...economically and politically, torn by internal conflicts, vulnerable to external shock and some being erased from the history of mankind.  There is not even a small corner on planet Earth that has not been affected by the economic expansion called globalisation. Therefore, it is necessary for communities to understand the advantages and disadvantages that come within the package of globalisation in order to avoid disastrous consequences. Roddick (2001), the founder of Body Shop, encourages each citizen to take it personally.

In this article, I would like to discuss the main elements of the globalisation package, what affect they have on community development, analyse Alytus, my home town, as a study case and provide arguments why such projects like Innovation Circle are very important for small communities survival.

The primary focus of globalisation is economic expansion that creates extreme form of interdependence. After the end of the Cold War the capitalist market economy prevailed throughout most of the world. The National Security Strategy of the United States of America, 2002, consolidated a single sustainable model – freedom, democracy and free enterprise - for national success. The document suggests that economic growth and prosperity can be achieved by fostering free trade and free market systems with limited role of the government. According to Willis (2005), neoliberal ideas of a free market, based on deregulation and privatisation and minimal government were developed by Milton Freedman in 1970 and consolidated power of large corporations and restructured economies around the world to serve their needs. One also can question, how a single model is compatible with principles of democracy?

Klein (2007) investigation demonstrates that this fundamentalist form of capitalism has always needed a disaster to advance; like the collapse of the Soviet Union, 9/11, Tsunami or economic shocks. After the Tsunami in Shri Lanka in 2004, poor fishermen were blocked from reconstructing their villages on the beautiful coastline they had always used. Instead, foreign investors moved in to build expensive resorts.  Before Hurricane Katrina, there were 123 public schools in New Orleans, only 4 were re-established. Instead, 31 private schools were installed (Klein, 2007).  Iraq is another example. Shocked societies often give up things they would otherwise fiercely protect.

Individualism and inequality are the essential parts of the neoliberal package. Former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said: “It is our job to glory in inequality, and see that talents and abilities are given vent and expression for the benefit of us all”. The main idea behind this is that everyone has to provide for himself/herself and we have to blame ourselves if things are not going well.

Escobar (2004) argues that modernity faces a deep crisis today because of the failure to fulfil its promise of minimum wellbeing for the people of the world.  Oppressive globality unfolds in many forms of violence, regulates peoples lives and economies. Sachs (2005) remarks that millions of dollars are spent on military business and technologies while more than 8 million people around the world die each year because they are too poor to stay alive. The countries that completed the total liberalisation programme reinforced by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund today are on the list of the most Indebted Poor Countries. African countries are much worse now than in 1960.

Globalisation challenged community ties to the maximum around the world, often replacing existing bonds with less stable ones. It altered social relations within and between communities to create players with access to markets and choice, and non players who are excluded claims Dominelli (2007). It is widely known that globalisation based on the principle of competition takes the best and leaves the rest. Those who have better education, better geographical location, possess new technologies, have more power are the ‘winners’ in a global market. However, those disadvantaged can be ‘switched off’ and forgotten; sometimes entire continents, countries, regions and communities. International Labour Organisation (2000) indicates that the number of those ‘unincorporated’ in the labour force is over a billion.  The picture below illustrates the global situation.


World order since 1980. Source: Dominelli (2007, p.26)

Allen and Thomas (2000) explain that old hierarchies of the First World (rich countries in the North) and the Third World (poor countries in the South) transform into new pattern of exclusion and inclusion. This pattern features as regional concentration of wealth and military power in the ‘South’ alongside with the enormous growth of poverty and social exclusion in the ‘North’.  “For example, in the United States, between 20 and 25 % of the population lives below the absolute poverty line, their life expectancies on par with Latin America” (Dominelli, 2007, p.26). Elite of poor countries can enjoy the same privileges like elite of rich countries.  Mass migration towards the centres of the wealth looking for new opportunities of survival and better life is the main outcome of such exclusion.

Global development policies have always been biased towards industrial development in the hope that growth in the industrial sector would trickle down to other sectors. However, this has not happened; growth mostly remains locked in the sectors that generate growth making the rich richer and the poor poorer indicates Thekaekara (2006). United Nations Development Programme (2001) estimated that the richest 1% of the population receives as much income as the poorest 57%. India is an extreme example of unequal development; 9% economic and the lowest rate of 2.3% agricultural growth in history of the country (CEFS, 2007). Almost 70% of the Indian population live in rural areas. Such growth trends widen gaps between the cities and the countryside.

