Developing local capacities


back to issue

OVER the past three decades, countries across Asia have experienced unprecedented economic prosperity induced by strategies based on capital investment in infrastructure for industry, agro-business, urban renewal and tourism. However, these strategies have exacted a heavy toll on environmental and cultural resources. The damage to the region’s environmental resources has for some time been recognized. But it is only recently that the alarming depletion of the common stock of ‘cultural capital’ throughout the region has merited attention.

Cultural resources – if at all considered within the development paradigm – have typically, but incorrectly, been seen as inexhaustible. This has been especially true of built culture heritage: archaeological sites, ancient monuments and historic buildings. Nothing could be further from the truth. Cultural resources, particularly the built cultural heritage, are non-renewable resources, each a creation of a specific time and place, now past.

We misuse and abuse our culture heritage resources. This is obvious to anyone who has seen the graffiti, trash and vandalism at an ancient monument. Equally to anyone who has been unable to experience the serenity of a temple, mosque or church because of the noise pollution and uncontrolled crowds. Yet, when the over exploitation of a culture heritage resource becomes too unbearable to be ignored, the most common response is to transfer responsibility for the situation to the local inhabitants by citing their somehow ‘lax’ stewardship and to put severe restrictions on their use of the site and its resources. In the most extreme scenario, indigenous populations have been relocated out of ‘protected’ sites altogether, and the sites repopulated with more economically profitable tourists. This strategy, however, only hastens the deterioration of the heritage through the loss of traditional custodians and endogenous techniques for sustainable management of the heritage.

Adding to the urgency of the situation is the fact that – in the face of globalization – it is fast being realised that ancient monuments form only a small part of the total heritage of a culture. Consider the enormous amount of accrued knowledge and skills held locally in the heritage – in homes and shops, in traditional trades and arts, in rituals, festivals and the calendar of everyday life. It is obvious that urgent, strategic and comprehensive action is needed to protect the community’s and the region’s culture heritage assets.

We are operating with a new understanding of what constitutes our heritage and so there is the need for a marked shift in the way we manage our cultural heritage resources. Culture heritage conservation must be integrated into strategies for sustainable development at every level, taking into account the needs and aspirations of the communities where cultural assets are found.

Only community stewardship can ensure that the heritage will be protected everywhere, and that its protection will be sustained over the long term. Sustained, universal stewardship is a prerequisite for the survival of cultural heritage.



Sustainable heritage conservation depends upon the commitment and involvement of local communities. Conservation policies, to be successful, need to promote local community stewardship of the heritage as well as provide socio-economic benefits for local communities. Therefore, a direct link must be made between safeguarding the heritage and socio-economic development.

To be successful initiatives must be anchored in the institutions of the local community with local populations given a leading role in the development of conservation policy, as well as in the management of culture heritage sites. Unfortunately, throughout the Asia-Pacific region, community action has become the weakest link in the conservation chain. Therefore, Unesco has put considerable effort into developing the capacities of local government, community-based institutions and NGOs to successfully manage their heritage resources.

We call this programme ‘Integrated Community Development and Cultural Heritage Preservation in Asia and the Pacific through Local Effort’, or LEAP as it has become known by participants and stakeholders. The basic idea behind the programme is to assist the ubiquitous small and medium-sized traditional communities throughout the region, many of whom are economically stagnant if not impoverished, to make a successful economic ‘leap’ into the future using conservation and development of local heritage as the springboard. In this process local actors are encouraged to assume an active stewardship over the heritage and are empowered to develop that heritage in a responsible, profitable and sustainable manner.

The programme does not intend to replace existing professional and institutional efforts at heritage conservation. The LEAP programme aims to complement and extend those efforts by moving heritage conservation beyond the exclusive sphere of a high technology, elite specialization to become the concern – indeed the responsibility – of every man, woman and child. In other words, we want to transform heritage conservation into a grassroots movement which will return the heritage to the communities that created it and who rely on it as the foundation for their future development.



