Parasite or Provider - by David Metcalfe, The Eyeless Owl. Presented by Magazine
Parasite or Provider - by David Metcalfe, The Eyeless Owl

Any well traveled tourist knows one of the worst experiences while venturing outside of your comfort zone is picking up a parasitic infection. Laid out in a feverish haze while your bowels roll with opportunistic organisms can turn a grand adventure into a nightmare. Without the proper medical treatment picking up even a mild infection carries the potential for long term health problems or in the worst cases, death.

So what happens when a community picks up a nasty case of parasites?

Community parasites aren't invisible food born micro-organisms, but they're often just as difficult to identify. Most communities in the United States are riddled with them and yet few seem to notice. These infections come in the form of self centered small and midsized businesses that feed off of their host communities while providing nothing in return.

At the Heart of It All

Entrepreneurs and small businesses make a community what it is. A well curated community comes from the active involvement of sustainability focused individuals and businesses that promote sustainable development for their community. Unfortunately a large portion of businesses today are focused solely on their profit margin and put little effort towards giving back to the communities where they take up residence.

A healthy community can only exist when the balance of elements is perfect. When businesses promote pure self interest, ahead of sustainable strategies, they are acting like a virus inhabiting a host cell; replicating their genetic material at the expense of the infected organism.

It's easy to complain about what large corporations are doing. They are highly visible targets and make it easy to overlook the enemy next door. Predators have an easier time with injured prey, and large corporations only have the power they have due to myopic self interest of too many locally owned businesses. A community without active businesses focused on sustainability is a community waiting to be overrun.

Donations Are Great-What About Your Hands?

Local school districts are struggling, students are getting sub-par educations, libraries are closing and yet business buzzes on. We talk about ROI and best practices while right outside our doors the communities we've been entrusted with are falling apart. Tossing some change to charity only goes so far, at some point we've got to get our hands dirty and do some work.

Have you offered to teach a class on sustainable small business issues at the local high school? Do you have a hobby that you're passionate about that might make a good class at your local library? Is your blog about you or is it about issues going on in the world and in your community?

Companies are encouraged to run through their "vision" and "mission" statements to make sure that they align the organizations' goals with its operations. Every community has it's own "vision" of itself. For communities to be fully sustainable, businesses need make sure their "vision" and "mission" statements are not only internally coherent, but also maintain coherence with the local and global community.

Review Your Responsibilities

If you're a small business owner it's your responsibility to keep the community afloat. If you're staring at your pocket book and tripping over curbs your community is going to fall down with you. Sucking off a community's life blood only lasts so long until you've got nothing in your mouth but an empty husk.

What kind of community do you want to live in? One filled with thinly veiled parasites or a thriving community based on solid leadership and innovation? The stories that we develop to move our commercial activity forward should not run counter to the stories that we develop to lead our communities.

As a business owner or community professional it's up to you to lead the way, so prepare your hands-there's a lot of work to be done!