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Report from Laurent, hopefully with the support and completion of all partners ;-):
The Austrian party (Florence, Franz, Walter and me) met at the train station in Vienna to go to Kronach by train via Lichtenfels where we were expected by Heinz to take us to the accomodation facilities for our meeting. During our train ride, we had some very interesting talks about our goals and ideas for the meeting and the issues being related with adult education and local development, i.e. cultural diversity, voluntariness, freedom, self-organization, and sustainability. What also was of importance: to be sensitive to "common language" and the (holistic) sharing of information.
We were very happy to see Heinz, who took us to Kronach by his specially hired big van. We felt very welcome and enjoyed the ride during which we were also introduced to the region of Franken ( Franconia). On the way we passed the LOEWE corporation building and we started to talk about social responsibility and corporate citizenship within the Kronach region. It was very interesting to learn what this company does for its employees but also for the wider environment where it is situated. This example also reminded me to another "mentor", Mr. Reinhard Mohn (the founder of the Bertelsmann Foundation which is also a good example of "social entrepreneurship") who received a lifetime achievement award those days.
After we arrived at the hotel and moved into our rooms, we met with our fellow MIR group members for dinner and I was very happy to see each other again. In addition, I was also delighted to meet Terry - since I hadn't been to Ireland - and we had a wonderful conversation together with Liz that went from IT to energy, mental health and so forth. This made me remember a very interesting project from a Canadian psychology professor who invented the "Mind Habits Booster" together with an online media developer, a nice game that makes one focus on positive, and away from negative, social information. If you want to try, see here: http://www.mindhabits.com/english/products/software.php
I found the opening speeches very helpful to understand the present situation of the Kronach region. Especially when Landrat (chief of the Kronach county) Mr. Marr and Regional Manager Mr. Fehn used the words "globalization", "world openness", and "moving forward", I felt very happy for the people of the region since this broader view often lacks in other places and projects. He seemed to really want to adjust and inform for the future, i.e. what works well where, and can we use this?
Qualification was mentioned as the key concept and therefore VHS Kronach plays an important role for the whole process of regional development.
Most important quote: "Only when people meet and try to understand each other, they have a chance to grow together."
Mr. Marr also made us aware of the financial aspects of his commitment, where in a public authority the number of people equals the amount of tax money being distributed to it. It's therefore easy to understand that it is of high priority to make people feel happy in their region. That's a big challenge though, since the lack of higher education facilities and appropriate workplaces makes people leave and initiates therefore a "downhill curve", as he said.
Here, I was a bit surprised to see the quantity of services on a relatively low level. In my opinion, this is the main area for non-moving (or non-moveable) work.
All together, the region developed over time from fairly simple work over industry and outwork towards today's high tech companies.
As many other non-urban places in the world, the main challenge of the moment seems to be the so-called "Brain Drain". As part of their strategy, the main focus is on cooperation among several regions to improve their competitiveness.
My question is: will this be enough? Traditional businesses on a wider scale? Or isn't something more innovative needed? I think, Mr. Fehn gave some part of the answer: the WILL for active citizenship. Furthermore, the trend towards health based services seems to be acknowledged, as some examples demonstrate.
But still my question is: will this be enough?
After a marvellous traditional luch at the "Alte Torwache" within the city wall of Old Kronach and sidetalks about the common history of the Franken region and the Bohemian region as well as the situation of men within the Juchitan matriachat in Mexico (which were also very interesting) we moved towards the chocolate factory in Lauenstein.
Here, we saw a traditional business based on handwork and simple machine transport. The tour was a great opportunity for me to have an insight on diverse working conditions. And the chocolate was delicious (at least for people who like the taste of alcohol-filled sweetmeat).
We were also introduced to the factory's logistics and stocking system.
Then we went upstairs to the conference room and learned more about the "Frankish Rennsteig-Region": I was fascinated by the possibility to have two market competitors (here in chocolates) on the same board that work as partners for the region. Certainly, there is a good reason to do so, saving costs and being present to the external community.
Also here the decline of population was mentioned, and the tendency to lose owners of companies and land. The situation was described as pessimistic accompanied by a negative identification of the people with the region.
And again, the strategy was to form regional alliances. But furthermore: a local fair was introduced to present the potentials and activities within the region. Despite the traditional way of presenting mainly companies and "seniors", this fair was a step towards a broader approach to forster activities and open new perspectives.
I very much agree with Mr. Fehn who said that active citizenship needs (self-)development and local gatherings mainly mean support/promotion of cooperation. What needs to be done is the establishment of networking opportunities and working groups where people feel welcome for sharing their (conventional or unconventional) ideas and talents.
A big advantage here certainly is the fact that the Umweltminister (Minister of Environment) derives from Kronach.
Some aspects of this project are very well formulated and easy to understand:
At the Old Steinmühle in Kronach, which is supported by the Raiffeisen-Volksbank association (in Germany that is ONE bank), we were introduced to the "Kronach Creativ" initiative by its "mentor", Mr. Kober. He is a former businessman, now retired, who said not to be ready for saying "Good bye".
