Practical steps to rural collaboration

The webinar about rural collaboration with SaveYour.Town and Dell Gines from the International Economic Development Council emphasized some key insights. 

  • Looking for that one company to come to town is not an economic development approach that works in rural. We must learn to collaborate regionally to move forward successfully.
  • Starting with meaningful conversations can help us bridge barriers and cooperate. By focusing on our shared passions and interests, we can build the bridges that drive real progress in our regional communities.
  • The best collaborators often come from “regular people” who make decisions every day about how to work together and stretch our limited resources. It is a simple step to working regionally for better outcomes. 

Create regional collaborations instead of competition.

Learning to work together and use shared resources will help both communities grow. The key, according to Gines, is to move beyond the competitive mindset that has long dominated economic development strategies. “We are so conditioned based upon the preexisting economic development environment, structure, and policies to be competitive with each other,” he said. “And this is not Friday night high school football.”

The degree and speed of learning to work together, finding ways to share motivational visions, and building strong networks will determine how you will save your towns. 

Build bridges focusing on shared interests.

Becky McCray told the story of how a group of people responded when asked to introduce themselves. The older people in the group shared their names and affiliations and what boards they served on, for example. The younger people in the room also shared their names but talked more about what they like to do, such as gardening or volunteering. The master gardener in the room now had the opportunity to reach out to the young woman she didn’t know who liked to garden. This is building bridges, a way to connect people around shared interests. 

The message is clear: by focusing on our shared passions and interests, we can build the bridges that drive real progress in our communities.

Stay in it for the long haul.

The Roanoke Chowan Partners began in the 90s as people from four different counties who were trying to become an empowerment zone.  After months of working together, sharing a meal each time, and getting to know each other’s work, their application for an Empowerment Zone was turned down. The people found their connection and collaboration too valuable to stop. 

“They are still meeting quarterly and working together. Their gatherings are still diverse and informal, and there’s always a fellowship meal. Together, this collaboration leveraged far more money than that one program could have offered them decades ago,” said McCray.

Collaboration doesn’t need to end after one project. It’s good to continue to work together as a region and bring new ideas and projects to the group. Your strength lies in the value everyone brings to the group. 

You’re already collaborating, and you aren’t the only one.

People in rural communities represent multiple organizations, so collaboration is natural. However, SaveYour.Town emphasizes that collaboration is not only for the movers and shakers in town. Sometimes, the movers and shakers are reluctant to take on new initiatives that might be controversial or cause problems. Instead, the powerful collaborations come from regular people and the decisions they make every day about how they will work together to stretch their limited resources.

Collaboration makes room for more success.

The advice from Deb Brown to “tell your stories” resonates strongly. By sharing the successes and lessons learned from collaborative efforts, rural communities can inspire others to follow suit, creating a ripple effect of transformation across the countryside.

The Idea-Friendly way is to gather your crowd and participate in these opportunities to connect with each other. Rural innovators can turn their big ideas into reality by building connections and tapping into their regional communities’ collective wisdom and resources.

If you didn’t get a chance to participate, you can still view the recorded webinar here