The Big Picture
Community development empowers people to revitalize their communities by equipping them with the necessary skills, knowledge, tools, and resources to overcome historic disparities and hardships. The field seeks to rebuild the inequitable systems that leave certain populations isolated, marginalized, and without access to important resources. While international development deals with similar issues in developing countries, community development efforts focus on the United States.
- 700,000 households in the nation’s 100 largest metro areas have no access to public or private transit.1
- 86% of people with incomes above $75,000 report voting in presidential elections - compared to only 52% of people with incomes under $15,000.2
- An estimated 12 million renter and homeowner households pay more than 50 percent of their annual incomes for housing, and a family with one full-time worker earning the minimum wage cannot afford the local fair-market rent for a two-bedroom apartment anywhere in the United States.3
What can you expect if you decide to go into the community development field?
Put on your thinking cap
Community development often involves collaborating with various stakeholders with different (and sometimes conflicting) goals to create solutions that work. Successful people in this field are comfortable navigating complex problems, thinking creatively and holistically about problems, and identifying and gaining consensus on cross-sector solutions. If you tend to avoid conflict and opposition, or prefer to work only with people just like you, you may want to explore other fields.
The road is long and bumpy
Community development addresses issues resulting from deep-rooted problems that require systemic change. That change doesn’t happen overnight, and outside factors may force you to adjust your course along the way. If you’re considering this field, you should be comfortable with small wins over giant leaps forward, and navigating an unclear path - and you should be prepared to roll with the punches.
In many cases, the most effective leaders in the community development field have gained insight from their own experiences grappling directly with issues of poverty, homelessness, or unemployment. While you can certainly make a difference without having faced these issues yourself, having a high level of empathy for others is important. Test yourself to gauge your own level of empathy, and remember that you’ll need to spend time in the communities you hope to serve.