When he heard Ernesto Sirolli describe his Enterprise Facilitation model, Holistic Management consultant Roland Kroos called Washington State University (WSU)/Kellogg project director Don Nelson. After learning more, Don attended a 5-day training in Enterprise Facilitation in Minnesota (USA).
The Sirolli bottom-up economic-development model, says Don, "was very consistent with what we were doing in our project. It addressed the rural community development aspect that we had no real focus on. We saw that there was a lot of decline in most rural communities, losing businesses, losing their young people, losing services and infrastructure. The traditional economic development didn't seem like it was the answer to the problem."
Ernesto Sirolli's Enterprise Facilitation model came from firsthand experiences of failure, working in international development with the Italian government in Africa. Sirolli saw that bringing in technology and projects that outsiders thought would be good for a community, and expecting people to change as a result, was not working.
He began to see the concept of development in a different way. "The focus of development," he writes, "is within the human heart, head, and hands and therefore the only thing we can do to foster real development is create an environment conducive to the transformation of good ideas into viable and sustainable ventures."
He moved to Western Australia, and began to try his ideas in the small town of Esperance. Ten years later, the project had created or assisted 320 entrepreneurial enterprises, with a substantial and sustainable wage impact on the community.
Sirolli Institute director Michael Utter notes, "what characterizes a great deal of the thinking in the world of economic development today is what I would call a strategic thinking, which is by its very nature a kind of a top-down thinking: you get elite groups of people together, and they come up with solutions that they think will be good for the rest of us."
"You have to create infrastructure through strategic thinking: if you want to create financing mechanisms, revolving loan funds, a tourism development program, or an industrial park--the many kinds of things that communities traditionally do under the guise of economic development. Ernesto has had a bit of a breakthrough in thinking in this profession. He has said, there is another way to look at economic development. This is an economic development that does not not operate strategically, but it operates responsibly. It operates from the grassroots, from the bottom up, and it is not focused on recruiting companies."
Changing economic-development paradigms requires a change in beliefs. Sirolli writes, "A shift to responsive development can only occur if we are capable of believing that people are intrinsically good and that the diversity, variety, and apparent randomness of their passions is like the superficial, chaotic, yet ecologically sound life manifestations that can be found in an old-growth forest."
Enterprise Facilitation, says Sirolli, was not born out of capitalist economics. It is about changing the climate for entrepreneurship in the community. It is about personal growth and self-actualization, passion and skill.
"The way the Sirolli Institute works," says Michael Utter, "is that we only go with this technology into communities where we have been invited. We never go where we have not been invited. We begin with community empowerment. We identify the local leadership, the building of the capacity of the local leadership to sustain a project. We create partnerships within the community to link a lot of resources, we create a funding base underneath the project, under the control of a local steering committee. When we're finished doing what we do, we do not fish for local entrepreneurs. We teach people how to fish. The end result is, we create a community-based infrastructure that is responsive."
The local steering committee hires a full-time Enterprise Facilitator, who then receives training. The Enterprise Facilitator seeks out people with passion for self-actualization, and who have some of the skills for entrepreneurship. He or she catalyzes the development of entrepreneurs, offering one-on-one support and networking free of charge. The loyalty is to the client rather than to program funders or institutions.
The Sirolli Institute, a 501(c)3 nonprofit, currently operates 8 Enterprise Facilitation programs in Minnesota and the Dakotas, plus others in Canada, Europe, Australia, and New Zealand. Some are rural, others urban. The Institute tries to build capacity in a community to adapt to changing economic and social conditions by creating an environment that supports entrepreneurship.
Says Utter, "Our enterprise facilitators work with people who are looking to walk their lives on a different path, or to enhance the walk that they are taking. We offer no fixed programs of service. We offer techniques that have to do with information technology, information linkages, relationship development, and visioning. The way we create new jobs and new wealth out of the fabric of the existing social and ecological infrastructure of communities, is we work with this very delicate commodity, which is the heart and soul of an individual, the dreams that people have for the betterment of their lives and their communities. What drives our volunteer committees at the local level, who drive this effort, is the sense of altruism, volunteerism, and a recognition that none of us are really separable from one another. What does community mean, except our caring for one another and our connections with one another?"
