Academic journal article Journal of the Community Development Society

Promoting the 'Civic' in Entrepreneurship: The Case of Rural Slovakia

Academic journal article Journal of the Community Development Society

Promoting the 'Civic' in Entrepreneurship: The Case of Rural Slovakia

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

The literature on entrepreneurship emphasizes the importance of the characteristics of individual entrepreneurs, their social networks, and the broader economic, cultural and political institutional landscape. In Slovakia and many of the emerging market economies of Eastern Europe, attention to social and cultural concerns and the institutional framework to support economic development was given insufficient attention at the beginning of the transition to capitalism. This paper shows the importance of social and cultural norms and experiential learning in providing the foundation for entrepreneurship and economic development. It presents a successful rural development model from Slovakia, which used mini-grants to build individual and community capacity for civic entrepreneurship as a precursor to economic entrepreneurship.

Keywords: entrepreneurs, market economy, experiential learning, economic development, mini-grants, civic trust, post-Socialism, social network

BACKGROUND

In early 1996, USAID officials in Slovakia became increasingly aware of the disparity among rural and urban Slovaks in their ability to absorb economic and social changes occurring since the transition to a market economy in 1989. Jobs in agriculture had fallen and thousands of workers were unemployed. USAID officials asked Agricultural Cooperative Development International/ Volunteers in Overseas Cooperative Assistance, ACDI/VOCA, an international contractor working in Slovakia, to design a development program that would assist rural villages. Originally, the program was funded under a USAID objective targeting the building of private enterprise. Conceived as away to create jobs in rural areas after the implosion of the collective farms, the rural program was to identify economic sectors in rural areas and potential entrepreneurs who might create businesses.

The challenge of promoting market development in a post-Socialist context quickly became evident. Scholars have pointed to the need for work on three fronts: macro economic stabilization, the legal framework to secure property rights and enable market functioning, and the development and support of individual entrepreneurial talent (Tyson, et al., 1994). These challenges were even more difficult in rural areas where residents were accustomed to state control over industry (often a single collective or cooperative farm), and there was little support for individual entrepreneurship. Throughout the region, entrepreneurial culture was widely associated with criminality and corruption (Mugler, 2000), and in rural areas those early entrepreneurs who tried to offer alternatives to the state-owned enterprises were ostracized in their communities who branded them as crooks or worse.

How can community developers foster an environment that supports socially beneficial entrepreneurs? This article explores the pioneering work of ACDI/ VOCA, and a rural Slovak NGO, A-Project, in developing a program called the Rural Community Capacity Building Program (RCCBP). This program focused directly on building individual skills and community culture to support entrepreneurial activity. The program recognized the importance of broadening networks for information exchange through a Listening Project, and then used a Mini-grant Program to develop entrepreneurial skills and the capacity for management, planning, and budgeting. Together, these projects demonstrated a more transparent and democratic process that showed the potential public good in entrepreneurial behavior.

Based on interviews with program designers, program documents, and case studies from selected communities, we show how these programs provided an opportunity for rural residents to learn the steps of planning, project design, budgeting, and acceptance of contestation and diversity, an appreciation of difference and competition thereby creating an entrepreneurial culture. This "civic entrepreneurship" then created the foundation for more economically-oriented entrepreneurship in the future. …

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