Episode 1 | Introduction

Oct. 19, 2017

Show Notes:

Catch up with RFI Founding Executive Director Chuck Schroeder about the outcome of RFI’s recent strategic plan as well as the Institute’s mission, purpose and efforts going forward.

Quick Links:

Full Transcript:

[0:05] Good morning, or whatever time of day [0:07] it is where you might be. [0:08] I’m Chuck Schroeder. [0:09] I’m the founding Executive Director of the [0:12] Rural Futures Institute at the University of Nebraska. [0:15] And I’m delighted to welcome you to this first of a [0:20]series of broadcasts we’re doing [0:22] called “Catch up with Chuck”. [0:24] And part of what I do in this role is [0:26] travel around to rural places, [0:28] meeting with interesting rural people, [0:30] and I hope we can engage you in this conversation [0:34] over the weeks and months to come. [0:38] The Rural Futures Institute was founded late 2012. [0:42] I was brought on board as the founding [0:44] Executive Director at the end of 2013. [0:47] And we have, since that time, been engaged [0:50] in a variety of activities [0:53] in order to address [0:55] what we believe is a critical issue for Nebraska, [0:59] for America, frankly, for people around the world. [1:03] And that is thriving rural communities. [1:06] What we do, fundamentally, at the Rural Futures Institute [1:10] is we harness the intellectual energy [1:13] of the University of Nebraska, [1:15] across all of its campuses, [1:17] along with our many partners in order to [1:21] positively influence the future of mankind. [1:23] Now, our partners is a very important element of that [1:28] because it includes not only faculty and students [1:32] across the University of Nebraska, [1:34] but non-profit organizations, private companies, [1:39] government agencies, rural communities themselves, [1:43] all of them working together in order to [1:46] make a positive impact on humankind on this planet. [1:51] So we think it’s important work.

[1:53] Some examples of things that we do [1:55] through the Rural Futures Institute [1:57] over the last several years: [1:59] we’ve been sending out very high-talented students [2:03] in what we called Rural Serviceships. [2:05] They go into communities and work directly to solve [2:08] a problem that that community has identified [2:11] as being a real challenge to them. [2:14] Helping them pursue opportunities that they believe will [2:17] take them from where they are to where they’d like to be. [2:20] It’s been a very successful program, [2:22] not only in influencing communities, [2:24] but influencing some very talented young people [2:27] to think about going back to rural communities [2:29] for their lives and careers.

[2:31] And we’ve also hosted a series of [2:33] regional rural forums around Nebraska. [2:36] We’ve featured six communities that are successful [2:40] in spite of all those myths about why a community [2:43] can’t be successful in rural America. [2:46] We focused on entrepreneurs, on educators, [2:49] on health care professionals, folks who are out there [2:52] making decisions to make their community strong today [2:57] and vibrant and attractive for tomorrow. [3:00] We’ve sponsored over 50 research and education projects [3:05] involving [3:07] not only faculty from our various campuses [3:12] of the University and other institutions, [3:15] but also involving those partners [3:18] that I talked about earlier, [3:19] those non-profit organizations, private companies, [3:22] who again join together in order to address [3:27] real-world problems. [3:28] And it’s been an opportunity for us to look at things [3:31] from leadership and entrepreneurship, broadband, [3:35] small business development, leadership transition, [3:38] childhood obesity, diversity, a broad variety of issues [3:42] that are standing between rural communities today [3:46]and where they would like to be.

[3:48] This last February, we launched what we think [3:51] is an extremely important program, [3:54] and that’s our RFI Fellows. [3:56] Now, everybody has a Fellows program [3:58] but we think ours is kind of unique. [4:00] In our inaugural class, some 26 fellows, [4:03] we have 16 faculty members, and that’s sort of [4:07] the traditional Fellows model, if you will, [4:10] and those faculty members are not only from the [4:12] University of Nebraska. [4:13] We have a faculty member from Peru State College. [4:15] We’re constantly looking at other institutions that [4:18] are working effectively in this rural space. [4:21] But we also have 10, what we call, [4:24] Community Innovation Fellows. [4:26] And these are folks that are working in [4:28] non-profit organizations, that are addressing [4:32] particular issues in the rural realm, [4:34] they include business people, educators, health care [4:38] professionals from rural communities who have [4:41] demonstrated a track record of success [4:44] in moving in a positive direction. [4:47] Again, defying those odds developed by economists [4:51] and others who are checking off boxes on a spreadsheet. [4:55] We think the future of the Rural Futures Institute [4:58] can be built around those fellows. [5:01]

So, that’s what we do. [5:03] But perhaps as important in this first conversation [5:07] is why we do what we do. [5:09] What do we believe in? [5:12] We’ve been involved in a very serious strategic planning [5:15] process for the Rural Futures Institute. [5:18] It started last December, [5:19] has carried us over the last several months, [5:22] where we really took an in-depth look [5:26] at not only what we do but what we believe. [5:30] What we believe that underlies the decisions [5:32] that we make every day about where we’re going [5:35] with this institute. [5:37] So let me describe those for you.

