The LEADER Approach
What is LEADER all about?
The acronym and the method
The acronym ‘LEADER' derives from the French words "Liaison Entre Actions de Développement de l'Économique Rurale" which means, ‘Links between the rural economy and development actions'. The idea was to enlist the energy and resources of people and bodies that could contribute to the rural development process by forming partnerships at a sub-regional level between the public, private and civil sectors. In 1990, when a group of officials at the European Commission came up with the proposal for LEADER, this concept of connecting with people was quite new.
The LEADER approach is associated with local empowerment through local strategy development and resource allocation. The main tool for the application of the LEADER approach to area development and involving local representatives in decision-making is the Local Action Group (LAG).
In the experimental phase in 1991-93, LEADER involved 217 regions, focusing on disadvantaged rural areas. This was also true for 1994-1999. In 2000-2006, based on the encouraging results, the method quickly expanded to cover all types of rural areas. In its fourth programming period (2007-2013), the approach was mainstreamed as an integral part of the EU's rural development policy, covering 2402 rural territories across the Member States. The method has also extended thematically to fisheries policy with some 300 FLAGs on that side.
The LEADER family
Due to rapid expansion, the network structures have become ever more important to LEADER implementation. National Rural Networks (NRNs) are state-supported bodies established in all the Member States. They assist in capacity building, networking activities, partner search for transnational cooperation, etc. The European Network for Rural Development (ENRD) plays the same role at the European level, directly helping both the NRNs and LAGs. About half of the EU's LAGs are members of the European LEADER Association for Rural Development (ELARD), which is an NGO-based cooperation forum of LEADER areas. A strong commitment and faith in the methodology create a shared ethos among the LEADER practitioners and networks, and has been recognised by external evaluator.