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Congress for Local Sustainable Economic Development

The Mandel Center for Leadership in the Negev was involved in all three days of the first Congress for Local Sustainable Economic Development (LSED), which took place in early December in the Negev

​The first Congress for Local Sustainable Economic Development (LSED) took place in early December. LSED is an approach that offers an alternative to the situation created by the global corporate economy. It is based on the realization that local arenas and players play an ever-growing role in dealing with global processes and with the processes of localization that they generate. These processes leave behind environmental, social, and economic crises that exacerbate the situation of peripheral regions and populations. For this reason, in recent years various players, including local authorities, communities, regional planning and governing bodies, and commercial entities have been promoting new socioeconomic models and practices that place the local sphere at the top of the agenda. 

The Mandel Center for Leadership in the Negev (MCLN) was involved in all three segments of the three-day Congress. The first segment, on December 9, featured a special session of the workshop of a research group that, for the past 18 months, has been led by Assaf Raz (SHATIL), and Dr. Itzhak (Kiki) Aharonovich (MCLN). This group, which comprises researchers from four different places—the Negev, Italy, Portugal, and the Palestinian Authority—addresses the theoretical grounds of LSED practices. To date, the group has held joint physical and virtual study meetings several times a year. The research workshop was held at Ben-Gurion University, in Beer Sheva; its president, Prof. Rivka Carmi, addressed the members of the group and expressed her great appreciation for MCLN’s partnership in spearheading activities and strategies that advance the Negev. The products of this research group will serve, among other things, as an academic foundation for this developing field and as a basis for work on policy change in various countries, especially those in the Mediterranean basin. 

On the second day of the Congress, held at the Greenberg Teachers’ Center, multiple sessions addressed the various aspects linked with local sustainable economy development. The general public, policymakers, NPO directors and activists, local authorities, and businesses were introduced to various aspects of LSED and shown examples of initiatives and practices that represent and operate in the LSED spirit. 
There were panels and sessions on several topics, including: women’s employment in the unrecognized Bedouin settlements; financial tools for local development; food security, community kitchens, and the local economy; tourism in the Negev; and urban agriculture. Fellows of the Mandel School for Educational Leadership (MSEL) in Jerusalem took part in the Congress’s second day, as part of an elective course taught by Dr. Lia Ettinger and Bambi Sheleg. The MSEL fellows attended the various sessions and spoke with Jacob Steinberg, MCLN’s former director, and with Dr. Aharonovich to prepare for their participation in the day’s sessions.

The third segment of the Congress, which took place on December 11, at several venues in Beer Sheva, including MCLN, offered workshops to implement initiatives in the spirit of LSED. They included: anencounter between researchers and doctoral students on the link among growing and consuming food, the economy, the environment, and the community; Voices from the Field, a session on the employment of women in Rahat, part of a series of encounters between a women’s group and representatives of individuals, the community, and employers, facilitated by the faculty of the Ryaan Center in Rahat; and Shvil Ha-yael, a meeting of the Association of Tourism Operators in Mitzpe Ramon, in which Mitzpe Ramon tourism operators work together to promote local tourism.

This first Congress held in the Negev demonstrates that local residents, aware of the region’s uniqueness, have the capacity to advance a new locally oriented socioeconomic world view in the most basic sense of these terms. Dr. Aharonovich’s introductory remarks at the research workshop reflect this outlook: “It is Adam Smith’s ‘invisible hand’ that shapes the neo-liberal global economic agenda. While this hand may well be invisible in central regions, here in the Negev it exerts strong pressure and weighs us down. This is why it must be here, in the Negev, that an entirely different message and way of thinking about grappling with the possible ills of this form of economy will emerge.” 

The Congress made senior officials in national and local government, the business community, and the general public aware of the LSED concept. It seems to have left a strong impression on all those present and to have inspired them to take action and form partnerships.


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