Research and tools to make wealth stick in rural areas
Back in October, I attended a conference on creating and preserving wealth in rural communities. Periodically I get updates from the partners who organized the conference with resources that are available for others to use. The latest installment of resources came to my inbox from Shanna Ratner of Yellow Wood Associates, Deborah Markley of the RUPRI Center for Rural Entrepreneurship, Wayne Fawbush of the Ford Foundation and the members of the Wealth Creation Resource Team.
Below are excerpts from the reports of particular interest to rural areas:
Rural Support Partners (a social enterprise working across the Southeast to strengthen anchor organizations, develop collective impact networks, and help move sustainable economic development efforts to scale) collected qualitative data from 24 practitioners at six successful networks working across the country on issues related to local food, housing and conservation. The report, “Rural Networks for Wealth Creation,” identifies ten building blocks of a successful network as well as compelling data on why networks matter.
Rural networks have a strong sense of place, a shared culture, identity, way of life, landscape, and geography. The idea behind the framework is that the resources and assets of rural communities – their natural resources, agricultural produce, labor force, and young people – have for too long flowed out of rural areas, along with income and wealth (Chapter 1).
The Executive Summary states: “This is a study of networks of organizations working to create wealth that sticks in rural communities. Our research is based on three concepts. First, networks are webs of organizations that are collaborating strategically to move forward a coordinated body of work. Second, rural networks are webs of organizations where the majority of the work takes place in towns with populations under 50,000 or in unincorporated areas. Finally, networks for wealth creation are webs of organizations that are developing institutions and collective strategies that build local assets and create wealth that stays local.
“We began our research with some basic questions about networks, questions such as,
• What is a network able to do that an individual organization is unable to do on its own?
• Why would we want to build a network in the first place?
• Why might a network be worth the time and money that it requires?
Wealth Creation in Rural Communities seeks to improve rural livelihoods with a systems approach to development that creates multiple forms of wealth that are owned and controlled locally. This initiative has been supported by the Ford Foundation since early 2008. The wealth creation approach of this initiative:
Focuses on Place: Respects, builds on and advances the work people are already doing.
Incentivizes Collaboration: Breaks out of rural isolation by building regional collaborations and tapping market demand.
Creates Multiple Forms of Wealth: Builds many forms of capital – knowledge, resilient natural resources, social networks, and more.
Emphasizes Local Ownership: Enhances the livelihoods of low-wealth people and places by building wealth that is owned and controlled locally.
This research also led to the development of an accessible toolkit with worksheets developed for a range of audiences. The toolkit is designed for emerging networks and organizations that are considering forming a network. It provides tools to help build and sustain networks. Links to all of the released papers are posted at www.yellowwood.org/wealthcreation.aspx.