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Lao Community Development?

So, in the aftermath of the grant applications this week there were a lot of fascinating topics that came up regarding community building and how we genuinely build that capacity not just in Minnesota but accross the US and even globally.

A persistent aim of our efforts is to identify, examine and apply flexible strategies that are adaptive and transferable to others. What works in Minnesota may not work so well in Alaska or Oklahoma. But there are also methods that work well to create something sustainable.

I’d prefer our approaches to not only be transparent, as opposed to the merely transactional, but to also be transformative when possible. If we’re going to invest and commit to the growth of the Lao American community, a Lao American Renaissance, then we should not only be positioning ourselves to catch up, but to be ahead of the curve.

To a degree some of this is going to seem abstract, but there’s also a concrete historical timeline unfolding that can be seen and steps that can be taken to increase the potential for the very best outcomes.

If we’re going to survive as a community and a culture, there’s a lot of old baggage we have to overcome while preserving the best of our traditions. The traditions we need to keep are those that best prepare us to build a future, not just for ourselves but with others.

To that end, I’m trying to be clearer for myself what the techniques are that have worked in international development, but can also apply for myself and perhaps for other Lao who are committed to our reconstruction.

From a training point of view, there are eight components that should be a constant in our process, based on models effectively employed by the United Nations.

1) Research and needs assessment to inform the design and content of various program elements through conversations with peers, residents, civil development professionals, educators, policy makers and businesses. Our reseach must seek to increase the flow of personal and community knowledge and to examine the historic journey, strengths, opportunities and challenges of our community.

2) Experiential learning approaches including study tours with a focus on sharing experiences and building skills with other artists, professional, residents and national and international vendors and developers. Time should be spent in Southeast Asia to examine roles different sectors play in community building and the opportunities for creating cultural exchanges. On-site visits, tours and networking in several US regions are essential for Lao today. This includes both the top ten largest enclaves of Lao but should also include those with smaller populations who may have a unique capacity for nimble development and rapid action thanks to streamlined decision-making opportunities.

3) High-level participatory strategic planning workshops, retreats and seminars should be organized to mix work and learning as well as team building with established and emerging artists, technicians, volunteers, community leaders and stakeholders to map out resources for a serious, long-term Lao American Renaissance.

4) Distance learning plays a role, and we need to know how to use modern information and communication technologies such as video conferencing to share knowledge and experiences as well as debate within and across states and borders regarding approaches in neighborhood development.

5) Case studies, especially based on researched lives of prominent and influential people in Laos, Asia and the US will support confidence in Lao American’s community builders and build a body of documented development styles that can be emulated to improve governance and strategies. These case studies need to look at all strata of the community.

6) Monitoring and evaluation through peer review mechanisms with our peers and non-profit and private sector counterparts across the country will ensure constant improvement and sustainability and an understanding of opportunities.

7) Formal training with key classes offered by the local and regional institutions, councils and local schools will integrate updated training techniques, enhancing our formal knowledge of state of the art techniques.

8) Mentoring and coaching will mix work and learning and support building appropriate characters, values and mindsets in individual community builders in the Lao American Renaissance. Weekly check-ins and reviews are essential to this process.

But these are just some starting concepts, and I’d like to hear what we need to add, or if there’s something that should be excluded or modified.

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