Localism and its influence on social change

I work in one of 43 community health centers located in the metropolitan area of La Plata, Argentina. These centros de atención primaria de salud or CAPs form the backbone of the health system with a community-based approach that does not have an equal in the United States. Having the clinics in the particular communities helps to alleviate the financial burden of transportation and provides ready access to care for people with limited mobility. The particular clinic that I work for is located in the middle of the city in spite of the fact that most of the patients live in the farther suburban areas. Patients feel more comfortable receiving medical care for HIV and other STIs without facing stigma from running into their neighbors.

flickr image by kansasexplorer

In the United States, there are also other community-based approaches in other sectors. The localism movement has grown in environmental circles; buying food produced within 100 miles of your community reduces the pollution produced from transportation and has the added benefit of helping local farmers. The shift toward “going local” or localism has a broader impact than simply food choice. The movement is indicative of a growing desire to foster community needs and community activism. This increased community focus has a distinctive effect on social change efforts and the work of nonprofits.

1. Revival of strong community ties

Encouraging people to buy locally produced goods and use local businesses has a positive impact on the ties that people feel for thair community. People are bound to feel closer to a community that they feel they know better.

Bolstering community connections has the ability to improve local philanthropy and activism. Community foundations facilitate philanthropic efforts dedicated to improving local services and institutions that community members use. Knowing more about your community is a way of encouraging a feeling of personal responsibility making improvements. I am more likely to help the neighbor that I know rather than the one I do not know.

2. Community can be a resource for itself

Greater knowledge of one’s community combined with stronger community ties allows community members to seek assistance and information within the community rather than relying on external interventions. John Robb examines this concept of resilient communities in the context of conflict and security. If the local youth sports team needs to buy equipment, they can seek sponsorship from a local business rather than hoping that the state youth sports association will grant them funds. The local business feels some loyalty to the team because the parents use the services that the business offers. The business receives a public relations boost from the sponsorship and the team is happy that they have their new equipment.

Focusing social change efforts on the local community can be considered a way of institutionalizing social change. It allows people to be more involved in nonprofit programs due to proximity. I can teach reading to adults at the local library rather than simply giving away old books to a national literary program. Within the community, there is an established network of friends and family to tap into for organized efforts. People choose to participate in a 10K walk/run to raise fund for research dedicated to breast cancer. Rather than completing it alone, they recruit family and friends so participate as a team.

3. Localism runs the risk of isolationism

The intention behind the saying “think globally, act locally” is distorted when considering increased dedication to localism. Although I may be helping my local community by opting to teach literacy at my local library rather than supporting a national program by donating books, they are several people who could have benefitted from those donated books. Turning change efforts inward to our communities may leave others without the assistance that they may need. Applying a local focus to social problems may also ignore the real need for institutional and system-wide change that is needed for collective action problems such as failing health systems and climate change. Localism must be tempered with an ability to see the larger picture of how the community fits in its surroundings.

5 comments so far

  1. Jessica on

    In response to number 3, trade is essentially good (ideally) so limiting trade can be bad, but I think that there is a trade off and generally people are willing to pay more to support their local economy. I know that I am.

    Nice post.

  2. Vanessa on

    Thanks for the comment! I do wonder if a lot of the attention and effort devoted to buying local is part of some of the isolationist tendencies that we have seen with political discussion about trade. I think people are starting to be more active consumers and wonder about how goods get to the market in addition to if they get there.

  3. Ari Herzog on

    The irony of localism is it’s international. I live in the northeastern U.S. and “buy local” programs are very active, helped by local farms, boutique artisan shops, and organic coffee roasters, for instance.

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