What If…

At the Big Idea Forum (and throughout the broad community), people were asked to dream big and come up with a “What If…” statement. The full list of ideas that were shared is below. You can also click a button to get a listing yb topic area.

  • What if education curriculum was based on assets of place?
  • What if narrative change through country music remix. Can’t change the dominant frame but you can start asking people to think differently.
  • What if we create a tw o generation approach focused on entrepreneurship and financial literacy. We create a national think tank to address poverty for youth K-12 and their families. We create digital and printed rural development toolkits and help build the capacity of local leaders. We create a mobile app that provides continuing education and resources for rural leaders, develop a national coalition to fund projects in rural communities. Help non-profits create for-profit entities to support sustainable
  • What if economic models include ALL assets — i.e., culture, people, environment
  • What if the current global patterns of production and consumption result in 2 degrees Celsius warming of the climate, unleashing a chain of exponential environmental consequences, and we not only valued disaster planning and preparedness as much as economic growth, but applied the exponential environmental consequences we unleashed as a result of [illegible] global patterns of production and consumption, and we not only valued disaster planning and preparedness as much as economic growth and looked to rural communities to learn from and adopt their skills for individual and collective resiliency to this value transformation.
  • What if there were resources to the reengagement of rural America in creating living wage jobs? What mfg drones were taking place in rural America w/training? What if I were rich? Create an endowed foundation to fund programs and economic development across rural south!
  • What if we could design a new food system that harnesses the entrepreneurial energy, traditional knowledge and farming experiences of immigrant food system workers, providing them with opportunities for more ownership and control over their economic futures?
  • What if our rural communities are given the flexibility to design and provide the safety net (human services) system for our most vulnerable residents in community-based partnerships? These services should be integrated into the community infrastructure through family/community resource centers. These centers can become our community hubs to support community livelihood, sustainability and cohesion.
  • What if we leveraged the fluidity of identity of social media with the assets of rural diaspora?
  • What if we implemented these three simple programs nation-wide, not with a top-down approach but as toolkits to be used by community groups in each small place? Each program addresses one of the triple bottom lines:
    1) ECONOMIC: producer exchanges – small groups of 10 to 50 individuals, families, small businesses, farms and non-profits, each who agree to offer for sale something they have produced that month. Instead of US dollars use a LETS, which is as easy as a Google Sheet, or a pen and paper. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Local_exchange_trading_system
    This teaches us two things – first, that we all can be producers and not consumers, whether it’s a pint of jam, a dozen eggs from the backyard hens, a roast of venison, computer help, a massage or car repair, it’s something we can do for ourselves. Second, that saying we can’t build local trade because there aren’t enough US dollars to go around is like saying we can’t build a piano because we are out of inches.
    2) CULTURAL: the long memory project – connect artists under 35 with elders over 60 for a weekend of storytelling about the elders’ shared work in the community. Then, give the artists two weeks in a local artist-in-residency program (existing or makeshift) to create new work about what they’ve heard. Then, connect this art from community to community through national platforms like NPR and a central website to facilitate an extended conversation about the role of long memory in our communities.
    3) ECOLOGICAL: carbon farming – develop local, state and/or national incentives for grass or tree farmers to build organic matter and sequester carbon in their soil. When good, small, ranching programs with diversified livestock and holistic management techniques seek to stockpile carbon the numbers can go through the roof.
    These are three programs being implemented by Crosshatch Center for Art and Ecology with the hope that we can build national networks of small rural non-profits to implement one or all of these with us.
  • Rural America has a hard time recruiting and retaining healthcare professionals. A common strategy to combat this is to encourage local kids to attend medical school and then come back home.
    BUT what frequently happens is that the local kid goes to college and before they even get to medical school, meets the boy/girl of his/her dreams, and the life partner is from an urban area and doesn’t see a future living in rural America.
    WHAT IF… some sort of loan repayment or tax credit program was offered to the spouses of healthcare professionals to encourage them to set up a business in a rural community where their spouse was practicing? So for example, the husband of a physician wanted to set up an accounting firm. Hubby would be offered a $5000 loan to start the business, and for each year the business existed and the healthcare professional continued to practice in the area, a portion of the loan was forgiven.
