Leader is a method for rural development elaborated in the 1990’s, also useable in urban areas. The leading principle is to make local communities participants in developing their future. A specific area or region can choose to become a Leader area, of which there are currently 48 existing in Sweden. Each area has a central office to which local cross-sectorial development and innovation projects can apply for funding and support. An earlier Leader development project in the Stockholm Region, UROSS (Utveckla Roslagen och Stockholms Skärgård, “Developing the Roslagen Area and the Stockholm Archipelago”) 2007-2013, effectively utilised Leader and confirmed its potential for creating local participatory initiatives and hope for the future.
The Stockholm archipelago, with its roughly 30 000 islands (of which about 200 are inhabited), together with the vast rural areas surrounding the city comprise a substantial part of the Stockholm Region. The archipelago alone hosts around 3 million tourists every year. Much of the region’s wildlife, green areas, cultural heritage and nature reserves are located in these areas. Although sparsely populated, with a total of 113 991 stable residents in 2014, of which only 7 348 lived on the islands all year round, the countryside and archipelago together comprise around 5% of the total regional population. However, these areas are generally overlooked while facing major social and ecological sustainability challenges. Tourism has dramatically raised estate prices, especially in the archipelago. Establishing stable internet connections is still a challenge in most areas. The large local fishing business is challenged due to previously unsustainable draft. Unemployment is relatively low in the archipelago (est. 2,5 % in 2014) but dramatically higher in the inland rural areas (est. 17% in 2011). The access to public services in the Stockholm archipelago is generally considered to be equally remote as in some northern parts of Sweden (Norrbotten).
Out of the 50 Swedish islands regarded as depopulated in 2013, 22 were located in the Stockholm Region. In conclusion, the residents of the archipelago and rural areas of Stockholm are in need of empowerment in order to strengthen their own local businesses as well as creating feasible and sustainable living conditions.
Leader Stockholmsbygd was initiated in 2014 as a development project and non-profit organisation envisioning “an archipelago and a countryside in which local initiatives, interacting with the surrounding world, develop sustainable and attractive societies, spreading hope for the future.” It was approved in 2016 by the Swedish Board of Agriculture, meaning that Leader Stockholmsbygd was officially one of 48 approved Leader areas.
Good practices & solutions
Priority efforts for Leader Stockholmsbygd are the development of a local community attractive to visitors and inhabitants, promoting local foodstuffs and markets, creating a good environment and increasing sustainability. One aim is to further diversify the local community and its actors through increased collaboration around distribution of local products and services, logistics and marketing. This will also entail increased knowledge exchange and new meeting fora among the actors and with the surrounding world. Finally, a particular goal is to increase local knowledge about ecosystem services and sustainable development in order to strengthen the biological diversity of land and sea in the concerned areas.
The project/non-profit association functions mainly as a central resource of support for locally initiated projects. These projects are able to apply for funding and are supported in this process. Approval of funding depends on a set of criteria as a broader benefit to the leader area, locally-based approach and participation, collaboration with other stakeholders and sectors and last but not least contribution to one of four focus areas (smart villages, tourism, local food production and marine/nature conservation). Once approved, projects can receive investment funding as well as network building support, since Leader Stockholmsbygd has knowledge about potential collaborators. Leader Stockholmsbygd explicitly states a desire to promote cross-sectorial collaboration, diversity and synergies between stakeholders.
In 2014, 13 bygdemöten- meetings with local neighborhoods – were held, in total attracting around 140 participants. Participants included fishing associations, SME associations, neighbourhood associations, environmental activists, sports clubs, womens’ associations, farmers and local branches of Naturskyddsföreningen, the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation. During each meeting, a SWOT analysis was made to guide the discussions about needs and possibilities for future efforts.
Potential initiatives included increased local food production, tourism development, local investment companies, more rental apartments and recreational activities. Leader professionals are the target group of a particular academic course offered by the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), in English “Innovation – coaching innovative processes”.
Outcome & opportunities
The whole area has a rich tradition of voluntary associations, family and small-scale businesses and social entrepreneurs. A certain self-made mentality pervades the area and its people. Instead of public meeting spaces, the civil society offers the most scenes for dialogue and community. Also, being a close neighbour to Sweden’s largest urban centre does provide certain opportunities that can be exploited further. As tourists are already numerous, an increased profiling of locally and organically grown foods could be further marketed to the environmentally aware urban consumers or attract visitors. Further use of digital marketing is considered especially beneficial to these areas, since they lack sufficient infrastructure. Being a more niched, entrenched and accessible project partner to stakeholders, Leader Stockholmsbygd has an advantage over other EU funds.
Lessons learned & recommendations
As the project attempts to grasp a diverse and wide area, the conditions for enabling local initiatives vary significantly. For example, the level of commitment and resourcefulness usually decreases with proximity to urban areas, as responsibility is expected from other actors rather than the local community. Due to budget restraints, LEADER Stockholmsbygd does not have the capacity to create a common platform for the different initiatives to meet and exchange knowledge. Lack of investment for local initiatives is common. As mentioned in the above section, local investment funds is framed as a general alternative to applying for investment from larger actors. The younger generation is generally considered difficult to engage, partly due to the perceived lack of future possibilities, the main challenge in this regard not being work opportunities per se, but rather the lack of accessible societal services and housing. Involving a sufficiently large number of local actors is key. A well-balanced mix of required expertise is usually present in most areas. Balancing the local and global aspects is particularly difficult. Local residents need a stronger sense of community while achieving stronger bonds with and openness towards the rest of the world. If this is not achieved, matters will not move forward.
Related SDG targets