Rural America has abundant assets and is crucial to the economic and social vitality of the nation. Yet in rural areas, many of the basic services that contribute to people's quality of life, such as health care, transportation, and education, lag behind the rest of the United States. The brightest potential emerges when a critical mass of America's 55 million rural residents are stronger and more organized at advocating for the policies that serve their interests.
This national initiative, formerly known as Rural People, Rural Policy, energized and equiped hundreds of organizations to shape policy to improve the lives of rural people and the vitality of rural communities. The five-year project, funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, built and strengthened seven networks to advocate and act in the rural policy arena by combining network development, research, peer learning, and policy analysis to create a structure unprecedented in both its reach and inclusiveness. As part of the management team, MDC focused on facilitating group formation and framing and communicating policy ideas.
- To establish, strengthen, and catalyze a national "network of networks" of rural policy practitioners, service providers, and supporters.
- To communicate network policy issues to a range of government leaders and the media.
- To develop a collective voice leading to action in influencing policy change.
- All seven networks, made up of more than 500 organizations, participated in face-to-face meetings, each identifying at least one policy issue on which to collaborate with other networks. MDC provided facilitation support to a 2013 network gathering to discuss future collaborative efforts.
- MDC worked directly with several networks on projects, including supporting the Southwest Rural Policy Network's efforts as part of a coalition that successfully ended predatory lending in Arizona, a model policy for several other states. Other efforts included the Michigan Rural Council’s work on rural philanthropy and the Mid-South Network’s research on combating childhood obesity.
- Networks developed policy papers and wide support emerged for policy initiatives related to health care, immigration, and broadband Internet access.