  • What if we create through our combined networks an alternative government to drive a rural economy turning deficits into assets: poor health into employment; transportation; technology; infrastructure (schools); good deserts into food systems
  • What if rural America becomes our country’s ambassador to promote global citizenship and membership. We already work, celebrate, and hope beyond borders. We have the experience. Let’s encourage our country to see each other as citizens and members of one planet. With this perspective, let’s ask: What values do we uphold? How do we practice those values? Let’s write our answers and print them on stickers that can be distributed in our communities, and let’s write them into ordinances that our cities/towns can adopt.
  • What if… focused on keeping every rural hospital open and running – emergency room – community health clinics – drug treatment. What if… Internet speed was faster than urban Internet speed. What if… Build a message around the principle that “small towns cannot afford spectators.” Divide closed.
  • What if the billion $s that the federal government wants to invest for further border national security (border wall) was redirected to more educational resources, healthcare (establishing universal healthcare to reduce the national debt), and to quality of housing and infrastructure. What if we created a national rural youth leadership program to engage youth people in civic engagement and to run for office?
  • What if we were the role models for civil discourse?
  • What if we could prove that listening and telling stories of place, pain, joy, dreams, and history is a necessary precondition of economic development?
  • What if we saw as central to our work to improve rural communities a necessity to tackle the suicidal despair that wracks communities struggling with the opioid epidemic and aggressively worked to dismantle the silos between health, individual social services, and economic development so that efforts centered on a systematic strategy of culture change, leadership development, and alternative job creation that’s outcome is building a culture that has a desire to live.
  • What if we could really help ourselves and everyone around us understand that every child in each of our communities is our child? If we did that, would everyone and every organization came together to nourish all children with good food and good medical care and teach all children to read and to thrive so that the next generations are stronger and better than the current ones?
  • What if former USDA housing were a right? What if we invested i
    n slow, especially difficult activities we know [illegible]? What if there were a child poverty think tank?
  • What if there were an overlapping set of structures and communication systems that allowed rural and urban advocates to call on each other for support for their mutual benefit?
  • What if people who wanted to unite the country had the same capacity to talk to rural America as people who want to divide it?
  • What if we could “quantify” the value of human capital in rural economic development? What if every child had a support system from birth (CSA) (trauma)?
  • What if tribal land trusts were fully restored and the nations became sovereign sanctuary areas?
  • What if we could fundamentally rethink punishment – abolish prisons, juvenile detention?
  • What if residents owned the infrastructure/economic base in their communities?
  • What if a teacher prep program was created in the MS Delta centered on place, language, context and recruited, selected and prepared veterans, people who have been formerly incarcerated, people receiving public assistance, and other adults who have not had past success with traditional education routes. This would provide a pipeline of local educators prepared to teach in their local communities and create a viable means of transitioning more adults to middle class.
  • What if… a rural/native college going culture. A K-12 particular intense focus on middle school model. A 3 Gen approach community wide culture change
  • What if we stopped talking about the rural-urban divide because of [illegible] and place based economic successes?
  • What if …In most small rural communities -> K-12 education is the #1 employer? We need to make K-12 education the pillar of the community and economic development. -> Breakdown silos
  • What if every child born in a rural place had access to the resources and support needed to realize their full potential? What if every child was born with privilege?
  • What if we rebuild democracy and democratic spaces in rural?
  • What if children growing up in rural areas – and educators and programs that serve them – had equal ACCESS to resources of all kinds to fuel learning and open new opportunities for children to reach their potential?
  • What if…No one tried to discredit ethnic groups, experiences, cultures and what they found offensive? Tribes were able to exercise full sovereignty? Native youth were given the tools they need to reach their full potential (sustainable living, top of the line school facilities, committed teachers/mentors, supportive communities, access to better healthcare, fully funded programs) and had nothing to stop them?
  • What if every rural school embraced place-based education?
  • What if crop farms turned from monoculture to growing food for people (esp local) and schools?
