Regional communities survival approach

Regional communities are looking for new approachs

Here we set out an approach to support and grow not-for-profits (NFPs) organisations, Small Medium Enterprises (SMEs) in regional communities. Particularly in both rural and remote areas where the need is greatest. It is our desire to leave the world a better place by inspiring NFPs, SMEs and communities to work together for the common good.

Seek to continually identify, facilitate and innovate a regional community’s micro-diversity, social, economic and environmental sustainability. This means improving jobs, opportunities and the overall lifestyles of the people who live there.

Traditional top-down one-size fits all thinking of governments and others rarely works and needs to be replaced. The principles of Economic Gardening is one such way. It can provide a pathway for people, to develop their ideas and grow their communities and enterprises from the bottom up.

Old ways are not working for most communities

Encourage people in the community to look far outside traditional practices because old ways are not working. It can yield surprising solutions to tough problems and unacceptable performance. The smaller the regional communities the more this should be practised.

There were roughly 600,000 not-for-profits in Australia with 34% (200,000) in NSW. Part of your efforts should be to create new conversations because they lead to better relationships, better health and better organisations as well as nicer places in which to live.

NFPs are at the very heart of a community but are too often neglected. Improving the relationship between funders and the NFPs they support. Improves support should lead to new business being created not being left to chance. Many NFPs in a community have influential people and businesses attached to them, to work with.

Almost 1,000 community service workers from around Australia were recently surveyed by the Australian Council of Social Service. They found that 80% of frontline agencies are unable to meet current levels of demand with the resources they have. The biggest gaps were in meeting demand in the areas of greatest community need.

There is a real need to discover how to unlock human capital in today’s environment. This can be done by collaborating with all stakeholders, instead of operating in isolation. People in regional communities do not tend to operate in isolation at a local level, but lack the resources for wider collaboration.

A simple formula for finding solutions and improving outcomes

At the centre of all communities are real people doing real things but not in isolation. These individuals and their ideas can be truly valued by the community. NFPs and SMEs all working together and acting as the catalyst for the advancement of all those involved.

An active community working with SMEs and NFPS is something to aim for. Where the social and economic challenges are addressed in a practical and affordable way to everyone’s advantage. Regeneration and growth in a community are difficult to achieve when working in isolation.

Governments and academics tend to discuss how global forces shape the choices you make, in terms of ‘community development’. But it is individual choices and actions that are the key drivers. Government’s role is to maintain a sustainable economy in a sustainable environment providing encouragement, but not taking over a community’s driving seat.

Access to money cannot provide sustainable positive change by itself. It can often lead to waste as it can create unrealistic expectations and lacklustre performance, particularly with NFPs. This is because they are not profit driven. Closer attention needs to be paid to transparency, accountability and improving value chains in order to bring about change.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR)

Regional communities need a better way od being supported. A way that is driven and supported by the community and assisted by governments and corporate programs. But not dependent upon them. All too often funding is taken for granted and is poorly administered and leveraged. Many funders are being taken for granted and suffering from ‘funding fatigue’.

Bigger businesses and corporations can play a key role through their Corporate Social Responsibility programs. They do this by helping to encourage initiatives with SMEs and NFPs in the regional communities they seek to serve.

A community is usually a collection of highly parochial, uniquely different individuals. While they might share some common wants and needs and suffer similar frustrations and problems. They all see the ‘community’ through their own eyes. So the concept of the community, SMEs and NFPs working together is a difficult one without the collective effort of those with common objectives and aspirations to support them. You rarely change anything by fighting the existing. To change something, build a new model and make the existing obsolete through creativity and innovation.

Rethinking the approach to NFPS in regional communities

The labels being used tend to be misunderstood and in many cases unfriendly. A Social Enterprise is best understood as a hybrid business model. It is a model that blends economic and social value creation, is perhaps a better description of a future Not-for-Profit. The term Social Enterprise also rests more easily with businesses, many of whom seek to have a social outlook and work in with their community.

Social Enterprises can build sustainable solutions where governments find it difficult. In many cases, to relieve the unnecessary pressure, you have to unshackle the willing horses, introduce better business practices and remove the ‘Oliver’ syndrome. There is also a need to create a better image for many NFPS from the ground up. Better naming, branding and positioning, better-looking premises, more functional workspaces as well as better marketing and better relationships.

Social entrepreneurs

In our experience, social entrepreneurs can often bring solutions to critical social problems that have defied governments and wasted public resources.  It is not necessarily because of ‘market failure’ that things go wrong, but the failure to capture the essence of human beings in the way they want to live and work in a community. This applies particularly the ‘Gen Ys’ looking for work.

Entrepreneurs thrive in the midst of continuous change emanating from technology, globalisation and resulting competitive forces. Organisations must become skilled at transforming and inventing new approaches and processes while improving their agility in executing social and cultural changes. “She’ll be right mate”, is losing support with many gaps between visions, available resources and reality.

