Building Communities
by Ross Nepia Himona
written for the Social Perspectives Magazine, May 2000.


We billed our recent Flaxroots Technology conference in Wellington, as the beginning of a movement to claim the Internet for community.

The conference succeeded in bringing people together from flaxroots communities across the nation to share their experiences, their problems and their solutions, in harnessing information and communications technology to the service of community. The main issue arising from the conference was the one of equitable access to ICT by economically disadvantaged communities.

It seems that the Government has decided that it will deal with this problem. They are also talking about building capacity in communities. They have a senior cabinet minister responsible for community and for the voluntary sector.

The fear I have is that all of this might just be window dressing. That it might be policy without the reality check.

For my reality check I turn to the late Bruce Jesson who wrote that Aotearoa New Zealand "was a hollow society, a society without texture", without a strong civil society. Everyone depended on the state. In the takeover of Aotearoa New Zealand by the culture of finance there were few centres of resistance, and since the takeover much of the cohesion and vitality in our society has disappeared. Most of the institutions upon which we might build a caring society have been destroyed, transformed or co-opted.

The challenge for us is that we have to build those strong communities. We have to build them ourselves, not leave it to government. We have to build a strong society in which communities matter, and have a voice.

The technology is a powerful medium that can help us to do this. But the key to it will be the creation of a critical mass of community-minded people with the political will to take charge of their own destiny.