  • What if every participant read Paul Theobald’s “Teaching the Commons”?
  • What if, just like or very similar to this exercise, we could continually extend this same exercise to orgs and individuals to ask what is? And then we, as champions/funders answer “why not?” Let’s go to work.
  • What if… – Schools valued growth mindset over competency? – …We did not openly discriminate against 1/4 of our population? 1 in 4 have a criminal history. We should have an automatic streamlined expungement process. – …We had a leadership pipeline that flowed seamlessly from the educational system to the community? (opportunities to grow and serve – community action teams w/youth [illegible]) …-We expanded afterschool programming and engaged and afforded an opportunity for every youth in some extracurricular activity? …- Schools focused on an interdisciplinary learning approach that included practical life skills with social and emotional learning. – …Employers focused on doing community workshops to engage potential employees instead of job fairs?
  • What if we focused less on “big ideas” and move on to figuring out how to grow the scope and scale of strategies we know work but have been slow and expensive? (Appalshop, [illegible], EE, community organizing, fewer silos, more connections)
  • What if we collectively change the national conversation from the persistently stubborn rural vs urban debate or talk of the rural/urban divide and started with a conversation about the connections that exist between urban and rural, the way we are mutually dependent on each other? How do we articulate a strong rural proposition? How do we help urban leadership know us better and vice versa? Break down walls and barriers
  • What if we change the narrative of persistent poverty, regions as places with opportunity, hope and ripe for investment?
  • What if all children in rural communities lived in families where at least one parent/caregiver had a job with pay above 200% of poverty?
  • What if we eliminated the divide (rural-urban)? What if we turned deficits into assets?
  • What if community colleges had resources and mission to cultivate rural leaders to scale?
  • What if we considered “THE BIG SORT” by a national effort to link/exchange/[illegible] rural and urban citizens and leaders?
    – Economics (supply/value chains) – Ecosystem services (watersheds) – Should be done between r/u close to each other (regions) and more distant
    National “rural electrifications” for the 21st century – fiber optic spreads to rural communities, education, health, telework
  • What if housing was a right, that quality shelter was as much a given commitment of our communities as electricity, elementary education, water, social security, and other social determinants of people’s welfare?
  • What if we focused on expanding our own identities and the identities of others, and through this, we change the social paradigm to accept and value identities that are complex, messy and hard to stereotype and real.
  • What if we build a channel, platform, or communications infrastructure that will: connect urban and rural; create cultural commonality; build purposeful communities; push back against mean divisive themes; and take advantage of emerging technology?
  • In 68, King called for a campaign for a Radical Redistribution of economic and political power. 50 years later – we need a Poor People’s Campaign.
  • What if where we live doesn’t negatively limit educational or health outcomes?
  • What if rural Americans could hope to live as long as urban Americans (into their 70s rather than 40s or 50s * study published in PNAS Sept. 17, 2015). What if we could unite all rural sectors behind a national campaign to build/transform/design a health rural America?
  • What if .. dream… Provide employment opportunities for all rural citizens so they may afford the lifestyle (health, education, and home) they so choose for themselves and their family?
  • What if we fostered a national dialog that focused on US — all of us — instead of “us and them”?
  • What if we own our communities in a new way? If a new connection to place and people was developed? We rural Americans started with new thinking approaches and curricula – New Schools of Thought – that creates new ground for how we understand “community.” Using raw ingredients of geography, history, culture, people and creativity, we would practice imagining and envisioning without restraint, playfully and with joy. The psychological burden of less than shame would be replaced with a new understanding of place and people and possibility and relationship between these three elements. People and place would lead change.

Notes from brainstorming conversations:

  • Value kids as doers – not people who will be productive in the future.
  • I wish everyone in my family could use the bathrooms of NC that correspond to their gender.
  • Learn international lessons applicable to rural America e.g. storytelling
  • Let youth drive the agenda + connect/mobilize the community
  • Fight data suppression. Keep our advocacy tools. Support intersectional reposito
    ries of knowledge.
