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  • Published on: 1 Nov 2011
  • Submitted by: RiverWay South Organization
  • More information

Local, meso-level and micro-level NGOs form partnerships for ?Grass roots? initiatives on sustainable economic development by Judy R. Van Doorn, Ph.D., Troy University
An existing sustainability approach that is attempting to address the ?social, economic, and environmental? components of sustainable development (Sha Zukang, 2011) is found with ?grass roots?, meso-level NGOs who are partnering with tri-state river stakeholders like the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint rivers stakeholders (ACFS) organization found in Alabama, Georgia, and Florida USA. A present goal of ACFS is to have a cooperative research-based, sustainable water management plan for better water resource usage (Van Doorn, Taylor, Tonsmeire, Davis, & Rooks, 2011; ACFS, 2011). On a more local, micro-level, the RiverWay South Institute ? a ?grass roots? community NGO (RiverWay South, 2011) ? is cooperatively initiating a team-based approach to economic development sustainability through ecotourism. RiverWay South works along with tri-state university faculty and students to mediate and build community relationships to enhance environmental sustainability through education, ecotourism, and action plans for sustainable economic development.

The RiverWay South NGO is supported through membership dues, strategic marketing plans (Randall, 2005), grant funding through USDA rural development and business opportunity grants, local community investments and endorsements for sustainable economic development which are designed around the mission for protecting the watersheds? natural environmental resources (Champion & Rutland, 2005). Rural and local river community partnerships are encouraged with the goal of sustainable ecotourism to help stimulate local economies and, in turn, fit with the preservation and protection of the watershed environment which helps to save endangered species (UN report, 2011). The RiverWay South approach is one of sharing and cooperation between 4 or more regional university institutions, chambers of commerce, Rotary International, Riverkeepers? organizations, Visitor tourism bureaus, City councils, departments of wildlife, parks and recreation, and arts organizations. Regional university faculty and students partner together and look past their competitive interests by cooperating on better plans for economic development ? a cohesive ?win-win? sharing of environmental sustainability education and action-based plans for sustainable economic development on the ACF watershed rivers.

RiverWay-sponsored Projects have been contracted with University Institutes for continuing education along the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint river watershed and coordinated with regional town hall meetings for ideas and sharing of development needs assessments ? a ?grass roots and up? approach from the first project in Apalachicola, Florida to the present Project Riverway ? Phenix City, Alabama (Elkins & Bivins, 2011; Culligan, Van Doorn, Rutland, & Brannen, 2010). There are four universities ? University of Georgia, Troy University, Auburn University, and Columbus State University ? working together on Project RiverWay ? Phenix City, Alabama USA which brings faculty and students, city leaders, and volunteers together from different bordering states to build sustainable development plans and action-based projects. Regional towns with depressed economies in need of economic development for job creation and sustainable growth will benefit most from these projects. The projects follow community visions and are conducted through surveying community members? ideas in town hall meetings and selecting top needs for short-term and long-term development projects. Initial project implementation is completed through the esprit de corps that surfaces from volunteerism, community pride, student learning opportunities, and cooperative team-based approaches. Examples of short-term projects have included tree plantings, town park gardens, cultural heritage trails and museums, nature walking trails with new signage, environmental learning centers, and ecotourism projects including boat ramps that support whitewater outdoor sports on the rivers.

With the city of Freiburg, Germany taking sustainability initiatives to a new level of high energy efficiency and its vision to be the ?greenest city,? other communities may decide to develop local resolutions to encourage industry incentives for sustainable development and education (Business Insights, 2010; Purvis, 2008). Some sustainability case study programs include King County, Washington (Harrington, 2011) and the City of Tuscon, Arizona (Lancaster, 2010). Additionally, the ?agroecosystem? approach presented at Stockholm?s World Water Week suggests that tree plantings in fields and better livestock maintenance helps water conservation and higher food security (Simonsen, 2011). Federal laws like the U. S. Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968 may need reconsideration and reviewing on the waterways and certain parts of rivers and nature preserves that need better protection (Bourne, 2011).
The idea of a ?grass roots and up? micro and meso-level networking approach may be a key complement to the macro-level sustainability charges made by the United Nations? Brundtland Commission report entitled Our Common Future (1987), United Nations Conference on the Environment and Development (UNCED) Agenda 21 (1992), United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization?s (UNESCO) biosphere reserve designations, and European Union energy efficiency targets. Graham and Bertels (2008) suggest that businesses create sustainability portfolios in order to build stewardship legitimacy and action for waste prevention. Foremost, education remains important to learning about the balance between sustainability, conservation, and economic development. The cooperative RiverWay South approach helps to bridge community sustainability efforts through hands-on projects and learning opportunities on sharing natural resources, protecting the environment, and quests for better economic development sustainability (Mabry, 2011; Littledyke & Manolas, 2010).

The planning and action-oriented approaches that NGO RiverWay South has contributed to the ACF river watershed region is presented for consideration by the board for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development for Rio+20. RiverWay South and its university approach is a positive, cooperative strategy for encouraging better economic sustainability at the individual, micro-based and team-based, meso- levels of organizations within small and rural communities that plan to initiate sustainable economic development through smart ecotourism and educational outreach balanced with environmental integrity.

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