsk to take part in our conversation. He created that notable experience of rural development in Archangelsk region. His books inspired many people in many countries. He knows what is going on with rural development in Russia and he will carry out practical work in Russian villages. Together it will be easier for us to formulate practical approaches towards rural development.
We are talking about rural development, about development of a place. There is a certain place, a certain territory, a village, settlement or district. There is a village as a locality and it has to live, it has to go on developing.
REGNUM: Is it truly important? Do we need locality to go on living and developing?
Franz Nahrada: It is extremely important. Locality is turning into the omen or pivot of our time. Localities have to thrive (and local markets have to develop) in order that regions might thrive. Modern crisis shows it again with its inexorable logic. If most of the goods which are consumed in your region are imported, and most of the goods you produce are taken out, then recession in external markets will doubtless crash production and consumption in your region. And this decline can be catastrophic. At the same time, local markets which consume local goods will become one of the main safety nets and universal economic chaos will not affect you as it will others.
Gleb Tyurin: That’s why a new movement around relocalization has been growing in America for last years. It is a strategy focused on the local production of food, energy and goods. Relocalization has the aim to strengthen local markets, local self-governance and local culture. And it works. They not only write about it in newspapers or websites. Hundreds and thousands of small communities, counties put it into practice. Millions of people are involved in this work. In a number of countries they advocate that food should be brought from a distance of not more than one hundred miles.
Franz Nahrada : The same approach can be seen in many countries: Canada, Great Britain, Chile, Serbia, Lithuania, Kyrgyzstan, Thailand, Kenya. A movement for local development has appeared in many countries. People have taken into consideration that they need to make their life more local. I they want it to be safer and more successful. This does not mean destruction of global (distant) links. It means that global links have to acquire absolutely new meaning, a new sense. It means that we need to build a new big world which is a union and coexistence of a big number of small communities.
Gleb Tyurin: We can see it also in Russian reality. Today every responsible politician (governor or mayor) is for enlarging the role of local production, enlarging consumption of local products. For example, Archangelsk Governor Michalchuk is standing strongly for that. The significance of these efforts is growing.
Franz Nahrada: So, locality and local issues have again become political agenda. One cannot not think about them, it is not possible not to work with them. But we have to realize that development of local areas (and rural areas in particular) is not an easy task. It needs a lot of comprehensive changes, basic changes.
We can’t achieve anything if we shall go on supporting the state of things which existed before. We need to be realists. We can’t rejuvenate the local markets in the way they existed before. We can’t maintain the village in the way it existed before. If everything will remain just the same as it used to be before, locality will not be able to resist the huge flood of mass production since there is no systemic balance. Most of the local production schemes are still archaic, not efficient, not able to compete even locally. They need to be redesigned, built anew and on new basis.
Gleb Tyurin: In previous decades, we lived in an industrial society which was constantly enlarging production, destroying all these small places, villages, small towns, and moving people to urban areas. Mass production has become absolutely dominant. It has created mighty and super-efficient infrastructures of promotion and distribution of goods: malls and supermarkets in cities, rapid logistics, appealing presentation. It therefore conquered all local markets, even the smallest ones. Look at the shelves in any countryside shop in any country. You will see that they are piled up with imported mass products. They are usually not local.
Franz Nahrada: Rural areas have become areas of non-compatibility, poverty. They have lost their own production facilities and markets and can’t even maintain their human resources, as the young generation normally is leaving. So there seem to be no productive forces.
REGNUM: That’s why the main questions are: How can we enlarge the ability of rural areas to compete? How can we overcome rural poverty?
Gleb Tyurin: Maybe it is better instead to ask, How to make rural areas rich? How to create a specific modern way of becoming rich? In order to stop being poor, people in villages need to make new ways of creating wealth and abundance the rationale of village life.
But what is wealth now? One of those famous modern thinkers, Roberta Verzola from the Philippines, recently wrote that wealth is based on two things: the ability of nature to reproduce itself (fertility) and the infinite ingenuity of human knowledge, which is in fact based on the sharing of information. We do have Nature. But knowledge (information) is playing now the absolutely leading, revolutionary role.
Today, in every element of economic wealth, in successful commodities, knowledge is occupying a very essential part, sometimes the main part. For example, software is almost pure knowledge, pure information. It is just digits which are arranged in a certain way and linked by the capabilities of a computer.
Franz Nahrada: Knowledge has changed the world. Although many say we live in a knowledge society, we don’t estimate it properly in its sheer dimension. It is snowballing with huge speed. It brings new changes constantly. Change is the main feature of modernity. Modern development is constant change based on knowledge growth. Not all information is bringing development, but that which changes the way of using resources and brings new possibilities. The most valuable information is manifested in technological improvements. Modern abundance is based on technologies and knowledge which allows us to use technologies.