For this model to work, local leadership needs to be sincerely committed to the common good, and to developing the economic potential of their own citizens rather than believing that economic revitalization can only come from outside. Utter says that one of the common obstacles to making it work is government resistance to coordination and sharing of resources.
Through the WSU/Kellogg project participants, Don brought Ernesto Sirolli and Michael Utter to visit and make presentations to three interested communities in Washington: Dayton, Colville, and the Colville Reservation. Stay tuned.
Wayne Madson has been area extension agent in Colville, the county seat of Stevens County in northeast Washington, for 23 years. He is a participant in the WSU/Kellogg project that is providing training in Holistic Management, principle-centered leadership skills, and consensus building to 150 people across the state.
Terry Davis is the assistant director of the Stevens County Public Works department. Wayne had given him advice over the years, and Davis had served on his citizen advisory committee.
Says Davis, "A year and a half ago, I was asking him how we could do some kind of management training. I was really concerned that our mid-level managers had worked up through the ranks, but really weren't assuming the responsibility in a way that I thought would be helpful for us to develop into the kind of organization I thought we should be."
"Wayne was really jazzed about Holistic Management. It seemed mainly an agricultural system, but the idea of the Kellogg grant is to bring it into a community and really start changing the way people think about making decisions. That was my concern about management in Public Works--we weren't involving enough people in the decision making, and consequently we weren't making as good decisions as we could. We weren't getting the buy-in of the group."
Duane Lehman, the department's director, says, "we had not decided on the direction, and were bucking the public, and also internal issues. That was what prompted our search."
At Wayne's suggestion, Duane and Terry visited the Colville Tribe to see how Holistic Management was working in a governmental setting (see Practical Holism #1). Says Terry, "They seemed more cohesive, willing to work together and put the whole in front of their individual needs. We went back to the county commissioners and told them this is exactly what we ought to be doing for management training in Public Works."
Public Works and Extension pooled some money and brought Noel McNaughton from Canada to teach a 3-day introductory course in Holistic Management in December 1996. Eighteen people from the Public Works department attended, as well as 40 interested citizens. A major snowfall occurred during the course, and this tested the interest and commitment of the Public Works people. Almost all stayed, and the course had a major impact.
Wayne agreed to help the department get familiar with the Holistic Management process for a year. A core team of 18 upper and mid-level managers met once a month through the winter, developing a holistic goal for the 70-person Department and trying some testing of decisions. "By the time we broke for the summer, everybody had a pretty good feel for how it might work for us," Terry says. Having Wayne Madson facilitate from outside the department has been invaluable, he adds.
Elements of the consensus process, such as a grounding to begin meetings, have been well received by Public Works employees. Says George Nichols, who is an acting foreman with the road department, "with this, the people feel at least that their opinion is heard before a decision is made. They feel better about the decisions, because they know that their feeling is brought out." He adds, "we're going to find out where the logjams are."
Says Duane, "the Holistic Management provided a clear path to pursue a vision and goals, get everyone on board working toward the same thing. If we were to tell somebody new about our successes, we'd say don't give up, be patient, it cultivates itself."
"I guess I feel real good about the progress we've made. I'm excited about what we've accomplished and where we're going. It's made my work easier and allowed me to accomplish things that I was just beating my head against the wall about before. It really is having the support of the people around you. We didn't have that. We're beginning to see the light."
Says Terry Davis, "I'm really impressed with the risk Duane is taking to share as much decision making as he's done. Our people have stepped up to the line and by and large are trying real hard, putting their own best interests aside at times, looking at how the department can provide the highest level of service to the community. We still have a ways to go, focusing on the bigger whole of the environment and the community as a whole. It's easier for us to choose that whole as the transportation system rather than the whole community."