Understanding disruption

With the massive shift in cloud computing, social media, mobile, robotics, 3D printing, big data, and analytics, management has to make many adjustments in order to keep up. While it is largely viewed as too difficult, successful regional communities are connecting to hard numbers and strategic outcomes. In many cases, having active, engaged and tech-savvy managers, or external advisors in their value chain, can make all the difference, when it comes to handling disruptions.

Those who feel removed, or remain sceptical of the benefit of modern technology and business concepts and practices, must be coerced into taking all necessary steps to keep up. From the volunteers to the board everyone can be involved. In fact, to stop the wasting of resources and their very survival may depend on upon it.

There are a lot of new progressive and aggressive NFPs who will soak up the weak and dominate a sector. This may not necessarily be a good thing. Most disruptions are impacting both SMEs and not-for-profit organisations, they could be interchangeable.

Obviously, NFPs have to look at financing differently more than traditional businesses would

Less obviously, seeking a constant growth of donations, or attempting to redouble fundraising efforts, by raising more than last quarter, or  last year, is often misguided. In regional communities, there is only a limited pool of funds and support, that any one organisation can draw from.

Continued expansion sounds like a wonderful notion. A philanthropic organisation that isn’t factoring in capacity building, or how to encourage scalability for the long haul, may never be successful. It is defined as, “Building up skills and abilities, such as decision making, policy formulation, appraisal, and learning. Capacity building is a way to strengthen an organisation so that it can perform the specific mission it has set out to do and thus survive as an organisation.

Starting and running a not-for-profit is an exhilarating experience. But it also requires thoughtful planning and execution to be successful. Not-for-profit organisations share many overlapping needs with traditional business ventures, including the need for a good Business Model, Business Plan and budget.

Put some focus on benchmarking

It makes sense that they would want to benchmark their results against ‘good’ results. There is a need to focus on improving and keeping NFPs programming and organisational capacity robust and exciting for all those involved.

Existing organisations have usually identified a number of good ideas and opportunities. You need to help them get ideas and opportunities up and running, but they must remain firmly in the ‘driver’s seat’. As with SMEs you need to approach NFPs in an affordable way and this will require the use of appropriate technology.

Like SMEs and communities NFPs need to be shown a process in order to move forward. As every NFP, SME and community are different a ‘top-down’ or the ‘talkfest’ approach is a poor strategy. People don’t change as you expect them to. You  need to work one-on-one with their passion and strengths and take them from A to B in the direction they want to go. Changing conversations and tracking of performance and follow-up is clearly needed.

By creating a working environment that involves SMEs, NFPs and community, many new linkages can be made and old ones enhanced to improve outcomes for everyone involved. There is a need to assist the neglected early-stage not-for-profit sector.

Rethinking the approach to SMEs in regional communities

SMEs are generators of new ideas and opportunities but, few have the capacity to implement them. It is the implementation of new ideas and opportunities that lead to community growth, more jobs and sustainability.

With over 2 million SMEs in Australia, there is a huge untapped resource to help support NFPs and their communities. When you relate the number of businesses to the population of a community it is easier to see the closeness of the relationships between SMEs, NFPs and the community. Mostly these relationships are being managed in a very fragmented way with many ideas and opportunities slipping through the cracks.

Too many business people operate in isolation. But, if they were to become more involved with the social aspects of their community there could be better synergy and more ideas developed for all concerned. Your longer-term objectives must include leveraging your resources and becoming more proactive in creating useful and sustainable new paradigms. Ways and means of integrating the relationships between SMEs, NFPs and their communities.

The churn rate of businesses is still low in regional communities. However, programs should have the potential to attract start-ups and young businesses because they have the greatest potential for long-term growth. Picking winners should more than offset the risks involved. NFP services and suppliers can be a key target for new business.

It’s difficult to operate in isolation

Local businesses find their emails and mailboxes overflowing with charitable appeals and all that giving really adds up. Obviously, every business wants to ensure that the dollars they donate are used wisely, but how can they evaluate a charity’s efficiency?  What is a sensible way to choose a good NFP to support? Most people in business recognise the need to support their local NFPs. But there are issues that need to be addressed.

While charities are very happy to accept monetary donations, they are also open to other forms of support. Businesses need to think about ways they can bring their own expertise to a particular charity, but they will need a catalyst for action.

All businesses need to face reality sooner rather than later. What does true sustainability really means for their own future and that of their families and the nation’s future generations? You also should understand that your nation’s economic priorities need to be reinvented. Along with how the 97% of SMEs will be supported in a more sustainable way.

The cost of failure, particularly in small communities, is too high. So there is a need for new thought leaders and new paradigms to surpass the current situation and start to support the entrepreneurs who can drive the future.

