Essence Smith, Partners for Rural Transformation
Read time: 5 minutes
Addressing persistent poverty with Partners for Rural Transformation
If you want to understand – and eradicate – persistent poverty in America, you must understand rural America and the important role it plays in our country. In the world of community development, rural America plays a significant, often overlooked role. It encompasses diverse regions and peoples, each facing unique – but shared – challenges and opportunities.
When rural and persistently poor America prospers, it generates investment and revenue for the smaller and even larger metropolitan areas around them. Investing in the folks that predominantly grow and harvest our food and our country’s major export goods benefits everyone, regardless of place.
PRT: A Beacon in Eradicating Persistent Poverty
Partners for Rural Transformation (PRT) serve as a valuable knowledge resource for persistent poverty in rural America as we turn our collective passion and vision into work that revolutionizes the landscape in our six service areas. Beyond the shared plight and promise, the Partners exemplify the pure spirit of cooperation – and how our rural neighbors across the country benefit from that.
PRT displayed our collective strength, showing up in full force for one of our national partners at the 2023 OFN Conference: “Capital Meets Purpose.”
Partners for Rural Transformation visit WeBuild headquarters in October 2023.
Breaking Down the Funding Barrier to Unlock Rural Prosperity
PRT presented two breakout sessions at the conference. In “Making Funding Work for Persistent Poverty Areas,” we explored how we promote prosperity in rural America. With a panel of our Partners and associates, we emphasized the need for flexible funding in hard-to-reach places.
Rural Americans aren’t alien – their capital issues aren’t unheard of and impossible, as the popular narrative would have you believe. Doing the work we’ve done for decades has shown us that the problem is restrictive funding. Small-town governments with volunteer officers and local leaders moving as “armies of one” often can’t meet funding obligations. What’s more common is that they don’t have the time to fulfill painstaking application processes.
“Instead of those investments from the administration benefiting those who are most vulnerable [as intended], the rich are going to get richer and the wealth gaps are going to get wider,” said Bill Bynum, CEO of HOPE. “Organizations like ours have to play a role in pushing back against it.”
We work alongside our rural neighbors as they face urgent issues like sewer systems backing up in their homes, rampant unemployment, and a lack of affordable housing.
We promoted flexible funding and discussed our achievements with it – because it is possible and practical. Closing the session, we outlined our plans to work with funders and investors in the coming years in a way that puts the power in the hands of the people.
Innovative Capital and Collaborations
In a session titled “The Power of Innovative Capital in Rural America – Lessons Learned,” PRT shared how our unique collaborations provided promise for our neighbors in persistent poverty areas of rural America. We highlighted projects like RCAC‘s new Rooted Relative Fund, Community Unlimited’s Broadband Financing, and Fahe‘s New Market Tax Credit Leveraging Lending.
The Partners showcased innovative products and initiatives that empower low-income families, promote camaraderie, and make a substantial impact. Ines Polonius, CEO of Communities Unlimited (CU), shared how PRT is making tangible change in rural America and charged the audience to do the same. She highlighted three crucial steps: inverting power structures, working outside your comfort zone, and investing in the gap.
“If we’re not out of our comfort zone, we will not eradicate poverty,” Polonius said. “Find some friends — because it’s good to have friends [doing the work with you] while you’re outside of your comfort zone.”
Powerful Partnerships to Expand Rural Homeownership
Here’s where the PRT magic truly shines. Collaborations between CU and cdcb have led to the expansion of DreamBuild (formerly known as MiCasita), which grants aspiring homeowners choice and autonomy through affordable custom homebuilding. DreamBuild launched in cdcb’s service area of Brownsville, Texas, which primarily serves rural housing developments along the Texas-Mexico border, where residents often lack essential services such as drinking water, sewage treatment, and paved roads.
The program has expanded nationwide, finding a second home in CU’s service area, the Arkansas Delta. Codney Washington, a resident of Pine Bluff, Arkansas, launched DreamBuild offshoot WeBuild with mentorship support from both cdcb and CU. WeBuild provides modular homes and employment opportunities to residents in the region, including training programs in construction, carpentry, plumbing, electrical, and other work associated with home building.
DreamBuild has additional plans to expand into South Dakota, Kentucky, and Tennessee, demonstrating the reach that is possible when the Partners work together.
A Trusted National Partner
Partnership extends beyond PRT’s six CDFIs. We take great pride in the shared ethos and work done by national partners such as OFN. The Partners often serve as a connector among rural residents across the country much like OFN, as an intermediary, connects CDFIs within the network and with public and private sector partners.
The opportunities unlocked on a national level amplify the investments of our six core Partners, highlighting how important it is for PRT to have our message uplifted by industry partners like OFN. The Partners are beyond honored to work alongside them.
PRT demonstrates that partnership can catalyze growth, innovation, and positive change when executed and displayed effectively. Across rural America, the Partners are forging a new path, and collaboration is our driver. We’re investing in both people and places, and our rural neighbors are reaping the bounty of that investment. We’re placing rural voices at the forefront, deploying inventive capital solutions, and making real generational change.
Learn more about the Partners at ruraltransformation.org.
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