The basis of the LEAP strategy to empower local communities in heritage conservation is to ensure participation of the indigenous populations and local communities in the conservation and management of the heritage resources. This can only be done if the end result of these practices provides economic and social benefits for the community, while safeguarding and maintaining social and cultural traditions. This strategy calls for the deliberate recasting of heritage conservation as a development activity that brings economic opportunities, creates jobs, and generates income based on traditional technologies and knowhow.



The first objective of such a strategy is to empower individuals in and local communities as a whole to understand and advocate the long term conservation of their heritage. For this purpose, traditional community leaders are mobilized and traditional consensus-building mechanisms used within the community to arrive at a shared vision and a common goal.

The second objective of empowerment is to enable the local communities to play a leading role in actual hands-on conservation and preservation work, such as monitoring the condition of the site or taking part in preventive conservation and ongoing maintenance and restoration projects.

The third part of the equation is to develop the means through which local communities can benefit financially from the enhanced conservation of the heritage while at the same time maintaining their social and spiritual traditions intact. Activities here involve a wide variety of income generating and self-employment opportunities, such as support to the expansion and mass marketing of traditional handicraft industries.

The methodological approach followed in the implementation of this programme involves initiating a variety of community participatory activities which act as the catalyst for local community interest groups to assess the unique characteristics, strengths and economic potential of the elements making up their physical as well as intangible cultural heritage, and then design a community action plan to self-develop these elements in a way which is both profitable and sustainable. Through the programme, assistance is provided in the form of practical, technical peer advice and, if needed, small ‘start-up’ grants or loans.

The programme’s implementation strategy has an overtly political objective: it demonstrates how heritage conservation can be an effective tool for job creation and income generation, thus poverty alleviation, by promoting custodianship over the heritage and empowering local communities to develop their heritage in a responsible, sustainable and profitable manner. Through this strategy, heritage preservation becomes a development activity that stimulates economic opportunities by using traditional skills and indigenous resources available in the community.

The admittedly ambitious aim of LEAP is to catalyze an attitudinal change that will result in universal involvement, individual commitment and local community stewardship over the cultural heritage. This is done by demonstrating that heritage conservation makes good developmental sense, both in economic and social terms. Nothing less than a paradigm shift to universal stewardship of the heritage is the ultimate goal of this programme, mirroring a similar paradigm shift that has been successfully achieved in the environmental conservation movement.



Although the specific culture conservation goals of each community may differ, a common structure has been developed to guide action to meet these goals. We call this framework the LEAP 10 Step Action Programme.

Step 1: The first step in the process is to encourage activities which engender a stewardship ethic and community participation in historic conservation. These include developing the technique of ‘envisioning’ among the communities as a means to self identify their needs and expectations of the future and how heritage might contribute to community development. Hands-on workshops have also been found useful to familiarize everyone with the practical problems of conservation and simple solutions to these problems. These workshops are then followed up with on-site inspection of heritage sites where workshop participants identify for themselves maintenance and conservation issues and are asked to brainstorm together to come up with possible and practical solutions to these problems.



Step 2: The next programme activity involves the mobilization of the local government departments around the use of heritage conservation for development. Site managers and local leaders are encouraged to develop zoning and environmental management plans for both preservation and development of heritage sites. This includes training in the use of basic site management tools, such as survey maps and computer-aided geographical and data information systems. This empowerment of the legitimate local authorities, typically ignored in the conservation process, is an all important step to ensure that heritage conservation will truly be embedded in local politics and community development plans.

Step 3: The next step is the identification of pilot projects within the community on the basis of community based participatory research work to identify the locally significant sites and heritage properties for protection and possibly adaptive re-use. This step includes training for assessing the economic potential of heritage properties, evolving proposals for their use and supporting local organizations for demonstration projects in adaptive reuse.

Step 4: Because they have disappeared in many places, research, development and training in low cost, traditionally appropriate and historically accurate techniques for building maintenance forms a key part of most LEAP projects. Easy to use, fully-illustrated heritage homeowners’ manuals and accompanying videos are prepared for each location to communicate appropriate repair techniques and to maintain standards throughout the community.