There is increasing interest in dealing with the whole situation in Stevens County. This winter Wayne put on a six-hour introductory course in Holistic Management over two evenings through the WSU Learning Center in Colville.
"Wayne gave an overview of the basic model and how it works," says Terry Swagerty, a sheep farmer. "Those of us in the state project shared our goals and how we have come to understand the process and how it works in our lives--as just hardcore concrete evidence that the process works."
"We achieved a great deal more than predicted. The reason we did that well was we had people there who could actually illustrate how it works from their own personal experience. Powerful examples. You have real live experiences, people catch on really quickly. If you're just shooting theory at them, the chances of it sticking aren't too good."
Stevens County has been undergoing a good deal of change. A decades-long influx of urban transplants and a lack of resilience in timber and agriculture are creating an economic transition of sorts, with conflict over change and/or the lack of it. Outmigration caused by the jobseeking requirement of state welfare reform is hurting retail sales and school enrollment. Several years ago WalMart came to Colville, and this year's closing of the J. C. Penney store and a drugstore has downtown merchants worried.
Wayne's wife Sandra directs the Colville Chamber Economic Development Committee. When Wayne heard about the Sirolli Institute's work through the WSU/Kellogg project, they were interested. "What the Sirolli model listed as what it might do for community development and economic development almost mirrored a set of goals that the Colville Chamber Economic Development Committee has for the greater area," Wayne says.
In October 1997, Ernesto Sirolli and Michael Utter explained the Enterprise Facilitation process during community meetings. An informal committee of nine people, including the Madsons and Terry and Gayle Swagerty, took an interest, but felt the need for greater community involvement in making the choice to invite the Sirolli Institute to begin a project. Some economic-development proposals in the past had resulted in defensiveness and conflict.
The local Holistic Management support group had a small grant to bring in outside speakers. They used this money to bring Don Nelson and Jeff Goebel as facilitators for a day-long visioning session about economic development in Stevens County. A hundred people showed up at 8 AM on a Saturday in February to attend. Using the consensus process, the large and diverse group was able to share what they feared and what they wanted, and map out a way to achieve what they wanted, in an efficient and effective manner. Everyone was heard from, everyone had input, and a tremendous amount of learning took place about each others'perceptions. People got more of a sense of the potentials and possibilities for economic development that was responsible to people's values, and to what they valued about Stevens County.
Tua Vang, a political science student at Washington State University who attended, said, "I learned more today than in an entire semester at school."
Said Stevens County commissioner J. D. Anderson of the session, "Our concerns are more alike than different. This is kind of what I've been trying to get people to do for three years. Because if we don't do something like this, our community will die for lack of action." Anderson also praised Wayne Madson's role in creating forward motion. "He's a driver and a great asset to the community."
As a result of the meeting, said Terry Swagerty, "there's a whole lot more players involved now than there were before."
Wayne Madson says he has learned the importance of persistence, of the need to involve a broad network of people and to keep explaining the process of Holistic Management so that it means the same thing to everyone. "It takes a significant amount of time and effort to do that."
"It doesn't come overnight. You are better off delivering this information in small, discrete, usable packages and try to get people to immediately embark."
Excerpts from the holistic goal of Stevens County Public Works Road and Equipment Rental divisions:
The workplace atmosphere is one of caring, mutual respect, incentives to improve job performance, and appreciation for a job well done . . . we realize our employees are a valuable asset. We work as a team at all levels.
A system of safe well-maintained roads, safe adequate bridges . . . long-range plans . . . effective communication and respect . . . opportunities to learn from all in the organization . . . a safe and enjoyable workplace.
We know the road systems within the county and the appropriate level of treatment for them . . . we are good stewards . . . an effective water cycle with clean groundwater and high quality surface water . . . well vegetated roadsides with a minimum of erosion and noxious weeds.
Published in Patterns of Choice: A journal of people, land, and money.