  • We have to learn how to take our hats off — related just as people, not representatives, idealogues
  • Rural Tradition
  • + grounded, culturally-guided, rooted
  • – hyper-nostalgic, longing for a past that no longer exists (or never existed)
  • Spark plugs
  • Stop calling it a divide – UNITED States of America
  • Bring rural educators to the table
  • Skype can help rural kids share experiences across state lines.
  • Affirming identity requires more open conversations about what we value in our communities.
  • Stories that renew (?) identity enabling folks to draw on the past without being stuck there – for example, re: economic futures.
  • We need to find new ways to talk about race.
  • What do we give up when we coalesce? What values might be compromised or co-opted? #NoDAPL
  • Recognize that race and ethnicity is always a factor.
  • Leadership doesn’t develop in a vacuum – Naming names – Focus and intent
  • Our view of rural: creative, bilingual, hardworking, courageous, resilient, loyal, desperate, survivors, grounded, loyal, generous
  • Mainstream: ignorant, poor, lazy, backwards, intolerant, “fly overs,” hyper-nostalgic
  • The loss of a space for rich civic-oriented dialogue and the sense of abandonment (in rural America) has put a stigma on civic leadership. In its place, private industry has created leadership programs for youth (but they are issue-based, agriculture, etc.). How do we heal our pride in civic democratic leadership?
  • Bridging Rural-Urban Divide – 1) Opportunity and necessity of Big Ag to look more at rural development resulting from less support base in Congress and need for urban support. 2) Site visits for urban students and others to rural areas re: research, careers in agriculture 3) “Give voice to who we are and where we want this country to go”
  • Amplify the role of art and food in helping to break silos and create shared identity
  • We need media to be our partner in promoting diverse leadership, new leadership models
  • How do we break down silos? – Create structure empathy – Make the value proposition clea – networks/partnerships are the ultimate democracy, if no value, people walk out.
  • How do we tell the stories of diverse (not big ag) rural development?
  • Leadership 1) Focus on youth not tracking to leading Leadership Development programs 2) “New ideas in… New ideas out…” exposure 3) Personalized approach
  • Start with the youth and local schools.
  • Art as medium – message
  • Rural institution succession planning – limited resources to make it work
  • Expense/cost vs investment/ROI
  • Back to the future: Community colleges as rural leadership platforms
  • How can more state arts commissions participate in issues related to rural?
  • Why not make the default of every household of federally-subsidized housing the inclusive financing approach of Pays Offer EE financing?
  • Working together – 1) Focus on breaking down silo interest among ourselves 2) Looking for avenues to build broader economic interest with developers 3) More grassroots education/civic engagement
  • Shared analysis/vision – super connector every county
  • Need for a neutral 3rd party intermediary to serve as a mechanism to suppress turf and break down silos
  • Expand our idea of and recognize local leadership
  • More, better, real. World metrics to evaluate leadership programs.
  • Need more funding invested in long term general support -> Big Ideas come from folks who are doing the work – Big Ideas alone takes capacity and leadership -> need resources
  • A practice in our organization we could change…
  • Media and social media -> supporting local journalism, shared infrastructure for news nationwide
  • There are as many people in metro who identify as rural as in rural. It’s where they grew up, their family’s home place, they live in small towns near cities.
  • Visual storytelling to break down rural/urban misconceptions, wariness, “othering” – in both directions
  • Science of empathy is not captured in data; it’s captured in stories.
  • Rural identity: 1) Tight bonds, ability to grow 2) Storytellers 3) What do we means when WE say rural 4) How do we juxtapose personal identity and how others view rural
  • Create on ramps for experiential leadership opportunities
  • Advancing new conceptions of leadership – more about helping groups get things done, adaptive – not just individualistic and centered on formal authority
  • Promoting more alignment among national groups working in the same places
  • Reverse engineer effective, diverse, empowered leadership; invest in the common denominators
  • We need to be proactive in succession planning…we need to be more conscious of putting young women in positions to succeed. #girleffect
  • Use arts and culture as a bridge into communities.
  • The rural community app is here — www.findyour.town