Rural Investment and Prosperity Project


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Project Overview

RuraLead is a learning initiative that seeks to understand the most effective leadership qualities and leadership development practices in rural communities throughout the United States. The initiative includes a “learning journey” throughout the United States, learning from rural leaders through programming unfolding in different geographic regions: Appalachia, the Midwest, the Southeast, and the Northwest.

MDC is the regional, Southeastern partner for RuraLead, building on MDC’s long history of advancing rural leadership development and helping foundations learn. In this case, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation supported RuraLead to gain knowledge about the varied paths that rural leaders take to foster equitable change in their communities.

The initiative comprises three components:

  • Rural Leadership Scan – As an initial step in this work, MDC worked with regional partners to support a scan of rural leadership development across the United States. The resulting inventory, while not comprehensive, provides a scan of programs and initiatives that seek to create, cultivate, activate, and sustain a diverse and inclusive set of leaders in order to amplify and connect the voices of leaders across the rural Southeast.
  • Learning Journey – In October 2020, MDC engaged rural leaders and practitioners, as well as funders, in a Southeastern virtual learning journey to examine what good leadership looks like in practice. Rural leaders from throughout the region highlighted their personal leadership journeys, shared within the context of the region’s unique and troubled history and current opportunities and challenges facing the rural South. Convening participants began to outline the resources and lessons that are critical for sharing with the broader field of leaders in rural America. Click here for an illustrated look at some of the discussion.
  • National Convening – Learning journeys will culminate and coalesce in a national convening where lessons from journeys and in-depth interviews with rural leadership and funders will be synthesized toward stronger knowledge about what is needed to better support rural leadership development.

RuraLead is a national initiative led by the Oregon-based Rural Development Initiatives. MDC is a regional partner, focused on the South. Other regional partners include The Brushy Fork Institute, the Aspen Institute’s Community Strategies Group, the Heartland Center for Leadership Development, Hope Nation LLC, PhilanthropywoRx, Prichard, and Roanhorse Consulting.

Funded by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, RuraLead is designed to help funders and the field of stakeholders interested in helping rural places understand how to better support rural leadership. This initiative aims to support efforts to learn what is already working in rural areas to develop, strengthen, and advance rural leadership.

MDC seeks to learn what leaders are struggling with; what they see as needs and gaps; and what the role of national players and funders could be. MDC also seeks to learn from the leaders’ lived experience and consolidate best practices that can be used to inform not only other rural leaders’ work, but MDC’s work as well.

Learn more about the national initiatives and rural leadership development learning events in other parts of the country by visiting the RuraLead website.

If you are interested in more on this program, please contact Vice President of Partnerships and Programs, Calvin Allen.

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Calvin Allen, Vice President of Partnerships and Programs

Email Calvin Allen