Student-led Summit Boosts Rural E-ship


Rural communities in many states are finding that declining populations and lack of new jobs are turning investment away, which hurts those currently working and living there. Rural economic development and entrepreneurship are important to help these falling communities to hold their ground. This was why I created and organized the Rural America Inter-State Entrepreneurial Summit (RAISE). The summit was held on March 9 at New Mexico State University (NMSU) in Las Cruces, New Mexico.

Rural entrepreneurship solves problems that communities are facing, which in turn, improves the lives of its residents. During our summit, which was co-sponsored by NACCE, North Iowa Area Community College’s (NIACC) John Pappajohn Center, and NMSU’s Arrowhead Center, we focused on problem solving, with workshops on different approaches for different scenarios.

Some of the techniques and principles we used included:

Effectuation: These four principles of effectuation help guide rural entrepreneurs as they try to spark business activity in their communities:

  • “Bird in hand”: look at the resources you have at your disposal as a means to determine next ventures, rather than starting with an end result in mind.
  • “Lemonade Principle”: take advantage of the inevitable surprises that come up and turn them into opportunities.
  • “Crazy Quilt”: continuously accumulate various stakeholders to help you create a future while reducing uncertainty.
  • “Affordable Loss”: minimize the downside of each decision and action, thereby mitigating risk (Hackernoon).

Ecosystem Mapping. We learned different ways to map our assets and how to focus on the assets we have at our disposal instead of factors we cannot control. Ecosystem mapping is a valuable tool for anyone pursuing entrepreneurial endeavors in rural areas.

Community Examples. We examined some successful rural entrepreneurs who were aided by the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center at NIACC and were able to see how the center helped those businesses succeed. We also defined success and analyzed various success metrics for these centers, answering the question: “How do we know if their work is helping anyone?”

Design Thinking. We formed groups of four with attendees we had never met and worked together to solve a problem. My group focused on the issue of mental health in New Mexico, beginning by brainstorming all of those affected by the issue. After identifying and empathizing with 15 or so different categories of people affected by this issue, we defined the problem and then ideated, eventually looking into the core issue of the stigma associated with mental health and brainstorming ways to solve it. We concluded with a proposal to educate children and parents through schools, which would change the perceptions of mental health and help people identify mental illness before it reaches a severe level.

Strategic Doing. The technique of strategic doing is helpful to solve problems with a bigger group, such as a company board or a group of volunteers in a community meeting or any collaborative initiative. At the summit, we participated in an activity moderated by Lauren Goldstein, which focused on a rural community that wanted to improve its reputation and draw investment to increase business activity and crawl out of a slump. Using the basis of equity of voice, we focused on the assets held by each fictional community member and leveraged these to improve the community economy. We gave each community member a short task to complete in the next 30 days. In doing so, we engaged everyone in the community and used the assets available to them.

The Author:

Aristotle Marangu, RAISE organizer and student, Armand Hammer United World College of the American West, Montezuma, New Mexico. Contact: