RENO — In their quest to maintain a sustainable economy and keep jobs and production in northern Nevada, small business leaders and entrepreneurs gathered in Reno on Thursday for a presentation by internationally renown community organizer Dr. A.T. Ariyaratne.
Dr Ari, as he prefers to be called, is the creator of the Sarvodaya Shramadana movement in Sri Lanka, which is defined as “the awakening of all through the sharing of labor, thought and energy.” Dr. Ari explained to some community members the principles he has used to help Sri Lanka communities develop a sustainable economy without the aid of government.
“If things would have continued with the economy in Sri Lanka, the economy would have collapsed,” Dr. Ari said. “Now, we all are engaged in some kind of production. There are those who are manually working and all is resulting in the production of goods and services.”
The Sarvodaya movement operates on a five-stage model that allows for community bonding and involvement in order to achieve “social and personal awakening of everyone.” The five stages are as follows:
*Stage 1: Analyzation of problems and needs in the village.
*Stage 2: Establishment of various groups and construction of a child development center.
*Stage 3: Program for meeting basic needs and setting up the Sarvodaya Shramadana Society to develop village initiatives.
*Stage 4: Produce income and employment and establishment of self-reliance and self-financing.
*Stage 5: Support for other village communities.
Using this model, the villages in Sri Lanka have become independent form the government and have created a community involvement where people are able to build, produce and benefit from their work.
“You can’t expect the government or the financial institutions to build this kind of thing because they spend money while the money we create will not go back to the work or business,” Dr. Ari said.
Cheri Hill, a small business owner and educator, said the ideas of Dr. Ari have become contagious to small businesses and entrepreneurs in the area, but they have not been able to make the critical move into self-reliance.
“Many of us in this community are working on building a community that works together in many different ways,” Hill said. “To me, it was fascinating that (Dr. Ari) has been working on this process to build self-reliant communities for 56 years.”
Northern Nevada Hyperbarics executive Richard Flyer said the progress Sri Lanka has made proves the system works and is transferrable to economies in the United States.
“The analogy to northern Nevada is that we face certain dependencies where we import a lot of products. All of our different containers are going to be a part of building a self-reliant regional economy,” Flyer said.
Dr. Ari has won several peace prizes in his years of instituting Sarvodaya, including the Mahatma Ghandi Peace Prize in 1996. He said his study of the American economy leads him to believe that ceasing to change would only bring devastation.
“The economic system that we have had for the last 500 or 600 years has reached a level where the whole economy may collapse, leaving us no place,” he said. “In working in this world, I find greed and ignorance are organized and beneficence is not well organized.”
Dr. Ari is visiting several small businesses, non-profit groups and organizations during his weeklong stay sharing the process of Sarvodaya Shramadana. By the time he departs on Wednesday, he hopes to have enlightened northern Nevada to believe that instituting community collaboration will help establish a reliable economy.
“Let’s not export to these countries 3,000 miles away. If we can produce it, let’s produce it. If we can satisfy our own production and needs, let’s do it,” he said. “We have enough community involvement to express our opinions every day, not every four years. We can do things together and we are in a much better position to realize our objectives. When we do these kind of things, the government is sure to follow.”