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Across America, a new type of leader is building communities for a new economy. Civic entrepreneurs are helping communities collaborate to compete in the information age. Coming from all walks of life, civic entrepreneurs are a new generation of leaders who forge new, powerfully productive linkages at the intersection of business, government, education, and community They have much to teach us about building vital, resilient economic communities in turbulent times and, in the process, restoring civil society from the grassroots.
Restoring Civil Society
As we approach the next century, a widening debate asks how to restore civil society - the arena that is not business and not government but is between the market and politics. It is in this space where, historically, America has pioneered the institutions, relationships, and individual initiative to advance the common good. Civil society is the essential middle ground that helps to link business and government within successful economic communities.
A growing body of literature describes the decline of civil society, looking at the nation from the top down. Harvard philosopher Michael Sandel bemoans the loss of community and civic engagement essential for self-government. He argues that civil society can only be restored at the community, not the national, level.(1) Political scientist Robert Putnam, also of Harvard, tracks the decline of social capital and links high stocks of social capital to economic performance.(2) Historian Francis Fukuyama of the Rand Corporation points to a lively civil society based on trust as critical to an advanced capitalist economy.(3) Even political leaders are beginning to focus on civil society. Senator Bill Bradley writes that "the failure to appreciate the importance of civil society lies at the core of our policy dilemma."(4)
The problem is that there is no easy recipe for reinvigorating civil society and jump-starting community self-governance. Success is likely to come from the bottom up, one economic community at a time. We have found that it is the civic entrepreneurs who are rebuilding civil society from the grassroots. Moving beyond reengineering the corporation and reinventing government, their task is nothing less than to forge a new collaborative civil society that can help build a bridge between business and government. They restore civil society by helping people work together on specific projects to improve their economy and community - reforming education systems, streamlining permitting processes, fostering business connections, revitalizing urban areas, and connecting to the information infrastructure.
Building Communities That Collaborate to Compete
New forces are constantly transforming communities. Global competition, continuous industry restructuring, government cutbacks, and growing diversity are forces both big and fundamental enough to knock people, companies, and communities off course. We have shifted to a world of accelerating, never-ending change without the mechanisms for people to work together to deliberate about the changed environment and take collective action.
Yet signs are everywhere that the old model - which focused on business-government antagonism, the power of experts, and centralized national government - simply does not work for the …