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November 7, 2002 Concordia joins Initiative on the New Economy



Industry Minister Allan Rock announces $11.3 million in funding for five projects involving Montreal universities. The minister made his announcement on Nov. 15 at the École des Hautes Études Commerciales.
In the audience are Rector Frederick Lowy and Provost Jack Lightstone, and Professors William Reimer and Gregory Kersten, both of whom lead SSHRC-funded projects in the Initiative on the New Economy

Photo by Vincenzo D’Alto

by James Martin

Concordia-related research projects have been awarded a total of $4.4 million in research funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council. They are part of Canada’s fledgling Initiative on the New Economy (INE), a wide-ranging project that will see some $100 million disbursed by SSHRC over five years.

The grants were announced by federal industry minister Allan Rock on Nov. 15 as part of a cluster of of awards to Montreal-area universities. The INE supports research in global issues concerning the new economy, management and entrepreneurship, education and lifelong learning.

Two major projects are led by Concordia professors. One is Electronic Negotiations, Media and Transactions in Socio-Economic Interactions, a study of society-transforming interactions between people and technologies, headed by Decision Sciences and Management Information Systems Professor Gregory E. Kersten, which has been awarded $1.4 million over four years.
Another project, called Building Rural Capacity in the New Economy, led by Sociology and Anthropology Professor William Reimer, has been awarded $3 million.

In addition, Finance Professor Lawrence Kryzanowski is a member of a team working on a project on e-finance, headed by Georges Dionne of HEC.

Dr. Reimer explained that Building Rural Capacity in the New Economy is an extension of a previous project that is just coming to an end. The New Rural Economy (NRE2) was a five-year research and education project examining the challenges facing 32 rapidly changing rural communities across Canada.

In the increasingly globalized economy, towns are affected by changes beyond their control to the industries on which they depend, such as mining, fishing and forestry.
Also, the increasing urbanization of Canada drains power away from small towns. The NRE2 addressed the dramatic effect of out-migration, especially by the young, and the resulting vicious cycle that affects the essential services in these shrinking towns, such as their schools and hospitals.

The new Building Rural Capacity in the New Economy, also known as NRE2, is a four-year extension of its predecessor.

“The first project was about finding out what’s going on in rural areas,” Reimer explained. “We have a wide range of findings about the situation. We know rural Canada is in trouble, but we also realize there’s a tremendous ability and interest and motivation among people in rural areas to improve things.”

It’s this promise of positive change that lies at the heart of NRE2. This is not an exercise in handwringing or dour pulse-taking. It’s about discovering “the kinds of opportunities available for rural people. What kind of options might they choose, and how they might go about that?”
The $3 million will largely go toward covering the transportation costs in reaching the often remote communities, training students (grads and undergrads from several institutions) to conduct field research, and organizing conferences and workshops at which ideas can be shared.
Reimer said that not only is the research informed by an exchange of ideas among communities regarding social and economic revitalization, such as a community in rural B.C. literally talking with a community in rural Quebec, but the researchers make sure to report their findings back to the community, contributing to this exchange of ideas.

“We’re doing research at the sites, but, at the same time, transfering knowledge both ways. We’re teaching the local people how to do research, and they’re informing us about their situations. The project brings it together.”

The sharing of ideas shows these communities that they’re not alone, and their situations aren’t hopeless. Reimer cites the example of a Quebec town which, when faced with losing its school, aggressively marketed itself to nearby urban centre as an attractive education alternative with a smaller student:teacher ratio. This gutsy move worked. The rural school not only survived, it prospered.

“They reversed the trend,” Reimer said.

“Other communities hear about this, and think, Maybe we can do something similar. It’s those kinds of stories that get other communities thinking, Maybe we’ve got more to offer.”
NRE2 will also try to raise awareness about the relationship between urban centres and their rural neighbors.

An obvious example is the case of rural areas providing drinking water for urban communities. Reimer says it’s time for city-dwellers to become informed about these connections.

“We have to start thinking about the ways in which rural Canada provides for, and has mutual interests with, urban Canada. That’s not being recognized.”

Unlike its predecessor, which drew its funding from a number of sources, NRE2’s existence is almost entirely contingent on the new SSHRC money.

“It was getting to the point where we were saying, If we don’t get funding after December 2002, NRE2 will basically become a caretaking operation,” Reimer said. “We had no guarantee that we’d be continuing.”

He added, “We put all our eggs in one basket,” referring to the gamble of staking the project’s future on success of its SSHRC application, “but, as it turns out, the basket was full. This is really a tremendous bonanza.”