Related with this entity, there are two further initiatives: Regionalmanagement GmbH and Wirtschafts- und StrukturentwicklungsgmbH? (Regional Management ltd. and Economy & Structure Development ltd.).
The common goal is to establish a creative environment/milieu.
Their experiences so far were:
But what was very interesting to me is the fact that the basic layer of all these development approaches was not mentioned a single time: sound relationships! (including equality, acknowledgment, and sharing benefits)
Furthermore, I also noticed some contrast between performance and targets. Especially, when it comes to communication and transparency of relevant topics and invitation of the public for discussion, I was wondering whether this is of high priority.
The initiative is now facing the situation that people are leaving after some time of contribution and input is decreasing. As within every other project, the question of sustainablity is related with reliable organizational and financial management.
In my view, it's also a question of "ususal players" vs. opportunities for newcomers. As long as most benefits of contribution are being absorbed by the representatives, motivation for activity is rather low. It needs incentives for the individual contributor to keep him within the project. This is just true for any kind of initiative: if the "psychological balance" is not satisfying, people won't feel happy and - depending on one's setting - leave after some time.
As much as I'm fascinated by the will to work for change and to create a creative community, I also see the lack of real innovation, i.e. community development centers, creativity workshops, incubation labs, and so on. Hopefully, we will have the opportunity to continue our discussion about the need for CULTURAL change as well on our next visit.
Heinz introduced us to the education facilities of the Volkshochschule (adult education institution) Kronach. What was of high importance is the fact that it's not only targetting adult education and training competences and enhancing work performance but also community projects.
The main goals as being discussed are:
Best would be to have a picture here of Heinz next to his "historic official plate" which reflects the former strict and hierarchic culture of earlier days, even in public schools :)
After a guided tour through the old city of Kronach and listening to the city's history (which also included witch-hunting) we met for dinner at the restaurant on top of the walls of Kronach castle.
A fantastic view and very nice service staff complemented our very interesting exchange of experiences and thoughts that we had over the day. We also became aware of different and diverse cultural (and personal) habits, so we discussed about the way of adressing people in rather formal vs. informal cultures, the use and level of importance of various titles, the do's and dont's so to say.
Here the work of Geert Hofstede came back into my memories, whose comparison of cultural dimensions is still one of the most essential sources to learn about cultural differences. If you like to know more about it, please see here: http://www.geert-hofstede.com/
Terry then had the idea to play typical cultural patterns in the perspective of another country, which I think would be a great (and probably funny) thing to do in fact.
This morning we met with the regional development initiative in Upper Rodachtal (a sub-region of Franconia within the Kronach county). There are three communities in co-operation -> the "gathering for more success" idea seems to be consistent. Very interesting to me, they were consulted by SPES, a regional development group from Austria (with support from the Ministry of Environment).
Their main goals are to support the regional economy and tourism and they realized the need for collaboration which also means the inclusion of their citizen. They are working on long-term strategies for success, i.e. making their grocery stores a catering facility for the region.
The challenges here are the same as described in other projects: loss of workplaces, emmigration, left houses, buildings and land.
Their strategy is focusing on quality of life through vicinity plus the need for a new political culture (of co-operation). This approach started about 11 years ago at the time of local elections with an informal meeting (having light meal and playing cards together). After a while the three mayors became friends beyond political parties and started the initiative for better quality of life. The "innovative moment" came by acknowledging the need for co-operation, if they wanted to have a better future. The need for change from former "steeple thinking" was just too obvious.
I was very delighted to hear about their true bottom-up approach which means coninuation and self-organization by the region's citizen. They also focus much on personal, direct contact to achieve a higher level of motivation for participation.
It was really great to see and experience what they are doing. Some questions were arising though:
This was just great! I've never done something like this before, a truly unique experience, and a very special attraction as well. Even it was a bit cold, it was much fun and also a form of appreciating and celebrating the value of nature in a holistic sense. -> we definitely need a picture here :)
After this marvellous raft ride, we had dinner at the "Herrgottswinkel" cottage which was a bit of a rustical event (Schlager music, Schnaps and blood-sausage) and a bit like "this is what one can also find here" to me.
Back at the hotel we reflected our impressions and exchanged our ideas about what we have seen so far. We also had the opportunity to talk to Brigitte Grosse, correspondant for the Neue Presse (New Press) newspaper who wrote an article about our MIR meeting (see http://www.np-coburg.de/nachrichten/lokal/kronach/art2396,673807 in German language).
Finally, another highlight was the role play of Herta as a waitress. It was fantastic when she served us cakes just as we were back in the "days of monarchy" :)
Yes, also good times do have an end. So for us it was time to say good bye to everyone and go back to our countries of origin.
We are very grateful for all the presentations, talks, sharing of experiences, and most of all for the wonderful hospitility we enjoyed during our stay in Kronach county. Thanks especially to Heinz and Herta, who made our time so shiny!
Since we were going back to Austria by train, we had a good bunch of time to continue our talks about the meeting and the things we will have to discuss further.
Some issues then were: