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Rural Synergy Foundation- Bridging Urban and Rural for Peace and Economic Sustainability

The Rural Synergy Foundation is creating a mutually beneficial relationship between rural and urban communities.

Photo of Christina Schwanke

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*Please Upload User Experience Map (as attachment) and any additional insights gathered from Beneficiary Feedback in this field

Every user of the Rural Synergy Foundation has unique talents, needs and desires. Our partnerships have enabled us to design a program supporting the individualized needs of participants in rural towns. RSF hosted a virtual focus group and surveyed sixty end users during the beneficiary feedback phase. The user experience maps show a sampling of demographics and scenarios based off the surveys, direct feedback and partner guidance.

Why does the target community define this problem as urgent and/or a priority? How is the idea leveraging and empowering community assets to help create an environment for success? (1000 characters)

Rural residents are experiencing a decline in resources such as healthcare and education due to year over year decreases in population that leave less economic opportunity. In some towns the decline has been so detrimental residents no longer have access to basic services such as grocery stores.

Companies in urban centers are struggling to find enough qualified workers while fighting a skills gap. Jobs urban companies need filled require skills but don’t demand a wage that is livable in cities.

RSF’s focus beyond workforce is collaboration and capacity building. We work with local nonprofits, schools and government agencies to improve communities and address hurdles for our participants. Local assets provide support with skills training, workspace, technology resources and more. In return RSF reinvests funds generated into local education and healthcare resources.

How does the idea fit within the larger ecosystem that surrounds it? Urgent needs are usually a symptom of a larger issue that rests within multiple interrelated symptoms - share what you know about the context surrounding the problem you are aiming to solve. (500 characters)

The desire to contribute and to be a part of a community is an innate part of the human experience. In rural communities this overwhelming desire is frustrated with negative feedback loops of population decreases and job losses. The hopelessness is obvious when considering the opioid crisis which disproportionately impacts rural areas and according to a 2017 NBER study is in part caused by joblessness and other traumas. Thus, RSF seeks to be one part of restoring hope within these communities.

How does the idea affect or change the fundamental nature of the larger ecosystem that surrounds it (as described above) in a new and/or far-reaching way? (500 characters)

Technology is creating a world where spatial limitations for careers are increasing toward irrelevance and thus, opening previously untapped labor markets, within the rural United States, that share a common language and culture enabling high levels of service. This in turn creates economic development and provides hope for communities hungry for opportunity yet in need of help entering and meeting the demands of the emerging economy.

What will be different within the target community as a result of implementing the idea? What is the scope and scale of that difference? How long will it take to see that difference and how will it be sustained beyond BridgeBuilder support? (500 characters)

Net new economic opportunities for individuals have positive cascading impacts for the larger community not only in monetary terms but also with positive neighborhood effects that are followed by improvements in living standards. In the next year, RSF is positioned to serve up to 50 people across 5 counties which positive impacts will be seen within the next two years and will be sustained and grown through gained contracts.

How has the idea evolved or responded to your user research during the Beneficiary Feedback Phase and any further insights provided if you participated in the Expert Feedback Phase? (1000 characters)

Rural Synergy Foundation hosted a virtual focus group of rural residents across the United States during the beneficiary feedback phase.

95% of users who expressed interest in utilizing our program were women.
75% of end users have completed some college, 45% possess a Bachelor’s degree or higher.
50% of end users preferred part time employment to full time.

The feedback illustrates the need of RSF to obtain contracts that conform to the career needs of primarily women seeking more flexibility in schedules and work options. The other takeaway is the higher educational capacity of RSF end users that allows RSF to cast a wider net for initial contracts.
Initially RSF intended on reaching 25 end users in the first year. Our virtual focus group, we reached over 59 individuals, 32 of whom would like to be employed. Given the enthusiasm and higher volume of interest RSF will expand our scope to serving 50 by the end of the year one. Urban Feedback supports this number.

What are the key steps for implementation in the next 1-3 years? (You can attach a timeline or GANTT chart in place of a written plan, if desired.) (1000 characters)

Please see attached timeline. Access actual timeline at:
https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1wQmOyRA3i84PxruiucaD_m1RBf0OoGUzLeJ2vdbw6ow/edit#gid=1709744959

Describe the individual or team that will implement this idea (if a partnership, please explain breakdown of roles and responsibilities for each entity). (Feel free to share an organizational chart or visual description of your team). (500 characters)

Rural Synergy Foundation is supported by a dedicated team of individuals and partners who are equipped with a well rounded variety of skills and passions. Each person and partner have given countless hours and resources to bring this idea to life and are dedicated to see it's success. Every week we have new people and partners join our movement through networking, social media, OpenIdeo and word of mouth.

What aspects of the idea would potential BridgeBuilder funds primarily support? (500 characters)

The BridgeBuilder funds will support training, outreach, travel, participant resources, program development, contract procurement, and IT Costs so Rural Synergy Foundation can expedite it's program to reach a wider swath of participants. RSF will continue to be heavily supported by volunteers and mentors but will create one full time and two part time positions to focus on implementation, RSF anticipates reaching agency sustainability within 1 year. Please see images.

In preparation for our Expert Feedback Phase: What are three unanswered questions or challenges that you could use support on in your project? These questions will be answered directly by experts matched specifically to your idea and needs.

1. In thinking about scale-ability to various states, what would be the most essential components to ensure are in place to make the scaling occur with minimal difficulty? This includes internal organization, systems building and legal compliance.

2. With half of our respondents desiring part time work is it economically feasible to offer benefits such as health insurance? What kind of options do we have to assist part time workers with benefits that would not crush us fiscally?

3. We are always open to apprenticeship routes and additional educational resources. Do the experts have any suggestions?

Final Updates (*Please do not complete until we reach the Improve Phase*): How has the idea evolved or responded to your user research during the Beneficiary Feedback Phase and any further insights provided if you participated in the Expert Feedback Phase? (1000 characters)

1. Rural residents who would utilize our program are primarily women with higher education and/or work experience who desire a clear path to hire, opportunity for growth professionally, and financially with a flexible schedule. Therefore RSF has expanded eligibility to be more inclusive.
2. Urban Companies suggested we offer specific services with the ability to allow workers to spend in person time with seasoned employees. Therefore we have narrowed our service area to a 5 hour radius of Reno, NV. RSF is also pursuing certifications to become a consultant partner with salesforce.com. The salesforce.com partnership allows RSF to provide a specific expertise with a clear training path for participants.
3. Expert advice was start slow, provide specific services for specific regions to better develop quality management and processes. This coincided with urban end user recommendations which is why we narrowed geographic focus. Implementing TQM and systems is also top priority.

During this Improve Phase, please use the space below to add any additional information to your proposal.

Rural Synergy Foundation spent the past several weeks getting feedback from not only rural end users but urban companies (urban end users) as well as experts within the the technology world, specifically software engineers and data analysts to better shape our path.

After collaboration RSF determined a few hurdles that we would have to get over:

Determining a value proposition for urban companies.
Specific training to provide most value to participants, plus several paths to success for different personalities.
Technology hurdles including cost of servers, security etc.

After much guidance and exploration RSF discovered what we believe is the best path to circumventing our hurdles. Currently RSF is pursuing a consultant partnership with Salesforce.com and is on track to have certifications completed by the beginning of October. Salesforce is the fasted growing CRM company in the world and the partner ecosystem is projected to add 3.3 million jobs and $859 billion to the economy by 2022. There is not only a large need for salesforce trained individuals but a solid path to success within the Salesforce infrastructure offering several career paths for different personalities. The added benefit is salesforce.com is a cloud based inclusive software alleviating the need for RSF to invest in high end equipment and cyber security services.

*This is not a radical change but a more defined and attainable path to success.

Note that you may also edit any of your previous answers within the proposal. Here is a great place to note any big final changes or iterations you have made to your proposal below:

Edits and final changes for refinement were based off feedback from rural and urban end users, RSF assigned expert, and OpenIdeo platform comments. Most notable changes by group:

Rural End User Feedback:
Participant Eligibility is now more inclusive.
RSF has grown the vision of hiring 25 participants to 50 participants. (This is supported by urban feedback as well.)

Urban End User/Expert Feedback:
Narrowed the Geographic focus of pilot to a 5 hour Radius of Reno, NV.
RSF is now utilizing salesforce.com internally to build systems and implement quality management practices. (TQM)
Partnering with salesforce.com externally to provided specialized value added services to urban companies.

