Sam Lipski on the importance of Communities in Control
Summary of presentation by Mr Sam Lipski
Chief Executive Officer, The Pratt Foundation
The Communities in Control Conference,
convened by Our Community and Catholic Social Services
Moonee Valley Racecourse
April 7-8, 2003.
"An opening welcome to community groups"
Pratt Foundation CEO Sam Lipski opened by declaring the era of
community officially open. "There is nothing so powerful as an idea
whose time has come," he stated. "Obviously the time for communities has
come in Victoria." As proof of this Lipski pointed to the overwhelming
number of delegates to the conference (about 1000 more than expected).
Lipski explained that the aims of the conference were in line with the
mission statement of the Pratt Foundation: "To enrich the lives of the
community." The Foundation, he said, was a strong believer in community:
"As far as we're concerned: community rules, community works." He then
explained his theory of conferences:
"In my experience, conferences can be divided into warm baths and cold
showers. The warm baths certainly make you feel good. They confirm your
prejudices and mindsets, your fellow delegates agree with you, speakers
are benign and reassuring. We all go home with that warm inner glow."
"Cold shower conferences upset our conventional wisdom, challenge our
most cherished beliefs and make us want to strangle a speaker or two. I
hope that the cold showers [at this conference] outnumber the warm
baths. We hope this conference is not too comfortable.
Asking permission to let the cold water flow, Lipski quoted from a
column some three years old that appeared in The Age wcich challenged
the "inaccurate, idealised and self serving" use of the word
'community'. It began:
"In newspapers and on talkback radio
every politician, campaigner and disgruntled member of the public is
lamenting on behalf of the "community". Goodies (that's the people) and
baddies (those who control them) both use the word. The "community" is
nearly always the victim of heartless government and bureaucrats, big
business, economic rationalism and associated greed - as if the
community existed independently of business people, politicians,
bureaucrats, bank staff, property developers and greedy people driving
The columnist argued that anything seen as anti-community was declared
"reprehensible". Yet the term "community" is often used by the "baddies"
to suit their purposes. Thus phrases such as "community consultation".
The column continued:
"Community is now applied willy-nilly
by people with suburban, citywide, regional, state and national
grievances as if Australians share common values, aspiration and
grievances - but we don't."
This raised an important point for Lipski who implored the Conference
to address the idea that - like the ideas of democracy and
multiculturalism - the idea of community is not a given, agreed, fixed
principal. Instead he described it as a "dynamic evolving notion".
"The idea of community, like the idea of beauty, is often in the eye of
the beholder," said Lipski. "The idea of community is sometimes in
outright conflict with the idea of pluralism. Finding a balance between
them is an ongoing requirement of a free and just society."
Another difficulty Lipski pointed to when attempting to pin down a
broad understanding of what we mean when we say "community" is that
those claiming to speak on behalf of the community regularly contradict
each other. There is potential conflict between different notions
Lipski recommended the 1953 work, The Quest for Community by Robert
Nisbet, describing it as "full of cold showers". Quoting in part from
the work: "The quest for community will not be denied for it springs
from some powerful needs: cultural purpose, membership, status and
He also quoted from Professor Christopher Campbell from the University
of Washington, Seattle:
"There is perhaps no concept more central to social life and at the
same time more muddled and misunderstood than the idea of community. We
live within it, define ourselves by it, seek it out, rebel against it,
and crave it when it cannot be found. And yet, do we really understand
Returning to his opening remarks, Lipski said he senses a revival in
the notion of community. "Post cold war, in midst of ongoing
globalisation, post-September 11, post-Bali, the yearning for
connection, for being in control has reasserted itself. An audience of
1200 is not pure coincidence. It's a reflection of the times. We all
feel that even being together gives a meaning of purpose that otherwise
He concluded by warmly wishing the audience the coldest of showers.
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