Improving Social and Economic Opportunities in the Mid South

Ed. Note: Champions of Change is a weekly initiative to highlight Americans who are making an impact in their communities and helping our country rise to meet the many challenges of the 21st century.

As a recently selected Champion of Change, I had the rare honor and opportunity to discuss challenges and solutions for bettering our communities with practitioners from around the nation as well as White House officials. Interestingly, the spirit of the roundtable discussion reminded me of the core beliefs that were the impetus for creating the Foundation for the Mid South: civic engagement, collaboration, and creating opportunity.

Twenty years ago, the Foundation for the Mid South’s founders believed that in order to move our region up from the bottom quartile of the nation in terms of the economy, health, and education, our region needed an entity to work across state lines to promote collaboration and civic engagement. The intent was to ensure the most effective use of the human and financial resources already in the region as well as to attract and leverage additional resources. 

The Foundation has utilized its years of experience working in urban and rural communities to develop a model for comprehensive change. We work directly with communities to create plans for community and regional improvement by building and enhancing the capacity—the skills and knowledge—of local residents and organizations, identifying community assets, and collaborating with public and private sectors. 

In the Delta, for instance, unemployment continues to remain high as the region faces a decline in its once-thriving agrarian economy. The Foundation is leading a collaborative aimed at increasing job growth and retention in rural Delta communities. Public, private and philanthropic groups are working together to identify workforce development opportunities in order to provide appropriate training to job seekers and existing workers. The goal is to help increase workforce skills and proficiency for an area underrepresented in economic development opportunities.

Through civic engagement, partnering and strengthening capacity within the region, people and organizations will be able to marshal the resources they need to improve their own communities.  Furthermore, we have learned that when the vision, goals and activities are derived, owned and driven by local stakeholders, efforts to create social and economic opportunity are more likely to be successful and sustainable.  

Ivye L. Allen is President/CEO of the Foundation for the Mid South.

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