Supporting community-led initiatives

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Creating the right conditions for transitioning to a sustainable Europe means putting in place appropriate legislation and enabling frameworks for community-led initiatives. As an essential first step, it requires removing legislative barriers and, where appropriate, introducing laws and regulations that recognise and address emerging needs. However, legislation alone will not achieve the desired goals if communities do not get the information and support needed to benefit from such opportunities. Awareness raising, technical assistance, accessible funding, and support for networking and exchange are also key elements of an enabling framework. To create appropriate enabling legislation and provide suitable support, the roles of CLIs must be properly recognised and enabled. In turn, participation in policy development processes must be facilitated and actively supported.

Many existing programmes could contribute to such an enabling framework. EU-wide local development programmes such as LEADER and Community-Led Local Development would benefit from closer liaison with and involvement of CLIs. As well as potential beneficiaries whose activities and ambitions often align with the aims of these programmes, CLIs can offer knowledge, skills and insights suitable for roles in planning, coordination, delivery, strategic development, evaluation and visioning at all levels. As a concrete example, ongoing ECOLISE input into the EU's Smart Villages programme has helped identify and activate important synergies between the initial emphasis on uptake of digital technologies and more fundamental issues of sustainability, inclusion and social, ecological and economic regeneration. ECOLISE has also established its flagship Sustainable Communities Programme (SCP) as a vehicle for collaboration, networking and mutual support among local, regional and national multi-stakeholder initiatives for transformation towards sustainability and justice. Great scope exists for constructive engagement between the SCP and community development work of all kinds, at both programme level and that of individual initiatives.

Funding regimes need to address the issue of coercive isomorphism, and enable CLIs to deepen and extend their work without obliging them to operate in ways that limit their effectiveness or conflict with their wider aims and core values. Potential mechanisms for achieving this could take various forms, including co-budgeting, participatory budgeting and self-management of allocated funding pots via existing methods for inclusive governance. Alternative and complementary currencies could be directly spent into circulation by public authorities at all levels as operational grants for groups working towards social, ecological and economic regeneration in their communities, directly resourcing this vital work and at the same time enabling structural change by helping establish currencies that are under community control and embed positive social and environmental values. Provision of universal basic income can help free people from reliance on demeaning, precarious and socially or ecologically damaging work, allowing them to dedicate their time and energy to activities of social value and recognised importance to their communities. Wider structural support could be offered to social and solidarity economy enterprises, in ways that overcome key barriers and buffer risks without creating dependencies, systematically addressing gaps in provision of necessary goods and services in order to build resilient local-regional economies rooted in ethics of care for people and nature.