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Building Assets for the Rural Future

Tap into Local Talent and Leadership

Tap into Local Talent and Leadership

The Opportunity


Rural communities may possess a rich store of local talent in areas such as leadership and entrepreneurship. The talent may be indigenous, perhaps found among promising youth, or it may be found among arriving retirees and other new members of the community. The key is identifying that talent and connecting it to the community, which is a challenging proposition in distressed communities stretched across vast rural areas.[1] The effort is made even more difficult in communities that are facing youth out-migration, massive job losses, and in-migration of new residents (typically retirees).[2] Nonetheless, some communities have met with success in their efforts to identify talented residents and plug them into the community.[3]

How the Tactic Is Applied

  • Cultivate the Leadership Capacity of Low-Income Residents
  • Engage New Residents
  • Engage Youth with Community Leaders

Cultivate the Leadership Capacity of Low-Income Residents

Horizons (Washington)

The Horizons leadership development program enrolled over 300 small communities across the Upper Midwest and Pacific Northwest—each with population of 5,000 or less and a poverty rate of 10% or higher—to develop local leaders to address poverty, economic decline, and the exodus of youth.[4]  Prior to entering the 18-month training program, each community was required to recruit three local trainers and involve at least 25 people in 30-40 hours of leadership training.[5]  The participants selected for training had to reflect the demographics of the larger community—including proportional representation by low-income residents.[6] Upon completion of the leadership training, the participants returned to their communities and engaged in a community visioning process involving at least 15% of the population and groups not typically well-represented in community decisions, such as low-income residents.[7]

An evaluation of the program found that Horizons succeeded on several levels. The participants selected for training were indeed diverse: 64% of them had received no prior leadership training and almost 40% earned annual incomes under 200% of the federal poverty level.[8] Communities reported that the newly-trained leaders made a recognizable impact through their participation in community initiatives after completing the program.[9] Some poverty-related initiatives developed by program participants included efforts to address food security, to provide financial education for low-income individuals, and to increase Latino access to higher education.[10]

Engage New Residents

Transylvania Senior Resource Network (North Carolina)

The importance of rural entrepreneurship was discussed above (2.3. Support Rural & Low-Wealth Entrepreneurs, page 57). As one means of supporting its entrepreneurs, rural Transylvania County tapped into the expertise of a new and growing retiree population through its Transylvania Senior Resource Network. The network organized retired and semi-retired former business executives and other professionals to support local entrepreneurs.[11] Volunteers provide free technical assistance and consulting services to new and existing small businesses in the county.[12]  During the period of 2006 to 2009, the network of 50-60 volunteers provided more than 1,500 consulting hours to county small businesses[13] and has conducted financial education and entrepreneurship classes in local schools.[14]

Engage Youth with Community Leaders

HomeTown Competitiveness (Nebraska)
Southwest Initiative Foundation (Minnesota)

In Nebraska, the HomeTown Competitiveness (HTC) program trains rural community leaders on ways to engage and retain youth in the community. Participating communities learn to engage youth by creating local career opportunities and nurturing a sense of ownership and vested interest in the community.[15] Youth engagement programs form the core of the approach, beginning with strong school entrepreneurship programs. Teens and young adults are taught about local careers, and the program connects youth with community leadership opportunities.[16] In a specific example, a group of teen and adult leaders in Knox County, Nebraska, hosted a youth rally. At the event, speakers invited high school students to consider their future in the county; students then met with local entrepreneurs and community leaders at various stations around the room to learn of local career opportunities; and then students were invited to sign up for planned projects and activities to further strengthen their connections locally.[17] A 2006 study of the HTC program in one community found that the process had strengthened the community’s leadership base, and that youth had become more engaged in philanthropy and entrepreneurship projects in the community.[18]

The Southwest Initiative Foundation, a community foundation in rural Minnesota, sponsors the Youth Energy Summit (YES) to increase community involvement among youth.  YES combines leadership development and entrepreneurship education by engaging youth in efforts to address renewable energy opportunities in rural Minnesota.  Each school year, more than 20 teams of high school students develop renewable energy projects geared toward their schools or home towns. Student teams work with school administrators, business leaders, and local government officials in conceptualizing and then implementing the projects.[19] One team’s project established a recycling program in the students’ community, while another developed an educational program for elementary students in the team’s district.[20] By connecting rural youth to local community and business leaders and exposing them to local career opportunities, the program aims to convince more of these youth to return to their rural hometowns as adults.[21] After only three years of operation, no data is available regarding youth retention, but participation in the program has more than doubled, with more than 20 schools and more than 225 students participating annually.[22]

Learn More

Bill Layton                                                  
Coordinator                                                  
Transylvania County Senior                             
Resource Network                                          
Brevard, NC