[5:39] Number one, and fundamentally, we believe [5:43] in people’s capacity to determine their own future. [5:47] We don’t believe that past is prologue. [5:49] We don’t believe that analyses done on high and [5:54] rained down on rural communities should define [5:58] their future and their success. [6:00] We believe the people can [6:04] choose to pursue their own future. [6:07] So we are in the business of supporting those folks [6:10] who say, “I’m not okay with where we are. [6:12] I think I know where we’d like to go. [6:15] We know that there are barriers between here and there, [6:18] I’m gonna need a little help.” [6:19] We wanna be in the business of helping those folks [6:22] who indeed are determining the future for their family, [6:26] their community, and by the way, [6:28] the future of our species on the planet.

[6:32] We also believe in communities. [6:34] We believe communities are the key [6:37] to a thriving culture and a thriving society. [6:39] In our vernacular, communities are not just places. [6:43] Communities are networks of people who bring together [6:48] a broad variety of talents, of strengths, [6:51] of interests, of passions, [6:52] share those things together in order to [6:55] move toward a common purpose. [6:58] So we think there are communities of rural educators, [7:02] we think there are communities of rural health care people, [7:05]communities of business people, of entrepreneurs. [7:08] So again, we try to be good at connecting the dots. [7:12] Bringing people together in a community [7:15] where they can work most effectively [7:17] with the best resources we can provide them [7:20] in order to move in a positive direction.

[7:23] We believe in leadership. [7:25] We believe leadership is the fundamental tool that [7:28] can be used to drive a community in a particular direction. [7:31] So we think that leaders, by the way, [7:34] are known by their vision, their energy, [7:36] their passions, their engagement in a particular cause. [7:42] What do we not believe in? [7:43] We don’t believe that leaders are defined by their titles. [7:46] We think that’s an old notion, [7:47] so we’re constantly looking for those new leaders [7:52] of this generation, indeed, that have a strong [7:56] vision for their own communities.

[7:58] We believe in entrepreneurs. [8:01] We believe that the entrepreneurial spirit [8:03] of a community has much to do with its capacity [8:07] to make decisions to move in a direction [8:09] that may be difficult, may have challenges, [8:12] but has people willing to take that step forward. [8:16] Fear is not a barrier for them to take a step [8:19] in the direction of their dreams. [8:22] So we think entrepreneurs can be business people, [8:25] we think they can be educators, [8:27] we think they can come from all sectors of the community [8:30] but those folks who have that creative, innovative drive [8:33] to move in a positive direction.

[8:36] We also believe that diversity and inclusion [8:41] driven by strong leaders in the community [8:43] is critical to the success of today’s smaller community. [8:47] It’s a different world than it was [8:49] decades and generations ago, [8:52] so we have to have leaders there today [8:53] that are willing to draw those folks into the circle [8:57] of activity in a community that perhaps in the past [9:00] had been left on the sidelines.

[9:02] Finally, we believe that our very complex future [9:06] with rural communities [9:09] requires a strong, viable [9:12] ongoing dialogue between rural and urban audiences. [9:18] We’re not just talking to ourselves [9:20] out in rural communities, [9:22] we’re talking to people across the spectrum [9:25] to understand that we need each other. [9:28] That we’re in this thing together, and by the way, [9:31] we do believe its critical to the viability of mankind. [9:34] So if those values, those belief statements, [9:38] perhaps match up with what stirs around in your heart, [9:42] I hope you’ll be in touch with and I hope you’ll follow [9:46] the Rural Futures Institute and our activities and [9:48] engage with us where you can, [9:50] because we believe that collectively, [9:52] we can make a difference.