Rethinking the approach to regional communities

Today’s small community is alone and under attack, particularly in rural and remote areas. New programs are needed to regenerate small communities and villages in order to keep pace with the changing global marketplace and the impact it is having. Governments need to focus on real things and provide encouragement, not economic rhetoric. SMEs and NFPs are real and they add the jobs and wealth to their community.

There is a need to focus on growing good SMEs and NFPs with growth potential.  For many the term ‘community development’ is a flight of their imagination, Things have to change. Meaningful and lasting community change always originates from within. The people in the community are the best experts on how to activate that change.

  • Caught between tradition and change, a political football with little understanding.
  • There is tension between individuals and governments.
  • Most ‘talkfests’ take place with little action following.
  • The movers and shakers are flogged to death.
  • Insufficient entrepreneurs are being nurtured.
  • Councils do not have the expertise, or it is too ‘low level’ for them.

Regional communities are often described as ‘invisible’. This is because while it is where  people live and work, outsiders don’t really see what is really going on and therefore make negative assertions. Outsiders fail to appreciate how and why a community is so different in the way it functions and responds to  globalisation and other economic forces. On the other hand, the glue of your communities has weakened over the years.

To  fully appreciate the issues it is important to understand the makeup of regional communities, particularly the smaller ones without any big businesses or institutions.

There are in excess of two million active businesses in Australia, made up as follows:

  • Micro-businesses with no employees = 61.2%
  • Micro-businesses employing 1-4 people = 23.9%
  • Small businesses employing 5-19 people = 10.8%
  • Medium businesses employing 20-99 people =  8%
  • Big businesses employing 100+ people =  3%

Micro-Business comprises around 85% of all businesses by number. It is at this level the economy sustains all other parts of the economy, directly or indirectly, in a mammoth economic ‘food chain’. In many smaller communities, this figure blows out to 100%, This means any approach must be based on understanding and experience in small communities. Small regional communities can be likened to a garden. Seeds have to be planted, plants nurtured, weeds removed and the bounties harvested. Like gardens, they are constantly changing and no one year will be like a preceding one unless the rot has set in.

Traditional support services have passed their use-by date

Traditional business support services, particularly banks, lending institutions and government support to business, are focused on the top 15% of businesses. This means that 85% of all businesses that sustain the very existence of our communities are receiving negligible support. The cost of servicing and support is too high, despite the advent of the Internet and social media. But the fact is they don’t want to know you.

Most advisors are in the business of making money, They don’t believe they have the time to even consider any business idea if the business is not already cash or asset-rich, no matter how good your idea looks on paper. Often there is a blanket policy of considering all such business as high risk.


Regional communities are like Chinese cooking, many ingredients and actions are required to make an outstanding dinner.


Some have no way of sorting the genuinely good ideas, the ideas that sustain your regional communities and your whole economy. But they do know how to charge excessively high fees and rates if they do. They are quite happy to exploit the weaker side of human nature with easy access to credit and “buy now and pay three years later” enticements.

At the heart of regenerating regional communities is, having SMEs, NFPs and the rest of the community working on the real issues they face. Preferably working in small groups of common interest, only coming together to lend a hand on the bigger issues. Keep in mind, governments tend to discuss how global forces shape the choices you make, but it is individual choices and actions that are the real drivers.

Get started with your outlook

You get to choose your outlook on the community each day, so choose wisely and well. A happy and positive outlook gives you the winning edge which is very contagious. When world heavyweight champion Joe Louis got knocked down by Tony ‘Two Tonne’ Galento in Yankee Stadium, he immediately jumped up and went after his opponent. When his trainer protested, “Why didn’t you stay down for nine like I’ve always taught you”? “What”? growled Louis. “And give him all that time to rest”? Then he went out and won the fight.

Your outlook determines how others respond to you and how they respond to their community. When you smile, people tend to smile back. But if you come across as a hard-nosed grumpy person, they’re likely to respond negatively. If you want to enjoy people in your community, think well of them. This isn’t rocket science, but it’s easily forgotten.

A happy and positive outlook always delivers the best outcomes. Successful people embrace this truth, whether it’s a surgeon going into the operating room, a pastor preparing a sermon or an executive launching a new business venture. Confidence increases your chance of success every time. So when you approach a task in your business or community, especially one you don’t like doing, fix your mind on a happy and positive outcome.

Why not produce a one-page business plan for your next project and get it off to a good start? It’ll get you back on track every time, guaranteed.

Quotable quotes

“The good life is not the sum of our security, wealth, status, postcode, career success and levels of happiness. The good life is one defined by our capacity for selflessness, the quality of our relationships and our willingness to connect with others in a useful way”. Hugh Mackay

“We need to look for a shared commitment to finding solutions for NFPs and SMEs in regional, rural and remote communities. If governments knew how to do it they would have already done it”. Peter Sergeant

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