This global development pattern can be identified anywhere but with less disastrous outcome in Europe where most of welfare states are concentrated. The European Union strategist bearing in mind growing pattern of disparities between the regions, induced by neoliberal ideology of development, in 1986 introduced Regional Policy. Today it is the EU’s second largest budget item. In spite of huge investments, the issue remains very stark and continues to progress, especially in the peripheries of the European Union. According to Eurostat the Baltic population will drop dramatically, in fact 25 % until 2060, if nothing will change the trend. And of course the rural areas and small communities will suffer mostly. This trend dominates over all Eastern Europe and new solutions required on how to use funds better. It is very clear that money is not enough, a strong initiative from local communities is required that consists of building strong civil society, new way of leadership, creation of new partnerships and inclusive links and ideas on how to do things in a different way.

Alytus was industrial city with the population of over 80,000 before the collapse of the Soviet Union. It suffered disastrous consequences of economic chaos when all industries collapsed. During seventeen years of independence it went through dramatic changes. Most emphasis was put on reestablishment of industries, creating jobs and infrastructure development. Today almost all the industrial area is privatised and thriving with new business activities. According to the latest Alytus Labour Exchange data, unemployment rate is 4.8% compared to 18% during the period when Altyus took the first step towards a market economy. 

However, like everywhere in the world an increase in the economic indicators does not reflect the true situation of the majority. The level of salaries is maintained very low and cheap labour is emphasised as part of the investment incentives for potential investors. I believe I am absolutely fair in saying that it is getting more and more difficult for low to middle class families to survive. Creation of jobs did not stop outmigration and the population decreased by 10 000. Alytus suffers from a brain drain to other Lithuanian cities and also to cities overseas and cannot get rid of its provincial syndrome. Despite the fact that Alytus is the youngest city in Lithuania considering the age of the population, civil society and public engagement in the decision making process is very fragmented.

The project Innovation Circle was one of the unique opportunities offered by the European Union for participating communities to link different sectors within society to generate new ideas for development. AlytusCity took the biggest challenge as a Lead Partner and became the first municipality in Lithuania to implement such kind of project. It is not the easiest thing to be first and to do things in a different way but it is worthy to try because only in such ways can the door of new opportunities be opened for the community. Local authority should be ready to facilitate change and be ready to embrace new ideas.

Alytus City should be proud of the final outcome. First of all, they have proven to the international partners that the city has the capacity and expertise to implement such large innovative projects.  Financially, three million litas was spent in Alytus during the project implementation and only 10% came from the city budget. For three year Alytus was hosting international conferences and events attracting more than 500 foreign guests who also injected much money into the cities economy. More importantly, some very good local initiatives and ideas were developed during the project that I would like to discuss and draw attention to their importance in the global context.

First of all, the emergence of a strong youth group motivated to make their city a better place to live. I would also like to draw attention to a very good report completed by Vilnius Sociological Research Institute in 2003 that revealed the civic identity of AlytusCity youth. This is an incredible asset of the city.

With great interest I participated in Business Angel’s event “I know the way” that took place in August 2008. There were hot debates between youth, businessmen and politicians about the future of Alytus and more importantly about AlytusCity vision. Young people felt abandoned and lost. The issue was very simple; they wanted a clear identification of their role and how they can contribute towards the implementation of the city Vision and more importantly wanted to hear from senior politicians what was their interpretation of the cities vision.  For the Mayor it was “an industrial city”, for the Vice Mayor it was “a city good for living”. The Alytus City Strategy Plan says it is To become the centre of business, culture and education for Southern Lithuania by 2020”.  So many consultations were carried out regarding the city vision with a wide variety of groups of people from the city and international marketing specialist and many interesting ideas were presented but where have all of them gone? Vision is a statement that motivates all members of the community to create a common future. It should embrace interests of all groups and communicated in such a way that everyone had no doubts where they are going. It is clear that there is no consensus and one common idea. It is very difficult for active members of the community to identify their role in the development of the city. Young people are also looking for motivation, guidance and for transformational leadership.

