Building a better Croatian future by engaging the University of Zagreb in public service and outreach to its citizens, governments, businesses, NGO's, and natural resource sector
TO: Croatian World Network and Friends of Croatia
FROM: Rusty Brooks, Ph.D., The University of Georgia, USA
TOPIC: Building a better Croatian future by engaging the University of Zagreb in public service and outreach to its citizens, governments, businesses, NGO's, and natural resource sector
The University of Georgia was just gifted $500,000 by a retired physician from Virginia who is of Croatian descent. He has clearly indicated that he intends to contribute more financial resources to this effort, especially as we show specific success in the areas where he wants us to focus our project efforts. His gift is to be used to expand the involvement of the University of Georgia in Croatia, especially in the areas of improved governance, rural economic development, and public health. The University of Georgia's involvement in Croatia goes back eight years and many visits by me, as well as visits by my Croat colleagues to Georgia and other Georgians to Croatia. This is a story about why Croatia is important to me and why I, someone not of Croatian descent, has become so enamored with the country, its people, and its challenges.
I am writing this because of my deep personal and professional desire to be part of something positive for the future of Croatia. Over the past eight years I have had the great fortune to personally visit Croatia numerous times and see first-hand the beauty of the country, learn about its culture and heritage, and experience the friendliness of its people. This has occurred primarily because in1998 I met Tihomira (Tihana)
Stepinac Fabijanic when we were both Salzburg Fellows in Austria at a session on rural development. At that time I was most impressed with what she was doing in Croatia and committed to visiting her at my first opportunity. Since that time we have had the opportunity to exchange many visits, talk about our mutual interests, and begin structuring a way that we could build an appropriate response to the challenges of
building a sustainable model of economic development for the future of rural villages in Croatia.
Tihana also introduced me to many valuable colleagues in Croatia, including Bojan Baletic of the Faculty of Architecture at the University of Zagreb, Vlasta Vizek Vidovic, Vice Rector at University of Zagreb, and Sasa Boric (when I first met her she was Vice Minister of Tourism) at the Institute for Social Sciences Ivo Pilar. Bojan and Sasa have been invaluable colleagues in my work in Croatia and have also visited me on several occasions here in the states, along with Tihana, as well as other colleagues from the University of Zagreb, a
leadership delegation from Ivo Pilar led by Vlado Ĺ akić, and fifteen mayors and officials from Croatia representing towns and villages such as Krasic, Zumberak, Drnis, Pakrac, and Okucani
Tihana is the founder of an NGO, the International Centre of Anthropology Motovun, located in Rijeka, Croatia. She has extensive professional commitments and personal ties to several villages, small towns, and rural areas, which we think, provide the necessary ingredients to start the process of building the sustainable rural economic development models in Croatia. The areas we have initially targeted are the settlements of Ozalj, Krasic, and Samobor and the surrounding area of Zumberak, and the Gorski Kotar area, especially the villages of Severin, Lukovdol and Plemenitas. We believe that there are strong rural folkway traditions in these places represented in the local architecture, arts, handicrafts, culture and heritage, and the natural environment that can be the foundation for building a sustainable economic future.
I have worked for twenty plus years in community economic development in the United States and internationally. When I have visited in these Croatian villages with Tihana, I am struck by what I see as significant economic development opportunities in these villages that are not being utilized, or are being vastly under-utilized by local people and their leadership. When I discuss my observations with local
people they are always intrigued by my perceptions and ask a wide variety of questions beginning usually with why I think there are economic opportunities in their village, but almost always ending with how they can turn these opportunities into viable businesses. In sum, I am struck by the genuine interest in pursuing these economic development opportunities, but absolutely convinced of a cultural absence of an â€śentrepreneurial mindsetâ€? to help make the opportunities become real business enterprises.
Let me stress that I am not suggesting that there is a perfect U. S. model for economic development that we should force onto Croatia. However, I do believe that in the U. S. we have a society that nurtures and supports the entrepreneurial spirit and that we have some valuable lessons and experiences we can share relative to how entrepreneurship can turn economic development opportunities into economic development realities. What this means for these villages in Croatia, is that we can share our experiences and talents to teach and demonstrate
that entrepreneurship can be used to turn the economic development opportunities presented by Croatian rural traditions in the arts, architecture, handicrafts, culture and heritage, and natural environments, into jobs and incomes for the local people.
How can this happen? Tihana and I organized a team of U. S. entrepreneurs and practitioners with vast experience and expertise in entrepreneurial approaches to art, architecture, handicrafts, culture and heritage, and natural environments for rural economic development that visited Croatia in spring 2001, where we conducted the 1st Annual Croatian Rural Renaissance Workshop in Ribnik. These US entrepreneurs had a genuine interest and commitment to work hand-in-hand with local people from the Croatian villages we initially targeted to do real projects, in real time, and leave real results.
Early on in my work in Croatia I recognized that one excellent opportunity for Croatia would be to build a model of higher education engagement. In the U. S., many universities conduct what are called outreach activities which engage the universities, their faculty and students, with citizens, businesses, local and state governments, and non-profit organizations, to address significant social, economic and political problems and issues. For example, The University of Georgia devotes significant faculty and financial resources to working with small businesses to make them successful; improving and enhancing Georgia's agriculture for better food and fiber production; managing our forests and natural areas for production and recreation; training and improving local and state government so it serves our citizens better; and, helping non-profit organizations and citizen groups better accomplish their goals.
My knowledge and understanding of economic and organizational development convinced me that if my work in Croatia was to leave a permanent legacy, the best opportunity would involve transferring the technology of U. S. higher education outreach to the University of Zagreb. That has comprised the past three years of my efforts in Croatia. Vlasta Vizek Vidovic, Vice Rector at the University of Zagreb and Bojan Baletic of the Faculty of Architecture, have been instrumental in leading the development of such a model at the University of Zagreb. It is at the university where the greatest store of knowledge, of research, of human capital, and human energy in the form of students, exists to solve Croatia's development problems and challenges. Traditionally, universities in Croatia, as well as other parts of Europe, have not seen outreach and engagement as an accepted, encouraged, and supported role for universities. The traditional university role has been teaching
and research only. One of the strongest contributions of higher education in the U. S. has been the additional role of engagement and outreach that contributes directly to economic development and job creation.
Through this generous gift to the University of Georgia we will continue to work with our many partners in Croatia to build a strong and secure future for Croatia and Croatians. We would welcome your interest and involvement in this ongoing effort. If you have suggestions, of if you would like more information; you can contact me at email@example.com or by phone at +1 706-542-7502 or by fax at +1
706-542-6594. I look forward to hearing from you soon.