Shrinking the Rural Leadership Gap

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Shrinking the Rural Leadership Gap

From Kayla Schnuelle, Leadership Engagement Director & Network Weaver

 

What happens when the leaders in your community retire, move or step down? Is there a leadership succession plan happening in your community? Is the next generation of leaders being mentored?

Leadership is important and even critical for long-term success and vitality of rural communities. In my experience, leadership tends to be the major factor that distinguishes thriving rural places from those that are lagging behind.

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As we look deeper, it becomes apparent that the transfer of leadership from one generation to the next may be another important factor and could serve as a powerful tool for communities.

The rural leadership gap is real and is amplified because of outmigration of the millennials. According to a research published in the Cornhusker Economics, some young adults, especially young families, are looking to relocate from metro areas to nonmetro areas. They want to live in family-friendly communities to raise their children. They also need a way to support themselves, so employment opportunities are critical.

In most rural communities, the majority of leadership positions — elected service and volunteer — are held by the oldest two generations in the communities. The 2012 Nebraska Rural Poll showed that of young Nebraskans (under the age of 36) that took the poll, only 8 percent held elected offices and less than one-third held formal leadership roles. This is not a new phenomenon. It has happened for decades, but the unique part of this trend is that the lack of leadership transfer is now coupled with the huge transfer of wealth occurrence.

The Nebraska Community Foundation researched the transfer of wealth in Nebraska, predicting that during the next 50 years, more than $602 billion will be transferred from one generation to the next. This will be the largest intergenerational transfer of wealth in our state’s history.

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The World War II and Baby Boomer generation own more private wealth than any other generations, with more than $600 billion in wealth. This wealth may be held in real estate, securities, retirement accounts and other assets. Some will go to taxes while most will go to heirs. Due to outmigration, many of those heirs no longer live where the wealth was built and may no longer feel connected to those places. Once wealth leaves these communities, the opportunity for give-back becomes more and more unlikely. (The Nebraska Community Foundation, 2011 Transfer of Wealth Study Summary Report, 2012.)

So, what happens when the transfer of wealth is accompanied by a gap in the transfer of leadership? People will retire and pass on their wealth and leadership positions, but what happens when the next wave of leaders are unprepared and/or nonexistent?

According to the 2015 American Community Survey, in Nebraska’s 86 most rural counties, there is a population dip between ages 20-49 (Figure 1). It is significant in most instances. Many people are not surprised by this. However, when you think about the dip in population, the transfer of wealth and the transfer of leadership brings a significant challenge.

What is the solution? There are no specific answers, but I believe that rural leadership needs to start and continue a culture of ‘giving back to the community.’ This happens with service, financial gifting and becoming a community leader. Current rural leadership also needs to mentor, teach and ask the next generations to participate and lead efforts in rural places.

 

“A true rural leader invites other people of diversity to the table and steps back, guides and supports in an act of service to their community.” – Kayla Schnuelle

 

If you do empower others to serve and guide with a gentle hand, then the opportunities for your community are generative and endless. The young leaders that you mentor are the best attraction and retention for the next wave of rural leaders.

Support your community by supporting a culture of giving, and make intentional plans to transfer leadership by extending personal invites and embracing new thoughts, ideas and people. Slowly but surely, we will see the rural leadership gap diminish.

 


 

Kayla Schnuelle

Kayla Schnuelle

Leadership Engagement Director & Network Weaver | Rural Futures Institute
@kschnuelle

Kayla Schnuelle directs the RFI Student Serviceship program, coordinates the state-wide network of young professionals, Connecting Young Nebraskans, and offers her expertise in facilitation and leadership throughout many of RFI’s initiatives.

She has developed a deep understanding of the opportunities and trials that young professionals are finding in rural places. With an immense support network in place, Kayla has coordinated three statewide summits and has assisted in planning two national Rural Futures Institute Conferences.

 


 

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Culture & Entertainment for Young Nebraskans

Don't do things for image — Do things to make a difference.

 

Culture & Entertainment for Young Nebraskans

Q&A with Selena Aguilar, Nebraska State Fair Entertainment Assistant and CYN Steering Team Member

 

Why are culture and entertainment important for young Nebraskans?

