Overcoming a community’s mentality of poverty

There is an African proverb that says: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”.

Most experts agree that there are several potential paths a community or business can take to embark on a successful transformation. Rarely is a difficult journey a one-time event. Each traveler will have their own set of unique obstacles to overcome and their own mountains to climb. They need to identify those issues and mountains, approach them in a way that matches their unique abilities and expertise.

One of the biggest mountains to climb for many communities and businesses is a term I call a “poverty-focused” attitude. Many communities and businesses have to overcome the economic problems of social or demographic poverty, but that is not the spirit of poverty I am referring to in this context.

The poverty mindset I am referring to is the mindset of those who are able to make transformation happen, but do not. Although they are in this position, they are stuck with a poverty-conscious attitude due to their long-term struggle and association with poverty experienced by the breakdown of the community. As they dream of it, it is difficult for them to see beyond the poverty that is embedded in their minds and into a future full of hope and progress.

I have consulted with companies that would not accept credit cards as it costs a few percentage points on each transaction. When they were convinced to switch, they were thrilled because their business increased by almost 30%. Trying to save a few cents has cost them hundreds or even thousands in potential business. These same issues and mindsets exist on an even greater and more devastating scale in municipal governments and among the civic leaders who control the financial future and destiny of the community and downtown.

The poverty mindset is an easy mindset to have. As one observes decay accelerating in one’s community or business, it is easy to be led to believe that decay is normal and predictable. With the many examples of decadence all around them, why would they think any differently? After all, it happens in hundreds, if not thousands, of cities across the country.

How does a community, town center or business overcome a mentality of poverty? What is the common ingredient that successful communities and businesses have embraced that runs through all of their transformation efforts? The answer is not difficult. The common ingredient is simply to look at what might be the opposite of a poverty mentality. This common ingredient is something we are drawn to, that is, a positive “can do” attitude.

The first step in any transformation of a community or a company is a strong vision combined with a very good dose of optimism. When you combine a strong vision with genuine optimism, many community and business hurdles can be overcome. The poverty-minded crowd must be overwhelmed with a strong vision and positive positive attitude that is contagious. Everyone wants to be associated with a winner; few want to claim to be on the losing team.

To ensure success, the vision must be achievable and your optimism tempered by a solid and realistic vision. Far too many communities or businesses fail to understand the capabilities they already possess. Never underestimate the ability of a community’s residents and business owners to accomplish what was once considered unthinkable. Many communities and businesses are feeling sorry for themselves while others are busy undergoing incredible and lasting transformation.

Often the greatest obstacles are our own citizens and those who are in a position to implement the greatest change. The greatest task is to convert them to the vision and the dream. Of course, you have a lot to lose. Unwillingness to change simply means continued erosion and decay, adding to the continued demise of your community.

As you might have guessed, this column is short on details and long on mindsets and attitudes. It is by design. It is the vision, the mindset and the positive attitude that determine your success. I have seen few if any communities or businesses succeed without having this strong will to win and succeed. Now is the time to travel together as leaders and as a community. By doing so, you can travel far. The time for change has come. If a community or business refuses to change, you will be rendered inadequate in the changing world around you.

John Newby of Pineville, Missouri, is a nationally recognized publisher; community, chamber, business and media consultant; and loudspeaker. His “Building Main Street, not Wall Street” column appears nationwide. The founder of Truly-Local is dedicated to helping communities, their businesses and the media create synergies that create more vibrant communities. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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