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Fueling the engine of hope – part 1

sprig by Posted in Rural Capacity Building, Tools You Can Use

Blandin Foundation has been in the hope business for more than 75 years. Hope is believing that a different future is possible – for ourselves, our people, our communities. Wise community leaders know that creating a shared vision for the future, a vision arising from and embraced by the community, is the engine that powers change.

This is the first of an occasional series of blogs about lessons we’ve gleaned as we’ve propelled leaders in more than 600 rural Minnesota communities to name their assets and claim their vision for a vibrant, resilient future.


For more than 30 years, Blandin Foundation has provided the Blandin Community Leadership Program (BCLP) — a powerful resource for rural Minnesota leaders to develop and enhance the skills, knowledge and relationships they need to build and sustain healthy communities.

For us, the term “healthy community” means a place that’s realistic about its strengths, opportunities and context, interconnected across the 9 dimensions of a healthy community (more on this later), and sets a course by which it can accomplish the work that needs to be done.

In a healthy community, all people can

  • meet their needs – social, economic, physical, cultural and spiritual
  • work together for the common good
  • participate in creating their future.


Lesson 1: Leadership can come from anywhere

Spend any time at all in a rural community, and you’ll quickly see familiar faces showing up in community work. The local dentist is a youth sports coach and active in church. A teacher sits on the township board and chairs the community music boosters. Stay-at-home moms head up fundraisers for school and other causes. Retirees take on key roles in every aspect of community life.

Which illustrates our first rural community leadership lesson: leadership can come from anywhere.

Blandin Foundation puts this lesson to work each time we partner with a community to recruit participants for BCLP. Making sure multiple perspectives are in the room is the first order of business. The 9 Dimensions of a Healthy Community guide the recruitment and selection process. We ask communities to invite people active across all these areas of community life, from lifelong learning and inclusion to environmental stewardship and safety and security.

We challenge communities to achieve gender balance. This may sound easy, given that most communities are nearly evenly made up of men and women, yet we often see genders imbalance within community dimensions. In general, more men than women participate in the infrastructure and services sector. The opposite is true in lifelong learning, and to some degree in health and wellness.

BCLP cohorts also include a balance between established leaders whose knowledge of community norms and networks are strong and deep, and emerging leaders with fresh perspectives. Bringing together these two perspectives infuses community with new energy.

The recruitment process is complete once we have achieved, as closely as possible, a microcosm of the community. This takes effort. Local steering committee members invest time to reach out to familiar and new faces, and to think deeply about who needs to be at the table. Yet time and again we hear from communities that this effort is worth it. Intentionally including community leaders from all walks of life makes the conversations richer, and solutions more effective for more people.

Remembering that leadership can come from anywhere is a principle you can use in your community work, too.


The next time you’re part of a community initiative, ask yourself:

Who is here? Who is not, and should be? Who can help me welcome those new voices into our work?

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