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Fanning Institute: Rural leadership programs provide strength in tough economic times

Fanning Institute: Rural leadership programs provide strength in tough economic times

A new study by UGA’s Fanning Institute shows that community leadership programs are helping to support economic viability in Georgia’s rural counties. The report, entitled “Georgia’s Community Leadership Initiative,” was released earlier this month at the Georgia Rural Development Council’s eighth annual Leadership Day program in Atlanta.

“Broad-based community leadership is critical to building and maintaining a community’s ability to respond to the state, national and global changes that alter local opportunities,” said Michael A. Beatty, commissioner of the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, in the foreword to the report.

In 2002, the Georgia Rural Development Council started the Community Leadership Initiative to broaden the state’s leadership base and build local capacity to address social and economic issues in communities. The initiative provides seed grants on a competitive basis to rural counties that lack sustained leadership development programs. The most recent report examines the results of the initiative’s first five years (2002-2007).

During that period, 94 rural counties received 184 grants and more than 3,200 Georgians completed grant-supported training. Program graduates devoted more than 96,000 hours to improving their skills and learning about their community’s problems, assets and resources.

Participants said the program improved their leadership skills including their ability to build partnerships, facilitate discussions, manage conflict, and find solutions to problems in group settings.

In 75 percent of the counties that received grants, graduates became more involved in their communities-running for elected office, leading local task forces to address community problems and serving on local boards for community groups such as downtown development authorities, economic development authorities and philanthropic organizations. Some 46 percent of participants immediately assumed leadership roles as officers, committee chairs and organizers.

The Community Leadership Initiative increased program activity in 70 percent of the grant-receiving counties and the number of self-sustaining programs increased by 47 percent during the five-year period.