The manuals are written, illustrated and produced locally in cooperation with traditional experts, community schools and local construction contractors. The techniques explained in the manuals are demonstrated through a series of hands-on on-site workshops for building owners and local contractors in order to implicate them too in the process of heritage conservation and to reassure them that conservation work can be a profitable business. This training emphasizes the appropriateness, economy and ease of using traditional materials, as well as deals with issues of supply and stockpile of traditional materials.

Step 5: A return to traditional materials necessitates a reinvigoration of and economic support for traditional building and associated trades in the local community to produce those materials where necessary for the authentic restoration and maintenance of historic buildings. These businesses often still exist but in rump form, because of drop-off in the demand for their products as they were replaced by modern industrial materials. With support and a surer flow of orders, these businesses can once again be made to flourish locally and, taking advantage of modern transportation infrastructure, many even develop into successful local suppliers of construction materials.

Step 6: Not everyone in the community can be or wants to be a builder, and in any case, buildings are dead shells without activities taking place within them. So a sixth LEAP programme action is to promote and offer training to enhance traditional artisan skills among the local community and promote the continuation and development of intangible cultural activities and performing arts which have potential market appeal and can be developed into professions which offer full and part-time employment to members of the community.

Step 7: Virtually every community identifies tourism as one way to develop its heritage as an economic resource. This is an important way to integrate young adults into the heritage conservation efforts through developing employment opportunities where they serve as interpreters of the local heritage.



In order that the local communities can develop a tourism which is special and therefore attractive to visitors, while at the same time respectful of local culture and profitable for local residents, a seventh LEAP action is to provide training for and promotion of community based, tourism industry related occupations grounded in accurate interpretation of the unique local culture, history and the environment. As tourism and other business develops, there is demand for additional training at the local level.

Step 8: An eighth LEAP action assists in curriculum development for both formal and non-formal education in local history, heritage conservation and small business management skills in the culture industries. Here is another area in which collaboration with other actors in the education sector as well as with local business promotion associations such as Rotary, Lions and Chambers of Commerce has proven successful and has scope for much further development.

Step 9: There is also the need to set up revolving loans and low interest credit schemes for conservation, maintenance and business development. Sometimes this can be achieved through the establishment of local community market cooperatives. Other times, agriculture or rural development banks will loan to modernize traditional industries that have market potential.



Financing business development is an action that is beyond the scope of Unesco, but the establishment of small business incubators are an important part of the LEAP programme. In these small business incubators, individuals and groups who are interested in developing a culture-based enterprise are helped to identify the financing opportunities available to them and taught how successfully to get access to and take advantage of these opportunities.

Step 10: Finally, in order to learn from one another’s experiences, a final LEAP action is to link communities and individuals together through practical seminars, a newsletter, and email discussion groups for exchange of technical and other relevant information. Once a year a workshop is held for all LEAP site project managers, hosted by one of the local communities participating in the programme. The subject matter of the workshop is selected by the managers themselves.

The strategy of this programme is to create activities which are sustainable so that they bring lasting economic benefits to the communities who engage in them and which do not, therefore, require continued assistance and financial support from outside sources. The results of these activities must also be replicable. The aim is to engender kinds of strategies and activities which, with site-specific modifications, can be applied elsewhere. In doing so, a roster of potential activities can be developed for communities to use which can both foster the safeguarding of traditional heritage while improving their economic circumstances.

Finally, the strategies and activities developed by this programme should result in a multiplier effect. It is intended that national authorities will see the value of promoting community based activities with regard to the preservation and safeguarding of their traditional heritage, and in doing so, embed these strategies into their national policy.