Industry, education and culture are a means to achieve something but should not be the final goal. Alytus has always been the centre of Southern Lithuania and it is already the industrial and educational hub of the region. Attracting more investors to the city is good but it does not necessarily guarantee security for the future. Business is not protected from external shocks such as the global economy going into recession and can produce high levels of unemployment. The vision and development priorities should include the areas that have been neglected for such a long time. To my mind, strong community development prepared to deal with sudden shocks of globalisation is of the highest priority.

There is another issue that I want to raise and that I see as a very negative development. Excellent local initiatives were developed by different groups of people attracting external expertise during IC project implementation. However, they have not been included in the strategy plan but rather buried in the drawers like many previous ideas. It appears that there is no flexible mechanism that embraces ideas from wider participation of the community and it is in violation of Agenda 21 and sustainable development principles. Henderson (2005) points out that such an approach by local authorities can create the feeling that any effort made by community members to share responsibility is not taken seriously and dissociates them from further participation.

One example was a scenario report "Alytus 2020" that pointed out a sustainable strategy for Alytus and proposed necessary changes in the City Master Plan. This work was based on 3 external architects and 14 architecture and design students from Norway and Lithuania. The lesson out of this story is very sad. The European Union can spend as much money as it has to revive dying communities but if innovative and dynamic ideas are so alien to them and change is supressed, then it is more likely that one day they will join a group referred to as the excluded.

There was also another excellent idea that was buried but had potential to connect Alytus to the global market in a very powerful way. The concept of a Japanese Garden that could make Alytus and Lithuania known all over the world and make the city a major tourist attraction. I know there were wide debates whether we have to promote Japanese culture. My argument is that Japanese culture does not need promotion; it is known all over the world, but the chance to promote Lithuanian culture alongside of it was an extraordinary opportunity lost and people of Alytus should not have let it fade away. 

IC in Alytus produced examples of good practices too and it is important to mention. The local initiative called “Informal Education of Adults at Alytus Youth and AdultsSchool”, under coordination of Education Department, created an opportunity for one of the most vulnerable citizens of the city – pensioners- to take part in languages, IT and handicrafts training activities. Aged people are excluded from modern development in a big way as they are not used to modern technologies and cannot adapt to changes so quickly. The participants emphasised how grateful they were to the local council for bringing such excitement into their daily routine. The project received great support from the national government and more funding was received to continue such kind of training on a regular basis. Such links gave an opportunity to aged people to enjoy benefits of a progressive and caring community.

The most important thing is that when the IC project came to an end, all partners joined the IC network that will be coordinated from Alytus.  It grew into a large international network. Partners motivation to join it can be best explained in the words of Tor Helge Moen from Alta municipality in Norway: "joining international activities within a network like IC is an argument itself for staying in Alta…A small municipality in the north is totally dependent of networks larger than itself. We want the clever and creative young adults to return back to Alta. We try to make it interesting for them to come back".

Alytus at the moment has two choices and  decisions should be made soon regarding its further engagement as an active player or passive observer in international cooperation. As I discussed above, market economy offers opportunities for the best but ignorance can leave everyone between the rest. Of course the city attachment to the global economy can be maintained through the networks created by different organisations and businesses but local authority will always remain at the heart of the events and has to make a greater effort to protect its community from exclusion.

When I did my research projects in rural India and Africa, I lived with those who were left absolutely disempowered and drowned in a market economy. They were forced to abandon their way of life and instead were turned into slaves of the market. Their day to day life was based on survival and extremely hard earned income could hardly guarantee food security.  I witnessed dehumanising dependency.  I met different people who made a great effort to improve their life, they had skills to put their ideas and problems on the paper and had courage to take them to the local government but what they had to face was indifference. Their ideas were identified as insignificant and their problems were forgotten.

Communities have to work very hard to develop immunity against the challenges of globalisation. If we carefully assess opportunities and threats, nobody will put us in one mould and if we are creative, we can design a new model for development and put a Single model, based on inequalities and violence, in the drawer forever. Each ideology represents someone interests and we have to be aware of this. The answers to success and prosperity we can find within ourselves.

Gitana Moleviciene, former Head of Culture for Alytus City, commenting on the methodology of the IC project, said: “What I have learnt from the IC project was at first appeared chaotic and maybe unrealistic ideas from young people when filtered through experience and knowledge of scientists, professional city planners and architects, can give excellent results and stimulate vital changes in the community”


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