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Fueling the engine of hope – part 2

sprig by Posted in Blandin Foundation, Rural Capacity Building

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 second 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.


Leadership Lesson 2: Leadership matters

It has happened every year for the past 32 years.

Blandin Foundation has had the honor to work with 25 leaders from 10 rural Minnesota communities as they complete our Blandin Community Leadership Program or Blandin Reservation Community Leadership Program.

That’s 250 people each year. More than 7,000 in three decades.

Why do we take investing in leadership so seriously? Because the dividends are – as that classic credit card ad declares – priceless.

Leaders are a critical resource for communities. The quality and quantity of leadership that exists in a community is indispensable. What’s more, there is tremendous capacity in rural leaders and places to make great things happen. Every day, thousands of folks in Minnesota’s rural communities with populations of 35,000 or less exemplify community leadership. They roll up their sleeves, doing what needs to be done to develop and sustain healthy community.

We know rural leadership exists in formal and informal roles, and across all community activities. As we discussed in Lesson 1, Blandin Foundation bases its community leadership training on 9 dimensions of a healthy community. We also recognize that gender balance and a mix of established and emerging leaders strengthens community leadership.

Especially today, as rural Minnesota becomes ever more diverse, leaders do not need the power of position to make things happen for their community. Anyone can frame issues, build social capital and mobilize resources – the core concepts of our leadership training. In fact, one of the hallmarks of healthy communities is that engagement and power are widely distributed with multiple stakeholders.

We also know leadership is even more needed in rural communities than in larger cities. Most rural leaders wear on average six community leadership hats.

Ben Winchester of the University of Minnesota Extension’s Center for Community Vitality has been measuring rural leadership. He will remind you that, on a per-capita basis, rural communities need more leaders to get things done.

So, how is rural doing on attracting and developing community leaders? The hard truth is, not all communities put their people assets to work.

Our 2016 Rural Pulse found that

  • 26% of rural respondents had never been invited to play a leadership role.
  • Only 41% of rural residents say they had recently served in a community leadership role.

That leaves plenty of opportunity to seek out and add new voices to rural communities’ work on building strong futures.

Almost daily we hear amazing stories about community leaders designing and claiming vibrant futures for their communities. They find unique ways to bring art into community. They have begun courageous conversations about poverty. They create new organizations to tackle community issues.


The next time you’re working in community, ask yourself:

Where do you have the opportunity to reach out and invite someone into a role of leadership, someone who just needs to hear, “You are the leader we have been waiting for?”


Learn more

To see where BCLP and BRCLP leaders are making a difference, visit our Partner Directory

Learn more about community leaders addressing poverty in Two Harbors, Luverne, Staples-Motley, Albert Lea/Freeborn County

White paper on principles of the Blandin Community Leadership Program  

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