828-884-3205
bill.layton@transylvaniacounty.org

Cheryl Glaeser
Program Officer
Southwest Initiative Foundation
Hutchinson, MN
320-587-4848
cherylg@swifoundation.org
http://www.swifoundation.org/yes.html

On the Internet

HomeTown Competitiveness
http://www.htccommunity.org/

Transylvania Senior Resource Network
http://old.sog.unc.edu/programs/cednc/stbi/cases/pdf/brevard.pdf

Energizing Young Entrepreneurs in Rural Communities
http://extension.missouri.edu/exceed/documents/EnergizingYouthEntrepreneurs.pdf




[1] Jeffrey C. Bridger & Theodore R. Alter, Place, Community Development, and Social Capital, 37 J. Community Dev. Soc’y 5, 9 (2006) (noting that for many rural communities, bridging social capital is in “short supply” because of distance between groups in rural areas); Anita R. Brown-Graham, The Missing Link: Using Social Capital to Alleviate Poverty, 68 Popular Government 32, 36 (2003) (“Poor people typically have plenty of bonding social capital …They have some bridging social capital …But they have nearly no linking capital [linking them to resources outside of the community].”).

[2] See Jeffrey C. Bridger & Theodore R. Alter, Place, Community Development, and Social Capital, 37 J. Community Dev. Soc’y 5, 9-11 (2006); Emery & Flora, above note 1, at 21; Brown-Graham, above note 1, at 36.

[3] Emery & Flora, above note 2, at 28 (“…leadership training was explicitly tied to community capacity development rather than focused on developing the human capital of individuals.  By incorporating the components of the three areas simultaneously, the synergistic design of the project led to changes in all areas, eventually offering the potential to create system change.”)

[4] Washington State Univ. Extension, Horizons: Community Leadership to Reduce Poverty, available at http://horizons.wsu.edu/project/horizons2/documents/HorizonsReportlow.pdf.

[5] Diane L. Morehouse & Stacey H. Stockhill, Northwest Area Foundation Horizons Program: Community Leadership to Reduce Poverty, December 2007 Report from the Ongoing External Evaluation, LeadershipPlenty® Segment Final Report Executive Summary ii (2007), available at http://horizons.wsu.edu/project/horizons2/documents/022008LPExecutiveSummary.pdf. See also  LeadershipPlenty Institute, http://www.pew-partnership.org/lpinstitute.html (describing LeadershipPlenty leadership training curriculum).

[6] Ibid.  See also, Northwest Area Foundation, Horizons Community Guide 6, 14 (2008).

[7] See Northwest Area Foundation, Horizons Community Guide 16 (2008).

[8] Morehouse & Stockhill, above note 5, at ii.

[9] Ibid. at iii.

[10] Washington State Univ. Extension, Horizons: Community Leadership to Reduce Poverty, available at http://horizons.wsu.edu/project/horizons2/documents/HorizonsReportlow.pdf.

[11] Interview with Bill Layton, Coordinator, Senior Resource Network, Transylvania County Economic Development (Jan. 26, 2010).

[12] Ibid.

[13]

 Transylvania County Economic Development, 2006-2009 Transylvania County Strategic Plan Final Report 3 (No Date), archived at https://web.archive.org/web/20110110202937/http://www.transylvaniacounty.org/Docs/2006-2009%20Stragetic%20Plan%20Final%20Report%20%283%29.pdf.

[14] Interview with Bill Layton, Coordinator, Senior Resource Network, Transylvania County Economic Development (Jan. 26, 2010).

[15] Craig Schroeder et al., Energizing Young Entrepreneurs in Rural Communities 14, http://extension.missouri.edu/exceed/documents/EnergizingYouthEntrepreneurs.pdf. See also Emery & Flora, above note 2, at 19; John C. Allen, Morphing Rural Community Development Models, 19 Community Investments 16, 19 (2007), available at http://www.frbsf.org/publications/community/investments/0705/morphing_rural_community_development.pdf.

[16] Schroeder et al., above  note 15, at 14.

[17] Ibid.at 17.

[18] Emery & Flora, above note 2, at 28-33.

[19] Interview with Cheryl Glaeser, Program Specialist, Southwest Initiative Foundation (Feb. 9, 2010).

[20] See Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center, Youth Energy Summit Update: Report on the pilot year of YES, 2007-2008, http://www.prairiewoodselc.org.

[21] Interview with Cheryl Glaeser, Program Specialist, Southwest Initiative Foundation (Feb. 9, 2010). See also Southwest Initiative Foundation, YES! Youth Energy Summit, http://www.swifoundation.org/documents/YES08_09TeamAchievements_SmFile.pdf.

[22] Interview with Cheryl Glaeser, Program Specialist, Southwest Initiative Foundation (Feb. 9, 2010).