To meet the growing demand for technical and managerial expertise at the grassroots level and because communities throughout the region share many of the same practical problems in conserving local heritage, Unesco has developed some common site management tools for all project sites. Among these tools are the following:

Hoi An Protocols for Best Conservation Practice in Asia and the Pacific: In the past, conservation rules and guidelines have been formulated from experiences with structures and materials common to Europe and the Mediterranean countries. In order that the special characteristics of Asian building materials and techniques, as well as uses and cultural meanings, can be coherently taken into account during conservation, Unesco regional experts have developed and published a set of guidelines outlining best conservation practice for the region, known as the Hoi An Protocols (to the Nara Document on Authenticity).

Production of Heritage Homeowners’ Manuals: Designed as a practical tool to guide individuals and families in the care, renovation and possible adaptive re-use of their historic houses, the Heritage Homeowners Manuals return responsibility for home, (or shop, or temple) maintenance back into the hands of the owners of these buildings themselves.

The purpose of the manuals is not to turn every homeowner into a professional conservation architect, but to guide building owners in accomplishing those tasks of routine maintenance and preventive conservation which are clearly within their competence and responsibility. The manuals provide the technical guidelines necessary for owners to carry out the necessary work in a manner that preserves the historic authenticity of the structure.



Asia-Pacific Heritage Conservation Awards: The Unesco Asia-Pacific Heritage Awards for Culture Heritage Conservation were established to recognize the achievement of individuals and organizations within the private sector, and public-private initiatives, in successfully restoring and adapting for viable re-use structures of heritage value in the region. Since 2000, Unesco has received 134 entries from 21 countries, spanning a wide range of conservation projects from private residences to palace complexes. Many of the entries have set technical and social benchmarks for conservation in the region. Over the years, the projects illustrate the increasing momentum and level of conservation practice in Asia and the Pacific.

Development and Training in Neighbourhood Based GIS: Unesco has published a GIS manual for heritage managers entitled GIS and Culture Resource Management on the use of GIS (geographical information systems) in cultural resource management – introducing the technology to site managers throughout the Asia-Pacific region and around the world.

The purpose of developing easy to use GIS management tools for culture heritage is two-fold: (i) To assist local managers in documenting and making inventories of their sites, to categorize buildings for preservation, restoration and adaptive re-use, and to have an integrated overview of conservation needs. To be better able to prioritize and respond to the needs of the communities inhabiting their sites, and to work together with them in developing the activities and plans envisioned by the communities; and (ii) To place the control and knowledge of heritage management directly into the hands of the local managers by giving to them the training, technical expertise and equipment necessary to carry out the task of heritage management.

Streetwise Asia: Authored by one of the LEAP technical advisors, Unesco and the World Bank’s East Asia Section have jointly published a practical guide on heritage conservation intended for the use local community planning officials, entitled Streetwise Asia.



Through the LEAP programme, Unesco promotes a responsible, community managed tourism industry, grounded in local culture, environment and history for the development of sustainable local economies. A four-year project at eight selected LEAP sites developed a set of models meant to guide the development cultural tourism industries at heritage sites.

This project’s methodology consisted of conducting tourism and heritage assessment surveys, studying the economics of cultural tourism development and implications for protection, conservation and heritage preservation, and then developing and testing long term community based strategies in four areas: (a) financial profitability and sustainability, (b) carrying capacity linked to infrastructure development, (c) employment and training, (d) integrated management structures. A workbook entitled Culture Heritage Management and Tourism: Models for Co-operation among Stakeholders has been published so that these models can be followed and adapted for use in other communities.



Resulting from many requests from LEAP site managers and tourism industry personnel for guidelines and real-life examples of sustainable tourism practices, Impact is a series of case studies exploring issues of tourism and culture preservation. Each book presents an indepth focus on one heritage site, providing real-life examples and guidelines on cultural tourism for heritage managers, tourism industry personnel and site visitors.

In order to encourage the diversification of high quality cultural products in a community, Unesco sponsors a complementary programme which awards a ‘seal of excellence’ to handicraft products that meet benchmark standards of workmanship and authenticity. This seal of excellence is used as a marketing tool to promote community based cultural industries.