OpenIdeo Platform/Expert Feedback:
Created more images in 'bridgebuilder funds' section to clarify and explain rural/agency financial sustainability models.
Updated images in 'explain your idea' section to provide a clear explanation of the why/what/how of our program.

Explain your project idea (2,000 characters)

Whether listening to a conversation in a rural diner or reading academic sociologists such as Robert Wuthnow, it’s clear mutual frustration between rural and urban communities runs deep and is on the rise. As the population of Americans living in rural communities shifted from 54% in 1910 to 19% in 2010 (US Census Bureau) their representation in government decreased. This shift has created an increasingly greater divide due to rural life and commerce being governed by increasingly disconnected government and by urban concern of the seemingly more closed minded, rural communities.
 
As an example in 2001 Tulelake, CA farmer’s water was diverted by court order of an urban judge to protect an endangered suckerfish and salmon. Consequently, many farmers cultivating food for the US went bankrupt, businesses shut down and jobs were lost. This is one of many stories where both urban and rural are affected; food supply decreases, poverty increases, families are forced to move and the population gap continues to increase, adding to under representation of rural in government. Urban areas are affected with rising food costs and diminished natural resources; it is not a matter of pointing fingers, yet a matter of bridging the communication gap on both sides.
 
RSF’s proposed project is to create social and economic equity (prosperity) for rural communities and ease the population decrease by fostering mutual respect and communication (peace) through interdependent, business relationships. RSF will establish a working partnership with urban companies and corporations struggling to hire employees and connect jobs to rural individuals in satellite offices. RSF will provide an apprenticeship style program offering free education, a livable wage and a viable modern career path. This will create economic and population sustainability for rural communities, provide urban companies untapped talent and create a bridge that is highly needed for US’s morale and economy.

Who are the beneficiaries? (1,000 characters)

The Rural Synergy Foundation workforce training pilot program will be focused in rural California and Nevada. The demographics we anticipate serving in our pilot are:

• 95% Women
• Disabled Individuals
• Mothers of young children

Participants in rural counties face unique challenges because of the expansive yet barren geography. Outlying towns in Nevada and California can be 50 + miles from community colleges, gainful employment and even grocery stores. USA Today states that unemployment can never be 0% partially because rural residents can't access jobs. (https://www.usatoday.com/story/money/2018/06/03/unemployment-can-go-lower/664879002/) We have human centered partnerships currently in Mono and Inyo Counties and in the process of forming partnerships in Modoc and Butte counties.

How is your idea unique? (1,000 characters)

Our model is unique because it combines three successful for profit models into a nonprofit agency to provide a human centered and equitable approach to workforce development. The for profit models are as follows:

1. Apprenticeships: Apprenticeships are a common method of skills development. Apprenticeship workers gain skills without falling into student loan debt. 91% of people who complete apprenticeships go on to find employment that pays at least $51,000 a year.

2. Support Contractor: According to the Wall Street Journal, large companies contract out 20-50% of their labor. This number is continuing to grow with technological advances.

3. Remote Labor: Since 2005 the number of non-self-employed workers who work remotely has grown 115%. It is projected by 2020 that 50% of the workforce will work remotely. (US Census)

We provide participants training and a paycheck. This model also provides sustainability for RSF as well as partner nonprofits in underfunded regions.

Idea Proposal Stage (choose one)

  • Prototype: I have done some small tests or experiments with prospective users to continue developing the idea.
  • Pilot: I have started to implement the idea as a whole with a first set of real users.

Tell us more about your organization/company (1 sentence and website URL)

We are a foundation changing the way society tackles economic sustainability- bridging urban employment needs and rural individuals/communities with employment. www.ruralsf.org

Expertise in sector

  • 7+ years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.

In 3-4 sentences, tell us the inspiration or story that encouraged you to start this project.

The three directors of the Rural Synergy Foundation are originally from Surprise Valley, California, a rural community that is struggling with economic sustainability to the point of losing resources such as education and healthcare. The directors collaborated their skills to do their part in reaching the UN Sustainability Goals 1, 3, 4, 5, 8, 9, 10, 11, 13 (https://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/sustainable-development-goals). RSF's program is a well rounded approach for sustainability.

