Author:   AICSG Staff    Published: 2/27/2023       Aspen Institute Community Strategies Group

Group of young leaders sit around a table in a library

Younger leaders, particularly BIPOC leaders, have too often been excluded from positions of power, intentionally by design or due to a limited understanding of barriers to participation.

Communities that diversify their leadership and ensure that leadership structures are accessible to all community members make it more likely that the whole community will engage and share perspectives in planning and doing.

To explore advancing rural and Indigenous youth leadership, Bonita Robertson-Hardy, Aspen CSG’s co-Executive Director, facilitated an Open Field virtual discussion of 90 rural leaders with all levels of experience.

We’ve compiled some high-level takeaways for you below, but be sure to check out the full blog.

YOUTH LEADERSHIP  Evidence shows that a wider range of participation, including from youth leaders and young professionals, builds more durable and inclusive community leadership, ultimately leading to a wider range of community benefits. Participants shared some ideas they are using to support youth leadership.

PARTNERSHIPS FOR YOUTH SUCCESS  An insight discussed by multiple participants was that youth organizations and community groups need to work together to prepare adults, especially elected officials and educators, to be ready and willing to listen and support youth leadership. What does it take for a local organization to coach adults and support youth leaders?

RECRUITING AND RETAINING YOUTH  Participants suggested that offering internships and mentoring programs are an important way to engage youth in local leadership opportunities. Other participants suggested that local tax incentives should be used to support youth programs rather than as subsidies to attract corporations. Here are other suggestions that participants had to recruit and retain young people.

INTERNSHIPS AND OPPORTUNITIES  Rural-focused internships can help rural young adults stay engaged and employed within their community – and learn valuable skills and make important career connections simultaneously. Here are the internship and fellowship opportunities shared by participants.


Attended an Open Field? We’d like to invite you to provide input on Aspen CSG’s Open Field virtual events. This 10-question survey will take 5 mins to complete. Your responses are anonymous and will help Aspen CSG understand the value you get and inform future sessions.

“Flipping the script” on rural economic development 

Aspen CSG co-Executive Director Bonita Robertson-Hardy’s latest piece in The Daily Yonder notes how funders play a pivotal role in changing the narrative on rural communities.

The recommendations in the op-ed stem from Measure Up: A Call to Action. The report highlights six principles for measuring rural development progress to open and deepen conversations about better ways for funders and investors to design programs that consider lower-capacity communities’ realities, needs, and goals.

Recommendations to “flip the script” on how rural communities, funders, and other stakeholders approach economic development:

  • Co-create funding opportunities with communities to collectively define success.
  • Focus on closing divides by race, place, and class.
  • Measure collaboration to support the field.
  • Building momentum and breaking the obsession with misleading notions of “scale.”

Rural communities are deeply woven together, and actions on any one of these issues will promote a virtuous cycle. Similarly, continued acceptance of the status quo will only lead to steeper declines.

What other recommendations do you have for funders, governments, and other national, regional, and local organizations to be more responsive and effective?

Advancing Equity & Increasing Regional Prosperity

Through Natural Disaster to Prosperity: A Call to Action identifies five principles to improve health and economic outcomes for rural communities and Native nations — as well as actionable steps to achieve these principles.

The report was informed by conversations with rural economic and community development practitioners from a diverse range of rural communities and Native nations through our Thrive Rural Action Learning Exchange (TRALE).

The third principle in Through Natural Disaster to Prosperity: A Call to Action is to use disaster response to advance equity and increase regional prosperity.

Communities with higher poverty rates and less capacity due to structural discrimination and disinvestment may be more vulnerable to the impacts of natural disasters and less able to access and activate the resources necessary for recovery and long-term prosperity.

Disaster preparedness, response, and recovery programs must be intentionally designed to mitigate and address inequities — one way is to ensure that those most affected are part of the leadership in planning, response, and recovery.


Tools and Resources for the Field

Image of headphones, paper and pens, and a computer keyboard

Updated weekly: See our federal resource page for opportunities for rural people and places.

  • [TODAY at 1 pm ET] Give feedback on broadband TA: This USDA listening session will solicit insight into the challenges communities face in gaining broadband access, the types of technical assistance resources that would best serve these communities, and how RUS can best provide support.
  • Rural entrepreneurial development strategies: In this episode of Pathways to Rural Prosperity podcast, Kate Hodel and Don Macke discuss their work on e2’s newest book, Strategies for Rural Prosperity. The book captures over a decade of e2 field experience detailing 11 universal rural entrepreneurial development strategies in practical and useful ways.
  • The Daily Yonder documentaryEast Kentucky Flood tells many stories of heroism, sacrifice, and resilience that characterized the region’s response to the floods of July 2022. The documentary highlights common challenges that many parts of the world face with similar weather events and climate catastrophes.
  • Industry snapshot for Native CDFIs: Oweesta just released their performance report as a reference guide for Native CDFIs and all stakeholders in the Native CDFI industry.
  • Sick leave: In partnership with the CDC, ChangeLab Solutions created a fact sheet and an infographic that provide an overview of the policy landscape for paid sick leave.
  • Building long-term community power: Join Neighborhood Funders Group (NFG) on March 2 for a dynamic, interactive conversation with organizers on what it takes to educate, mobilize, and build grassroots leadership in marginalized communities in Wisconsin to create systemic transformation.
  • Adolescent mental health: Join the Aspen Health Innovators Fellows and experts to explore strategies in response to the adolescent mental health crisis through a five-part dialogue series. Hear the latest research and strategies to engage young people with tailored solutions for their identity at a time when mental health providers are at capacity.
  • Community investment in Central Appalachia: A hearty congrats to Invest Appalachia, a regional social investment platform, which secured $19 million of new investment in the first close of the Invest Appalachia Fund. The fund will provide capital to community economic development projects.