It is so important for young people in general to feel like they have a purpose and that they are a part of something. I think this becomes especially important as we look to recruit and retain young Nebraskans to our rural communities—we need these people to feel connected to their community and entertainment and culture are a great way to do that. They bridge gaps and prevent people from feeling like they are missing out on something out there. Entertainment brings people together in a positive way.

 

Why are you passionate about each one (culture and entertainment)?

I come from a mixed background and have seen a lot of cultures blended together. I think that all unique cultures should be celebrated, because it is part of what gives a person fulfillment. We, as people, pull influence for all different cultures in our daily lives.

Entertainment has always held a special place in my life. I’ve had a passion for music and theater since I was in grade school. There are so many embarrassing videos of me “performing.”

The sole purpose of my job is to make people happy—to make sure attendees enjoy their time. No matter how crazy it gets, it is pretty amazing to think about bringing people of all different backgrounds together, and everyone enjoying themselves.

 

How do you think culture and entertainment can be created and sustained for young Nebraskans?

I’d like to think I’m part of that effort at the state level with my role at the fair, but it really only does take one person in a community to make a difference. Through CYN we are working hard to build the types of leaders who will step up in their community. No matter what your goal is, there are plenty of people out there who are just as passionate as you but need the right connector. It may be as easy as stepping out of your comfort zone and stepping up to make it happen.

Hear Nebraska is a great example of this. Speaking close to home, Hear Grand Island (a branch of Hear Nebraska) is a weekly local concert series in our downtown area during the summer. It has provided a way to bring not only community but businesses together as well.

Festivals are a great way to create an environment of culture and entertainment as well, but I’d suggest more long-term plans for sustainability—something people can get involved with regularly, not one weekend or even day a year. A good rule of thumb is to keep intentions true—don’t do things for image, do them to make a difference.

 

How does diversity tie into culture and entertainment?

To summarize, diversity is an influencer of culture, and culture is an influencer of entertainment. Without different belief systems, rituals and traditions, there would be no culture. Entertainment of all kinds is a powerful form of expression. It pulls influence from our beliefs, traditions and feelings.

 

Why are you passionate about diversity?

Diversity should be celebrated! I would love to never stop learning. Diversity is the perfect opportunity to learn. Accept when others differ from you, learn about them and celebrate what makes you an individual. Life would be pretty boring if we just did the same old thing all time. I believe in immersing yourself in other people’s worlds, not to make them your own, but to celebrate individuality.

 

How can Nebraska celebrate diversity?

In order to celebrate diversity anywhere, not just Nebraska, there needs be a true, honest focus on a long-term sustainability. There’s too much focus on celebration by separation—celebrating a culture within a day for example. While some do not see it as a problem, here is my perspective: It can feel like you’re being told: “Here is your day. You get this day, and this day only, and then the rest of the year you sit back and be quiet about it.” Celebrations of diversity shouldn’t be confined or restrained.

 

How have your passions for culture, entertainment and diversity impacted your professional career?

My passions for culture, entertainment and diversity have 100 percent influenced my professional career. I’ve always wanted to do something for a living that makes me happy but it also had to be realistic. As happy as singing on stage every day of my life would make me, it isn’t exactly a reliable path to follow. I tried a lot of different things before I found the niche of event planning. In pursuing event planning, my passion for entertainment actually pulled me into my current opportunity. Now I’m able to help create a huge, 11-day experience in culture, diversity and entertainment. I don’t think anything that didn’t offer me the same opportunity to intersect all of these important aspects to me would hold my passion.

 


 

Selena Aguilar

Selena Aguilar

Entertainment Assistant | Nebraska State Fair
Join Selena on LinkedIn

Selena Aguilar is originally from Grand Island, Neb., where she returned after graduating from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln College of Journalism and Mass Communications in December 2016. Selena works as an entertainment assistant for the Nebraska State Fair, and serves as a member of the CYN Steering Team. She is passionate about fostering diversity and contributing to her community.

 


 

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