[9:54] When we think about how we make a difference, [9:58] from the standpoint of the Rural Futures Institute, [10:00] we think there’s a very important nexus. [10:03] And I think we’re gonna throw a graphic [10:05] up on the screen to help you see that. [10:07] This grew out of our strategic planning process [10:10] that we engaged over several months. [10:12] And that nexus involves students: [10:16] we have students across the University of Nebraska campuses, [10:20] as well as coming to us from other areas, [10:23] we had students in our serviceship program [10:25] this summer from Indiana. [10:28] But those students who have a strong interest in [10:32] rural communities, many of them come from the [10:35] rural sector, so they want to go back there, [10:38] and contribute to their community. [10:40] But we also have students from LA, Chicago, you name it, [10:44] who have really grasped the notion that a strong, [10:48] viable rural sector is critically important to us. [10:52] Had a great visit with a young man from New York [10:54] who’s a student at Peru State College just a few months ago. [10:58] His father is an investment banker on Wall Street, [11:01] his mother is a senior administrator [11:03] at a major hospital in Manhattan, [11:07] so he came from as urban a background as you possibly can. [11:10] Came to rural Nebraska to school, [11:13] actually on a baseball scholarship, [11:15] has fallen in love with this culture. [11:19] And has come to understand that it’s important to him [11:23] as a New Yorker that a place like Peru, [11:26] small communities in the heartland of America, [11:30] not only survive, but thrive going forward, [11:33] in order for the fabric of America to be strong.

[11:37] Second element of that nexus, [11:39] no surprise to you, is faculty. [11:42] Our Fellows program has been one means by which [11:45] we’ve been able to engage faculty from across our campuses. [11:49] Really, some of the brightest minds that we have [11:52]in a variety of disciplines who have come forward [11:54] and said, “We believe this work is important and [11:58] we’re willing to dedicate some of our time and talent too.” [12:01] We’ve also involved over a 120 faculty [12:05] in those research and teaching projects [12:08] that I mentioned earlier. [12:09] And they, in turn, have been involved with nearly [12:13] 200 rural communities, again, addressing real-world [12:16] problems ranging from leadership and entrepreneurship, [12:20] to leadership transition, [12:23] to health care, to education [12:25] to broadband, to diversity, [12:27] and leadership in communities. [12:29] It’s been a great partnership.

[12:31] Well, the third element of that nexus is communities. [12:35] We’re not working at 30,000 feet [12:39] at the Rural Futures Institute [12:41] seeing all rural communities as alike [12:44] and trying to rain down solutions [12:47] on those poor folks who live out there, no. [12:50] We are engaged directly with rural communities, [12:54] recognizing that every community has its own character, [12:57] its own strength, its own set of assets. [13:01] So we believe when we can bring those three pieces together, [13:05] and target some of our resources [13:07] in that green spot in the middle, [13:10] it is where we have the best opportunity [13:13] to make a difference for a community that’s trying to go [13:17] from where it’s been to where it would like to be.

[13:22] Let me just say that we believe fundamentally [13:25] that if a community is gonna be strong, [13:27] if a community is gonna be resilient, [13:29] if a community is gonna have an opportunity [13:31] to deal with adversity, [13:33] gosh, in the last two days I just had an opportunity [13:37] to revisit [13:39] a conversation [13:40] with folks from Pilger, Nebraska, [13:42] that in 2014, 75% of the town [13:45] was blown away by twin tornadoes. [13:50] The folks at Pilger said, “You know what? [13:53] Our town isn’t gonna die. [13:55] And by the way, we’re not just gonna come back, [13:57] we’re gonna reinvent ourselves. [14:00] Reinvent ourselves. [14:02] They developed a powerful vision, [14:04] we supported their planning activities and partnership [14:07] with the Heartland Center for Leadership Development [14:09] with folks from Nebraska Extension. [14:12] Worked together with folks in that community [14:14] who said, “We’re gonna rebuild.” [14:17] And they have. [14:18] They have come back in a community, a small community [14:21] in a very rural sector of Nebraska that, [14:26] by the way, is stronger than it was before that tornado. [14:29] It’s amazing.

[14:30] But we believe that a thriving community grows from within. [14:36] Supporting local businesses, local entrepreneurs, [14:39] having the school at the center as a partner [14:42]in the strength of a community, [14:45] having health care folks in that community [14:47] that know the people who are there, [14:49] who bring a high-touch approach to the high-tech [14:53] that is being used to deliver healthcare today.

[14:56] So, let me just say, in coming weeks, [14:58] we hope you’ll come back and join us again and again [15:01] for this “Catch up with Chuck” conversation. [15:03] We’re gonna be talking with rural people, [15:06] we’re gonna be visiting rural places, [15:08] we’re gonna be sharing success stories, [15:10] stories of innovators, of good thinkers, of good doers, [15:14] who are out there creating rural communities [15:17] that are a legitimate best choice [15:21] for those families that are looking for a place [15:24] to invest their time, their talent, [15:25] their energy, their values, [15:27] in a place where they can make a difference. [15:29] So, we’re gonna be talking about broadband, [15:31] health care, education, leadership, entrepreneurship, [15:36] all of those things. [15:37] So I hope you’ll come back and join us again and again. [15:40] Good day.

Next Episode

Episode 2 | RFI Student Serviceship Q&A