Implementing a Rural Community Development Initiative for Thriving Communities

In the heart of America’s rural landscapes lies the capacity for collaboration and development that can advance community wellbeing. Some places just need a bit more support, given their history of place, race, and class inequities. Happily, rural community development initiatives like Aspen CSG’s WealthWorks framework, Rural Development Hubs strategy, and Thrive Rural Framework all support the continued momentum to strengthen communities by offering a blueprint for sustainable development and positive growth.

At its core, the Thrive Rural Framework emphasizes a comprehensive approach, recognizing that rural prosperity is not solely measured by economic indicators but also by the health and wellbeing of its residents. By focusing on key themes—Rural Voice and Power, Equitable Aims and Design, and Resources for Productive Action—the framework can help position regional and community-based organizations to better address the multifaceted challenges rural areas face, unlocking potential for rural people and places to not just survive but thrive.

Here at Aspen CSG, economic development and community development go hand-in-hand. From our view, equity and community voice are fundamental to both of these types of development. This is why we often refer to regional or rural development, rather than just economic or community development. So, while “development” forms the cornerstone of the framework, this always means centering fair and just development processes and outcomes, especially for communities and people affected by historical and ongoing structural discrimination. 

Asset-based development entails growing local and regional assets like health infrastructure or natural ecosystems to foster wellbeing for the whole community. By advancing a model that nurtures local businesses to build wealth that stays within the community and that leverages assets unique in each community, the Thrive Rural Framework supports efforts to create vibrant economies in rural places through entrepreneurship, innovation, and access to capital.

Crucially, the framework recognizes that health and wellbeing are fundamental to the vitality of rural communities. By emphasizing healthcare infrastructure, welcoming and belonging programs, and health resources that address social determinants of health, the Thrive Rural Framework can help community-based organizations ensure that local residents have access to the care and support they need to lead fulfilling lives. 

Feedback On Our Rural Community Development Initiatives

As the Thrive Rural Framework continues traction, we’ve heard recommendations from our partners and event participants to:

  • Focus efforts on helping people apply the Thrive Rural Framework. Folks we work with think the Framework is conceptually strong, but some have struggled to apply it to their work. That’s why we are putting together more case studies and worksheets to show how communities are implementing the Framework’s principles. 
  • Work directly with community teams to pilot rural community development initiatives using the Framework and walk with the community through the process. Aspen CSG is ramping up place-based work implementing the Thrive Rural Framework. By working with rural development hubs in Michigan, Alabama, and Minnesota, we are putting the framework into action. 
  • Keep people connected and engaged, and continue bringing national visibility to rural issues. We will continue to build on our primary strength as a converter and connector to facilitate open forums that connect practitioners, philanthropy, and policymakers. We hope you can join us in working for a thriving rural America. 
Aspen Institute Community Strategies Group
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