That’s why one more important question is: How to bring modern technologies and possibilities to rural areas? How to open up a rural economy of knowledge. Let’s pay attention to the fact that the Russian "Program 2020" puts knowledge economy promotion as the main priority and asks what it means precisely for the village.
Gleb Tyurin: Up until now, the widespread usage of modern technologies in rural localities was looked at as something totally impossible and unreal, as there was almost a monopoly of urbanity. But let's not forget one thing. Industrialization almost destroyed the charming ancient traditional system of knowledge which allowed rural areas to live up until the twentieth century. Peasants were part of nature and they knew a lot about how to handle nature. This tacit knowledge has almost all disappeared. No new knowledge system for rural localities appeared. Moreover, the village was excluded from any system of accumulating and leveraging information and knowledge. It was deprived of intellectual resources.
Franz Nahrada: The world split into cities that were technocratic, industrial and adaptive, and rural regions that were “lost in the past” where people could “only twist cow's nails”. The city was the only environment where technologies could be leveraged and could thrive. Cities dominated and like a vacuum cleaner swallowed, sucked out human resources, destroying rural places. For decades and decades, technological developments led only to village destruction.
Gleb Tyurin: But this all started to change. Further technological development pulled apart the limits of reality, stepped outside of cities, gave local places new possibilities. It started with the promotion of new agricultural technologies of mass production (agroindustrial production as it is called in Russian), which spread in the south of Russia and in other parts of the country. But mass production is not possible everywhere. What are we to do in other places?
We are talking about brand new possibilities which can be brought almost to every one of these distant small settlements spread out far away..
REGNUM: Could you say more about these possibilities?
Franz Nahrada: They are in fact remarkable. There are plenty of them. They can give new breath to localities. But not many people know about them. And very few people can imagine how to use these possibilities. Let’s talk about some of them.
First. There are a number of new technologies which allow for local, human-sized, and at the same time compatible production. The rapid growth of digital technologies, and their application and combination with other techniques have caused a brand new situation. They became at the same time smaller in size, more productive and more accessible. They don’t require huge factories any more. A few people (or one person) can produce them. The equipment can be moved and installed almost anywhere, even in a remote village or in the middle of a forest. It makes for small but efficient production. This equipment allows one to build a new local economy.
Gleb Tyurin: For example, there are new types of compact transportable sawmills, which one can move to the forest and produce good quality desks right there. Using modern sewing machines, one can make dozens of complicated operations, including embroideries for t-shirts. We can provide many such examples in various spheres of life (and we’ll return to that later).
Alas, these opportunities are mostly not taken advantage of at all, and not because of lack of finances. The matter is lack of understanding, lack of knowledge, lack of information. Often people don’t know about the opportunity. And even if somebody tells them about it, they do not know how to take a step forward.
Many people can’t even imagine it all. One can hear: “What kind of technologies can be used in our reality? What you are talking about?" Often local leaders think the same way.
Franz Nahrada: Besides that, there are new technological and marketing opportunities for local food production. Certainly, it will not be able to replace mass production, but local producers can find new niches, can compete and develop. Local products do not contain all of these colorings, chemical fertilizers and other artificial ingredients, which in fact makes food dangerous and makes people in cities mad about it.
Gleb Tyurin: There is growing demand for ecological clean natural (organic) food. In cities, people are ready to pay for natural organic local products. This can be turned into an essential asset for locality. And producers of different sizes can find niches here: from individuals who produce something just for neighbors, farmers, cooperatives, up to bigger producers. It can be kind of a movement in the line of ascent, starting with small homestead private production and then moving to different forms of cooperation. But it is important to create joint interest in the place, to build a combination of private interests. It is necessary to unite efforts in a way that enlarge forces and abilities.
The main task today is not to sell food to cities, but to revive local markets. Food is often imported to many Russian rural areas. Aside from food, we can also think about other small scale production. And here we again need new technologies, including managerial and marketing technologies. The majority of villagers do not understand how to promote or advertise goods, how to set prices, how to diminish cost, etc.
REGNUM: But we need to admit that in many of our villages you can find only elderly people. Who can bring changes and technologies to villages?
Franz Nahrada: Our time brings new possibilities of attracting people to rural areas. Some of them sound very unusual. We could not even imagine them until recently. Let’s say there is a strata of people in cities who might become rural inhabitants. For example, there is a “generation which works at home”. These people do not go to work (to an office), they work at home, and send the results of their work to the customer by way of the Internet. Among them we can find designers, engineers, accountants, consultants, staff for call centers, and people working with computer technologies. This list can be continued. These people communicate with their customers and get their orders in other cities, regions, countries, even continents. It is not necessary for them to live in cities as they “do not work where they live”. They can live anywhere. Rural areas which want to develop can offer these people the possibility of a comfortable life in a village, without noise, stress, jams, in an ecological setting. These people can live as rural inhabitants, yet earn as if they were city dwellers.
