[I’ve held on to this post since August, a bit concerned about being critical. I think these points are worth discussing, so I’ve finally decided to share it. -Becky]
Lots about the Midwest Rural Assembly impressed me in a good way. But I found myself feeling the lack of two elements I consider critical in rural development: entrepreneurship and technology.
Entrepreneurship was part of a couple of table discussions. A local entrepreneur and I brought it into the discussion on natural resources at our table. During the “open topic” time period, the “how to retain youth” discussion table discussed teaching entrepreneurship. Other than that, it was mentioned in passing once that I know of. I realize the Rural Assemblies were started as a gathering of rural advocates not entrepreneurs, but I think it’s time to expand.
Why I think entrepreneurship matters
I heard over and over from the more experienced people in the room that the best solutions come from within. That there is no external fix; no “follow this checklist, and you’ll be fine.” People have to come up with solutions from within their communities. Who are those “people”? Many of them are local entrepreneurs. Prosperous local entrepreneurs work to fix the problems in their own communities. I will admit that this is not always the case. Some entrepreneurs do nothing for their communities. However, ignoring entrepreneurs means ignoring one of the greatest tools for developing our small towns.
I recommend that the Rural Assemblies in general seek active participation from entrepreneurs and discuss taking action to promote entrepreneurship.
Is social networking evil?
Technology was barely on the agenda. There was a table discussion on “Technology and Broadband.” Social media and social networking got its own discussion during the open topic time period, because I proposed one. People were able to freely select a table discussion to join. Then the most fascinating conversation took place. I think one third to one half of those who chose to participate in this table, spent their time sharing how bad they thought social networking was. We were treated to a fine recitation of the negatives; how it leads to less face to face communication, how it destroys conflict resolution skill development, how it is bad, bad, bad. Evil, even. These comments came from people who clearly grew up without these communication tools. Another third of those at the table chose to speak up for some of the positive aspects. And a twenty-something year old at the table pointed out that it was simply part of his reality. It just is.
And that’s my message to everyone out there. It doesn’t matter if you don’t like these new methods of communications. You’re too late to stop them. If you want to make a difference in how they are used, that’s great. But complaining won’t change anything. I suggest that the concerned and the enthusiastic get together locally. Start a monthly lunch session to share ideas, challenges and solutions. You’ll learn more and have a chance to change how these tools are used. And you might even feel better.
Overall, the Midwest Rural Assembly was a terrificly positive event. I was excited by how many people care about rural communities. I hope to see lots more action in future Rural Assemblies. And I hope rural entrepreneurs and technology including social networks will be included in a meaningful way.
Here are four more articles about the positives from the Midwest Rural Assembly:
- Working together you can build it yourself.
- USDA’s Victor Vasquez talks rural-urban connections.
- Cooperatives as an alternative business model.
- The next wave of opportunity.
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