Rally SWVA: Placemaking and Building Leadership Capacity in Rural Southwest Virginia
The University of Virginia’s College at Wise (UVA Wise) is the only public 4-year higher education institution in the coalfield region of Virginia. UVA Wise is a key economic driver in the rural region which has been diligently working to diversify its economy for nearly three decades.
Not unlike many rural regions across the country, succession planning for local leaders is nearly non-existent. Governing boards and councils are aging and as local leaders head toward full retirement, few individuals are stepping up to fill the gap and many who are stepping up are unprepared to lead. Additionally, engaging diverse voices in community and civic advisory and governing boards is not a common practice and these voices are often marginalized or discounted. The complex and challenging obstacles which face the region requires skillful leadership to navigate and position the region for growth and prosperity.
As part of its mission, UVA Wise is committed to strengthening and growing the economy of the region in which it is located and in doing so, RALLY SWVA helps to build leadership capacity among community leaders through completing a meaningful and visible community project. Rural regions struggle engaging community members to become involved in planning and revitalization efforts in their localities. Stagnate or declining population metrics often contribute to only a few people being involved in leadership positions and the same individuals are on multiple boards and councils. Few deliberate and open recruitment strategies exist for community and civic organizations which leave only a few, familiar voices at the table.
Rally SWVA assists communities with identifying potential leaders or “sparkplugs” in their localities, engaging them in the project planning and implementation and then connecting them with future service opportunities.
Rally SWVA is expanding to include a service learning component through collaboration with Wise Connects, an academic initiative which includes a portfolio of courses offered at UVA Wise requiring a community engagement project for each student. These courses are considered as A.C.E.D. courses, or Academic Community Engagement courses.
Engaging students in community projects allows for them to connect with local citizens, businesses and civic leaders and build an affinity for their community which will ultimately contribute to nurturing a culture of volunteerism.
Rally was designed as a result of a regional entrepreneurship initiative which graduated budding entrepreneurs into communities which weren’t quite ready to support them. Embedded into the Rally SWVA curricula are segments that highlight the importance of building strong entrepreneurial ecosystems and the value of supporting small businesses within the community.