Celebrating Rural Leadership - Carolina Country

Celebrating Rural Leadership

Today’s rural leaders are ushering in a new era of innovation and growth

By Patrick Woodie

Patrick WoodieThriving rural communities need leadership that is inclusive, connected, informed and creative.

But we know leaders are not born fully formed. They are developed out of necessity. They are nurtured by those who came before them. They are supported by their neighbors and communities. And, perhaps most importantly, they should be celebrated and recognized by us all.

Developing skilled leaders who are fully resourced is essential for the future successes of rural North Carolina. At the NC Rural Center, we know that established and emerging rural leaders — those who believe in the potential of the places they call home, who are ready to build stronger economies in their local communities, and who will not shy away from the challenges that lie ahead — are the greatest asset a community has to leverage.

At its core, leadership is a community investment. The fertile ground for future leadership requires a community working together to create a space that embraces newcomers, values, diverse perspectives, and encourages mentorship. Truly effective leaders are the ones who can bring together community assets and inspire innovation; who can foster a community will for more representative leadership and a collective stewardship for the future.

For 30 years, leadership development has been at the core of the Rural Center’s mission, and we have developed a variety of programs to support the vision and dedication of these leaders — these “spark plugs” who ignite local innovation — in the work they do in their communities, counties and regions.

Our flagship leadership development program, the Rural Economic Development Institute (REDI), is a statewide program that trains rural leaders to examine their communities and regions through a comprehensive, community economic development lens. The program instills the tools and skills needed to create a collective vision and to build upon existing capacity to create sustainable change.

Through our Homegrown Leaders (HGL) program, we take leadership development into the field and challenge participants to develop a broader and deeper regional approach to rural economic development and leadership advancement. Homegrown Leaders creates a space for local leaders to train alongside other leaders from across their region, in their region, while building the partnerships and shared knowledge necessary to reach across county lines and work together toward a common vision.

Today’s rural leaders are ushering in a new era of innovation and growth, and though these leaders are breaking new ground in their communities, we have to ask “what more can we do?” and “who will lead tomorrow?”

Counting both REDI and HGL graduates, the Rural Center now has a statewide network of more than 1,300 leadership alumni working in our small towns and rural communities.

The feature story of this issue, Leaders Among Us, celebrates just a few of the hundreds of inspiring stories of our rural leadership alumni. Their dedication to their communities and regions is unwavering. We are proud to stand alongside them, to support them, their towns, and their regions in reaching their full potential.

But their stories are your stories. It is the story of the deacon at your local church. It is the story of the chief at the volunteer fire department. It is the owner of the local small business. It is the city council member. Every day in communities across this state people are leading and working without recognition to build a better future for their families and their neighbors. However, most of those humble and hardworking individuals might never think of themselves as a “leader.” But they are, and we want to help them reach their full potential and connect with other rural leaders across the state.

Today’s rural leaders are ushering in a new era of innovation and growth, and though these leaders are breaking new ground in their communities, we have to ask “what more can we do?” and “who will lead tomorrow?” Let’s work together to empower the current and future rural leaders with the support and resources they, and their communities, need to be successful.

Contact us. Let us know how we can help. If we aren’t the right organization for you or your community, we will work to connect you with the best partner for your own place.

Our state is better when all our community spark plugs are firing at their full potential. Help us identify who those spark plugs are today and who they will be tomorrow. The NC Rural Center is ready to work with you and your community to help our state grow and thrive.

Visit ncruralcenter.org for more information about leadership programs in and near your community.

About the Author

Patrick Woodie is president of the nonprofit NC Rural Center.

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