June 11 – 16, 2000 / Regina Mueller


This paper will attempt to demonstrate how it may become possible to provide extra-governmental assistance to build the confidence and self-esteem of the people without struggling through the bureaucracy. It may thus serve as a model for certain aspects of the development of neighborhood and community support systems.



Development is a dynamic process, whereas structure is a stable framework of rules and regulations. It seems, therefore, a contradiction to bring development into binding structures which may inhibit it, but in reality this is an essential aspect of organizational development in the social sphere. Depending on laws, rules and regulations means investing a great deal of energy into initiating development and implementing plans of action.


Many private and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) therefore seek to follow the line of least resistance, finding their own way and avoiding the complications of close cooperation with official bodies or even other NGOs.


Governments themselves adopt guidelines aimed at promoting the involvement of NGOs in national policymaking. Recognition of the importance of NGOs and the private sector in the social field should encourage networking and carry out development at the grassroots level. But rules and regulations, encouragement and knowledge are still insufficient to inject new spirit into a recently (re)established democracy or a war-stricken country which badly needs to cooperate in networking between government, NGOs and the private sector. There is still a wide gap between wishful and hopeful thinking, and between government expectation and the actual capacity of concerned and involved private organizations.



Development may have a globally standardized and academically recognized definition; in a low-income or war-ravaged nation, it may mean just change or changeability. Development, as commonly understood, may indicate simply a sign of progress, while in the social field it may mean visible progress in the economic and social status of a country’s population or of a particular group within it. It seems to be more of a short-term process, rather than a real, sustainable structural change.


On the other hand, long-term planning demands far-reaching and sustainable objectives based upon prospective planning. If such planning is lacking, a government may risk allowing NGOs to set up their own policies and donors to follow their own interests instead of serving defined social objectives.


The process of change inherent in development is bound but not limited to rules and regulations. Development occurs inevitably as a result of human activities and could have positive or negative effects. Concerned individuals in the private sector of social welfare organizations must therefore be strong in self-control and able to implement prospective planning—a risky prospect if not explained properly to donors and sponsors, or to controlling authorities. For example, does stocking money in NGOs indicate prospective planning or focusing on the power of board members? If managers in the private social welfare sector do not learn to give close attention to the monitoring and evaluation process, oppressive outside influences may affect the NGOs’ qualitative and quantitative progress.


In an unstable country where governments may often change, prospective planning may not be conceived by the concerned authorities and, consequently, may be badly missed in the development of social welfare.


All these reflections do not focus on a particular country, but are an integrated part of social work in community support systems everywhere, especially on the grassroots level. They could gain prominence in unstable situations, such as in newly established democracies or war-torn countries where social development happens at a rapid and often uncontrolled pace.


The gap in social development between industrialized, low-income and war-stricken countries seems to widen; how can a communication and learning process among these parties go on? New ways have to be found in practice and at the grassroots level to exchange experiences which have proven successful.


If one wishes to gain insight into structures of industrialized countries, one may observe two mainstreams. First, one will find complicated and over-organized structures of insurances in the private as well as in the state sector, and a detailed and highly expensive foster system which leads nearly to collapsing structures which serve more for purposes administration than to cover the needs of the target population. Secondly, individual requests--in extreme form also called egomania ("yes, but...")--are hurdles which make it very difficult to find people in such countries with equal interests who are able and willing to build up communities or neighborhood support systems.


In a low-income country where illiteracy is a heavy burden and where people for this reason cannot communicate through newspapers or information letters, it is difficult to bring together those people who have the same concerns, the same problems and the same interests to form communities and lobbying bodies.


In war-stricken countries, due to lost networking and lost links (besides many heavy psychological aspects and other problems), it becomes a demanding challenge to re-organize communities which will enable people to advocate for their rights and establish social services for special groups of population.



As mentioned above it is a complicated process to establish any system into government hierarchies. Traditions and culture in every society are different, but they remain an important factor, especially on the level of neighborhood and community, which must be respected while building up such systems.


The definition of positions and job-descriptions of key persons in an association or community might give the background for effective functioning of such a community. Only if roles such as the task of a board member, the role of life members, expectations of private and governmental sectors, involvement with financial planning and fundraising, the role of a common member, responsibility for implementing plans into action, etc. are defined successfully, can sustainable activities result from such a community.



Previously based on religious precepts, social services have become an integrated part of everyday life. Such support groups or communities grew up naturally within the society and related to the needs of the population. Guidance of such communities within the society went naturally to outstanding persons in the community itself. With the change of social structures communities grow no longer naturally out of the needs of population, but are instead mostly artificial organizations.


The increase of population, the tendency of migration to occur from rural to urban areas, political changes and technological influences have all dramatically changed support systems. More and more small neighborhood and community systems are merged for supposed better administration and guidance.


Centralized systems are not an effective response to the needs of human beings. Technology, computer administration and electronic devices will never replace individual commitment.



History has shown many different ways in which people serve each other in support systems. It is up and down, depending on many factors such as religion, type of government, economic status, psychological environment, and ecological situation.


The reason why communities are growing or why support systems are established may also depend on various situations. A change of common structures may demand different or new actions and guided development, or a particular group of population may demand equal rights and want to advocate and implement them by building up communities which have the necessary power.


The nineties showed that technology--especially computer usage in administration, evaluation and accounting--entered the development of support systems even in social welfare and in communities. It seemed impossible to run the systems without such modern instruments. In the same period a lot of human values were lost or at least overlooked and neglected.


This period discouraged conscientious persons from starting necessary units, and many small communities failed to develop because there were no resources to implement technology. But neighborhood and community systems do not mainly run with technical laws.


Despite all the technology, the core is people! Technology will not be able to replace the personal dedication and commitment needed in neighborhood and community support systems. It is not easy to compete with technology and to believe in values such as common sense and humanized organizations, but this is the only base upon which to build neighborhood and community support systems.


One should recognize that technology is not a goal in itself, but rather a means to an end. Technology and profit-oriented thinking will intensify the race to the top. Only with common sense can we help to compete “in the appropriate way” and serve people in spite of this global merging development. Common sense may not be very common in many institutions, but it always humanizes organizations and community supports and can be implemented without ignoring technology, structures, systems and administration.



Neighborhood and community support systems do not at first depend on complicated organizational forms. It is in the nature of those systems that they may start with a modest beginning. Focusing on common sense, it may be possible to really serve people--the neighbor—with as much administration as needed and as little as possible. With one’s feet on the ground sensible approaches can result in realistic achievements. Common sense may be the feedback of re-humanized organizations as a counter-pole to the competitive oath of highest, fastest, best.


Finally, it is the people who make the difference. Their commitment, dedication, skills and knowledge, along with their inherited culture, beliefs and values are what make neighborhood and community support systems possible.



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