Someone asked me recently, “Why do some rural communities ‘thrive,’ and some don’t?” I have pondered that question many times and have produced many answers. But after much deliberation, I will reduce it to one word…resilience.
Resilience is framed as advancing despite adversity; the ability to respond, recover, and thrive. A resilient rural community then may be one that can influence what happens to itself in situations of constant and unexpected social, economic, environmental, or political change.
Resilient communities share certain characteristics:
Collective action and decision making – People from resilient communities feel engaged; they have a voice in issues that are important to them and are empowered to work together to meet common goals.
Social support – People from resilient communities feel that others are kind, would help each other out in a crisis, and that community members are treated equitably no matter their background.
Preparedness – Resilient communities have strong public policy and planning processes for capital improvements, emergency preparedness, economic development strategies, and community members are regularly informed on essential information about those plans.
Invest in themselves – In resilient communities, resources are committed to supporting the infrastructure, quality of life improvements, and economic development needs while risk mitigation steps are proactively in place to reduce any negative effects to those resources from threats or disasters.
Robust Economic Development – In resilient communities, there is infrastructure for business attraction; existing businesses feel supported by the community, can attract talent, and house their workforce; and entrepreneurs have the help to start up a new business.
Trust Leadership – Residents of resilient communities have confidence in their leaders’ developed abilities to plan strategically and trust they will lead the community through change.
Connected to Partners – In resilient communities, collaborative leadership is evident through regular and direct communication among local community leaders and well-developed partnerships with resource providers from outside the community.
Triumphant Mindset – Resilient communities ‘toot their own horn’ when they are successful in big and small things. Local recognition, community celebrations, storytelling, and marketing create community pride, draw in visitors, and attract newcomers.
At Dakota Resources, one way our community coaches collaborate with rural communities to begin developing stronger resiliency is by asking local leaders to name the “building block” strategies they focus on in their own organizations and to communicate this work to other organizations. We have created a tool called the Community and Economic Development Blueprint (below) where we name eleven building blocks. The blocks in blue at the bottom are community development blocks which create the foundation for the economic development blocks, shown in pink on top.
Each building block is vital to develop a thriving community and no single organization can be responsible for all this work by itself. Yet, each block requires attention. When blocks focused on community development are weak, then economic development success is more challenging, and resilience becomes a further reach.
At a minimum, increasing your community’s level of resilience takes tenacity, naming your building block strategies, developing strong internal and external partnerships, and you must embrace the culture of optimism — believing your community can respond, recover, and thrive both now and into the future.
About the author
Having a passion for community leadership and development is what drives Paula Jensen’s personal and professional life. Paula resides in her hometown of Langford, South Dakota, population 348+. She serves as a Strategic Doing practitioner, grant writer and community coach with Dakota Resources based in Renner, South Dakota. Dakota Resources is a mission-driven 501c3 Community Development Financial Institution working to connect capital and capacity to empower rural communities. Contact her.