“We wanted to show how Sweden and the EU are working with what’s known as “community-led local development”, in which municipalities, companies and associations take a collective, big picture approach to development,” says Jenny Nylund, ICLD’s international training programme administrator.
The Swedish phase of ICLD’s international training programme, “Municipal Financing Supporting Local Development and Local Democracy”, which is organised in collaboration with the UN’s capital development fund, UNCDF, offered the participants a number of lectures and field trips to Malmö, Eslöv, Lund and several smaller communities in rural Skåne.
“Skåne has done fantastically well when it comes to civic engagement and partnerships designed to develop communities, and it’s inspirational seeing how they’ve taken things into their own hands. They’ve collectively taken responsibility for economic development, rather than waiting for the municipality to deliver solutions,” says Jenny Nylund.
In the little community of Röstånga, the school was the starting point for a collaborative effort that reversed a downward trend, building self-esteem and civic engagement.
“We tried, right from the start, to ensure that no one needed to have a bad conscience or apologise for their level of involvement. We wanted our processes to be as open and transparent as possible, so that people could make a large contribution or a small one,” says Nils Philips, Chairman of the non-profit organisation, “Röstånga Tillsammans” Röstånga Together.
Today, Röstånga has more children in its school than ever before, and has launched both a commercial development company and the “Röstånga Tillsammans” organisation. And been nominated as one of Sweden’s most successful rural projects.
“We decided, at a very early stage, to form a commercial development limited company, Röstånga Utvecklings AB. The non-profit association, “Röstånga Tillsammans” works with social mobilisation, while RUAB (which is owned by the non-profit organisation) primarily works with real estate,” says Nils Philips.
The communities were small, and the challenges local, but the “Municipal Financing” programme is linked to universal development through numbers 8 and 11 of the UN’s Global Goals, which relate to economic development and sustainable cities.
Many of the participants in ICLD’s international training programme come from small towns or rural communities where the same partnership-based developmental methods and measures can be used. Nils Philips was inspired by the international guests.
“Meetings and interactions that address deep, shared human challenges are so cool. They clearly show that while differences do exist, so do similarities that enable us to exchange ideas on how we can address these issues.”
Mwaka Mwiinde from the Lusaka City Council, who was one of the training programme’s participants, puts it like this.
“It’s fantastic to see how a local economic analysis can spotlight what an area lacks and needs. It was fantastic, too, to see how communities such as Röstånga are mobilising resources to improve their situation. I liked how people supported one another in working together to improve their community.”
Depopulation and unoccupied houses were one of the challenges Röstånga’s combined forces needed to address. Sensitivity and patience created an atmosphere in which everyone felt able to contribute, and they now own seven properties that are home to, amongst other things, a year-round restaurant, an art gallery, a brewery, and rental apartments.
“It’s about starting with the belief that the force for change has to come from the bottom up, from the people who live and work in the locality, and that the municipality is, of course, a key player in the partnership. Röstånga is a fantastic example and has worked single-mindedly for almost a decade now to not only save the community but to develop it, and their methodology should be transferable to other countries and contexts,” says Jenny Nylund.
What are the keys to the local people’s intense involvement?
“We tried, right from the start, to ensure that no one needed to have a bad conscience or apologise for their level of involvement. We tried to make the work fun and to accept that if some things took time, that was OK,” says Nils Philips.
The population of Röstånga is around 1 000. Ten years ago, the school had just under 100 pupils: today there are 167. They’ve successfully stopped the out-migration.
“A lot of factors have played their part – the economic climate, for example. You can sell houses much more quickly nowadays, and that’s undoubtedly played a part. Röstånga has value for money housing, good quality of life, and a feeling that you’re part of a community – of something bigger,” says Nils Philips.
Röstånga is keen to maintain that quality of life and has developed meeting places and events. Club activities act as an important hub, and the venerable football club, Röstånga IS, has an important unifying function.
What is unique about the involvement in Röstånga?
“It’s about how having the right individuals in the right place at the right time can make things happen. Röstånga succeeded in creating a “we” feeling when it came to the school for example. And the station building. People enjoyed trying to reverse a negative trend. Their self-esteem improved, and it reinforced their image of Röstånga as a great place,” says Ann-Charlotte Thörnblad, Operations Director at MittSkåne Utveckling Central Skåne Development.