Listening, teamwork lead to success
The Southern Growth Policies Board held its annual conference, themed "Rising Together: Summit on the Rural South," in Pt. Clear this past week. If you followed coverage of this event in the Mobile media, you know that the group has reached the conclusion that the South's prosperity depends on the prosperity of the Rural South, and that small communities in our region should focus on getting better rather than getting bigger.
Former University of Alabama president Dr. David Matthews delivered a keynote speech, also downloadable from the board's website, http://www.southern.org. Matthews, who has had a long association with the Kettering Foundation, talked about the importance of getting input from stakeholders.
A series of Southern issues forums, he said, are demonstrating to the original group the errors of their ways, demonstrating how to understand "public thinking" rather than "public opion."
He used this example.
than to own land. Perhaps the economist was technically right," he said. "The farmers, however, told the expert that their ancestors didn't come to this country to be renters. Their reaction illustrates the point I am making; people have deeply held convictions about what is truly valuable, and their concerns color the way they approach issues."
He talked about the positive effects forums, i.e. listening and seeking stakeholder input, can have on communities.
Among the most discussed examples is Tupelo, Miss., cited in economic development literature as a "high achieving community," or one that's accomplishments exceed its resources.
Once the poorest town in the poorest county in the poorest state in the nation, the city is now among the most prosperous in Mississippi. How did they change?
Matthews went on to say that, research shows that even communities that have tried this without the success Tupelo enjoyed have become better communities for their efforts.
We saw this on another level post-Hurricane Ivan. Rather than wait for city, county and state crews to clear streets and highways, people worked with their neighbors, pooled their resources, and made huge differences.
We live in a wonderful community. But we, too, will become better if we listen to each other and work together to make it even better.
Michele Gerlach may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 251.867.4876.