Gleb Tyurin: So rural areas could receive a slice of skilled people who before lived only in cities. They can create economic symbioses with farmers, buying services and food. These people can broaden local capabilities and create new rural intellectual human resources. Even a few new inhabitants who move from the city can open up brand new possibilities.
But we also need to think how to bring back the young generation from the villages which moved to the cities. It is possible. But to make it happen one also needs to bring brand new technologies and build a new economy.
REGNUM: But is it really possible that people will move to live in the countryside? Is it a story from a fantasy novel?
Franz Nahrada: It is not a fantasy, it is coming true in many countries. In some places, it is an usual story, and in some others it is just starting. But it seems to be a growing tendency. Indeed, big cities are very problematic places to live. Many more people could move to rural areas, if they became microurban.
Gleb Tyurin: We can find such examples in Russia also. There is the beginning of new colonization of the countryside and not only around Petersburg and Moscow. I know a dozen of persons from Moscow who say that they would like to move to any nice old village, as they are tired of the city and its crazy ecology. And here is one more modern development opportunity: development based on cultural heritage and recreational potential.
Our times have developed a desire for authentic local traditions, local culture. Mass production homogenizes the planet. You can find the same trading centers, fast food, advertising everywhere. That’s why real local flavor is bringing joy. It means a desire for keeping our locality, for preserving local peculiarity. Those local areas which keep the traditional local features have an essential asset for growth.
Traditional landscapes add additional value to an area. They can become a background for specific landscape development and creating specific surroundings where people from cities would move. They can form the basis of one more important branch: rural tourism. This is a huge market and can also bring development possibilities. Archangelsk region has good perspectives in this direction. We have a large number of unique old villages.
Franz Nahrada: So, there are many different possibilities. They do exist. But we need to mention that these possibilities will not appear and will not take place by themselves. Special efforts, special programs are needed in order to make it all happen. Special people are needed, which will let it all be brought to reality. Everything starts with people.
REGNUM: I suppose that many our readers will say that it is all is very doubtful. Many local inhabitants will hardly understand and accept these kind of ideas.
Franz Nahrada: That’s true. And that is the main limitation. One of the main reasons why villages don’t develop is that an absolute majority of the population doesn’t see any possibility. They exist in a mental space which deprives them of any possibilities. Rural areas will not start to develop suddenly by themselves. We need people who will initiate changes.
Gleb Tyurin: That’s how it is. One of the main features of any rural society is its lack of ability to change. It is not ready for changes. It doesn’t know how to create changes. As distinct from cities, where people are used to life changing all the time, rural inhabitants are used to live the same way year after year, decade after decade, generation after generation. But today the ability to change is absolutely crucial for survival.
Franz Nahrada: We need to develop this ability to change and create positive changes, this ability to be modern. Moreover, only innovative development will let rural areas stay alive. And we need special skills which bring innovative development to locality. First of all, we need to bring what in the Russian program 2020 (Putin's plan) is called the innovative development of population .
REGNUM: But it’s terribly hard. There are doubts if it is possible in general.
Franz Nahrada: I think that the experience of the Institute of Social and Humanistic Initiatives created in Archangelsk region provides us with the absolute evidence that even in the most remote and unfortunate (almost destroyed) villages innovative behavior can be produced, and can show very high efficiency and highest return. That’s why this experience is so attractive.
Gleb Tyurin: Development is not delivery of money, as some officials think. Development is transmission of knowledge, know-how, skills, and delivery of knowledge which fosters the innovative behavior of citizens and community. That’s what Putin and Medvedev designated as the strategic priorities of the country. And it is evident that this requires people who can work with that professionally, which is to say, professional “developers” or development agents. This requires people who can help to build development. Innovation, as I already mentioned, should be brought, adopted, showed, explained. It should be supervised and supported up to the moment when it becomes sustainable, unless somebody can innovate directly in daily practice. It should then be showed and promoted to others. And after that followers will appear.
Franz Nahrada: And today we have to speak about a new profession: local development agents, who have special skills to come to any locality and help people unleash innovative projects and build bridges into the future. This profession is appearing at the same time in different countries. It still doesn’t have a settled name. In Hungary, it is called mentors of the information society. In Austria, we call these people regional information coaches. In some places, they are called guides or trainers, facilitators, animators. But we know that their main task is to help local inhabitants see new possibilities and make changes step by step. We speak about Archangelsk region as a pilot area in rural development as it has real assets for developing this new profession and providing changes. It is a real asset of your region.
Gleb Tyurin: I think that our region could make its own essential contribution into this program of innovative development.
REGNUM: Let me thank you for this conversation. It happens to be large and not predictable. There are many more questions to ask. We did not touch on them. So let’s return to them later.
Franz Nahrada : With pleasure.