Fostering, facilitating and strengthening the communication and lateral links between heritage site managers themselves and with other professionals in their field is one of the priority strategies and activities of LEAP. It is a goal of the programme to provide and foster the means whereby site managers and communities can learn and share from each others’ experiences.

Since 1996, six Asia-Pacific heritage site managers’ workshop/conferences have been organized under the auspices of LEAP. The first two, held in Vietnam in 1996 and Thailand in 1997, focused broadly on heritage management techniques and issues. At the request of site managers, the third conference, held in Penang and Melaka, Malaysia in May 1999, took a specific theme on the adaptive re-use of historic properties. The fourth, fifth and sixth which took place respectively in Bhaktapur, Nepal (2000), Lijiang, China (2001) and Penang, Malaysia (2003) focused on heritage management and tourism.

To build and maintain networks between yearly conferences and workshops, Unesco has established LEAP Online, an email and paper-based discussion and advocacy forum. Run through the Unesco Bangkok website, LEAP Online provides an easy link between people who are interested in heritage preservation at a local level and encourages the sharing of knowledge between professionals from around the world.



The most recent initiative has been the establishment in 2002, under the joint auspices of Unesco and ICCROM, of the Asian Academy for Culture and Heritage Management. This is a regional network of universities and other heritage training institutions to conduct research and offer training in the management of culture and heritage resources. Holders of Unesco Chairs in Culture Resource Management seated in each participating institution constitute the Board of Directors of the Academy and set its curriculum and research agenda.

This new ‘virtual’ academy has a variety of functions, all aimed at upgrading the professional capacity for culture heritage conservation and management in the Asia-Pacific region.

* Each participating institution which is also a degree-granting institution such as a university, offers a postgraduate degree(s) in one field of culture or heritage management. Students from other participating institutions are able to cross-register.

* In addition to formal postgraduate degrees, the institutions jointly offer extra-mural diploma courses for in-service professionals in various fields of culture conservation and management. These courses of study are made available on-line as well as through other modes of distance education.

* Both the degree and diploma programmes are augmented by field schools, organized by the participating institutions on a rotational basis, and located at a living heritage site and integrating the management of both tangible and intangible culture resources.

* Research consortia from several institutions are facilitated through the Academy’s network.

* Another activity of the Academy is the conduct of short certificate courses in specific conservation techniques (for example, the use of lime mortar and plaster). These will be aimed at working professionals such as building contractors, contract archaeologists, and so on.

* The Academy will also license individuals as competent to conduct certain forms of cultural work such as the conduct of cultural impact assessments, or visitor interpretation. These may be linked to specific localities or sites.

* The Academy conducts seminars for professionals in fields related to culture institution management and heritage conservation to update them on the state of the art of the profession and special, short intensive courses for decision makers – targeting especially officials of heritage towns.

* There is also a publications programme attached to the Academy and an extensive website.

The Academy is positioned to play a key role in establishing and monitoring regional standards of culture management and best conservation practice, as well as in research and teaching.



The preservation of the heritage is an undertaking of such scope and long term commitment that it can only be successful if there is active participation by local communities everywhere. LEAP pioneers new approaches in the areas of conservation and site maintenance, drawing on local traditions, techniques and knowledge. By focusing on local ownership of heritage and local control over its preservation and future use, the LEAP programme endeavours to place culture at the centre of human development.

Because it demonstrates to a local audience that heritage properties have sustained economic value, LEAP catalyses grassroots movements for heritage preservation. The programme proves to communities that local culture and heritage are not extraneous nor outmoded anachronisms to be sacrificed to the demands of globalization, modernization and economic development, but rather that their preservation forms the very basis of sustainable development.

The purpose of heritage conservation advocated by this programme is not to encourage people to return to some nostalgic past, but rather to use heritage as the divining rod for determining the direction each community wishes to take in its future development. This will help to ensure that the end result of development efforts will be acceptable and appropriate to each community’s economic needs and respectful of each community’s social and cultural values.