Please explain how your selected topic areas are influenced, in the local context of your project (1,000 characters).

RSF is bridging urban and rural communities using prosperity to promote peace.

 A. (Prosperity) RSF will help provide opportunity for people to stay in their rural communities and slowing the population decrease while building economic stability for individual families and their communities. This will in turn decrease poverty and increase community resources and influence.

B. (Peace) Trade and business relationships are pragmatic in their very essence and thus, they bring groups together for a mutual goal which helps parties evolved to understand each other's cultural and perspectives.

This project will build trust, knowledge and stability for everyone. As partnerships form urban companies will enjoy the benefits of untapped rural talent and play a large role in solving the economic instability crisis in rural communities through a workforce lens.
This program is based from feedback from urban (Reno, NV and SF, CA) and rural (Inyo, Mono, Modoc, and Butte, CA) end users.

Who will work alongside your organization in the project idea? (1,000 characters)

Current human centered partnerships iclude:
County of Mono, Department of Social Services will send workforce ready welfare to work participants. Partner will provide eligible participants with workspace, career counseling and tools such as computers. Vouchers for childcare will be offered to eligible mothers.

Wild Iris Family Counseling & Crisis Center will counsel and advocate for victims of domestic violence. We will be working mainly with their transitional housing program but in Mono County specifically they will provide ‘Healthy Relationship Training.’

Inyo Mono Advocates for Community Action, Inc. (IMACA) will evaluate and help work ready homeless participants trying to escape poverty. IMACA clients will get help with workspace, tools and affordable housing.

Entrepreneur Assembly- will provide mentorship and resources to secure vendor contracts from urban companies.

Our partnerships ensure that RSF participants have a clear path to personal growth and success.

Please share some of the top strengths identified in the community which your project will serve (500 characters)

The competitive advantage rural communities in California and Nevada have is the large quantity of ready to work individuals, especially women, who are not utilized in the labor market. In addition; California and Nevada have a highly developed infrastructure grid in rural communities allowing for development of a remote workforce. Also, agencies in these states are dedicated to collaboration to empower residents.

Geographic Focus

Rural Synergy Foundation is currently serving rural California and Nevada, with plans for the US.

How many months are required for the project idea? (500 characters)

The Rural Synergy Foundation is positioned to begin the workforce training pilot program by October 2018.

This idea will take 12 months from funding date to implement to the point of sustainability. After the initial 12 months this program will continue indefinitely and be sustained by revenue generated by the business model.

Success will be noted within the first 6 months as rural residents earn paychecks, 36 months is the anticipated apprenticeship completion timeframe.

Did you submit this idea to our 2017 BridgeBuilder Challenge? (Y/N)

  • No
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Team (5)

Jesse's profile
Jesse Hunt

Role added on team:

"We are excited to collaborate with Jesse on lowering the poverty rate in Salmon, Idaho from 22%. He can elaborate more in the comments on the challenges his community faces."

Christina's profile
Nomusa's profile
Nomusa Keninda

Role added on team:

"Nomusa directed us to code.org for the 'Hour of Code' program."

Marnie's profile
Marnie Glazier

Role added on team:

"Marnie is helping us to brainstorm adding art into our program."

Sydney's profile
Sydney Gray

Role added on team:

"Sydney is helping us clarify our idea!"

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Photo of Céline Steer
Team

This is a very interesting project. Addressing urban-rural growing divide is key to a region's economic and social stability, especially when we see a lot of focus on metropolitan areas.
I particularly like the focus that you give to the big picture (notably highlighting the SDGs that are related to your idea). I also applaud the emphasis on partnerships to make this idea happen.

Good luck

Photo of Christina Schwanke
Team

Hello Celine,

Thank you for your kind words. This all started as a way to help one small town and because of the idea and user feedback the vision has grown. We fervently believe we can be part of the solution across the US. This notion makes our partnerships so valuable. In the past 6 months we have been approached by potential partners in Tennessee, Texas, Idaho, and Pennsylvania; we are building these relationships so we can quickly scale after the pilot.

I haven't got a chance to read your idea but I'm going to hop over to it right now!

Christina

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