February 21-23, 2017
Charlotte, NC

Hosted by: National Rural Assembly at The Duke Endowment

This was an invitation-only  working retreat for rural colleagues and allies who are leading efforts to improve the outlook for rural communities and identifying ways to bridge the rural/urban divide. 

 Read all "What If" statements from our Big Ideas board  here .

Read all "What If" statements from our Big Ideas board here.


The Big Ideas Forum was a working retreat for rural colleagues and allies who are leading efforts to improve the outlook for rural communities and identifying ways to bridge the rural/urban divide. 

This gathering was an opportunity to swap bold and outrageous ideas that can inspire a field of rural advocates, funders, and policy makers. We left inspired by new ideas that we can ignite in our communities. 

The 50 participants in this event represented 17 states and D.C., as well as multiple disciplines, backgrounds, and experiences in the field of rural advocacy work. 

This group was convened at The Duke Endowment headquarters in Charlotte, North Carolina, to:

  • Identify strategic needs and opportunities facing rural America at this critical cultural and political moment;
  • Lean into bold and creative ideas aimed at addressing needs and opportunities;
  • Ignore boundaries that often discourage the work we want to do (i.e., there’s no money, people won’t go for it, it’s not scalable, etc.);
  • Strengthen relationships with our colleagues, who represent a diversity of ages, geographies, sectors, cultures, and experiences. 

Key Outcome

We emerged with one or more Big Ideas that we can advance together with the National Rural Assembly, media, policymakers, and funders.


Tuesday, February 21, The Duke Endowment

5:15 –  Shuttle from Charlotte Westin to The Duke Endowment

5:30-6:30 – Cocktails and networking

6:30-8:00 – Dinner and Keynote by Dr. Francisco Guajardo, Executive Director of B3 Institute, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley
Francisco Guajardo is the executive director of the B3 Institute at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, a founder of the Llano Grande Center for Research and Development, a community-based nonprofit organization, and a founder of the Edinburg Dance Theatre, a local arts organization that offers dance instruction to children in rural communities along the border. 

7:45 – Lighting the Fire
- Whitney Kimball Coe
Time to light the creative spark! 

Shuttle returns to Charlotte Westin.

The lights of Downtown Charlotte beckon…

Wednesday, February 22, The Duke Endowment

7:15 – Shuttle from Charlotte Westin to The Duke Endowment

7:30 – Breakfast

8:00-8:15 – Welcome and Meeting Overview
- Robb Webb, Director of Rural Church Program Area, The Duke Endowment
- Whitney Kimball Coe, Director of National Programs for the Center of Rural Strategies and Coordinator of the National Rural Assembly

8:15-8:30 – The Moment We’re In
- Dee Davis
A moment of reflection on the current climate in rural America and a call to focus on positive ways we can advance the rural agenda

8:30-9:15 – Starting with “What if…” 
- Betsey Russell

9:15-9:45 – Big Idea Story #1: Expanding Opportunity in Rural Communities for Affordable Clean Energy Solutions
-    Curtis Wynn, CEO of Roanoke Electric in NC and officer of the Board for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association
-    Dr. Holmes Hummel, Founder, Clean Energy Works

9:45-10:00 – Break

10:00-10:15 – The Creative Charge
- Betsey Russell
Get ready to get busy!

10:15-12:15 – We Know the Way: Round-Robin Brainstorming Sessions
Engage in a series of fast-paced, round-robin discussions about new ways to spark and grow positive change in rural communities. 

12:15-12:45 — Lunch
Free-flow conversation time

12:50-1:30 – Big Idea Story #2: KVEC’s Appalachian Technology Initiative:  Students Creating a New Future in Appalachia
- Paul Green, Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative and live-stream with students from Belfry High School, Pike County, KY

1:30-1:45 – Break 

1:45-3:30 – The Big Idea Generator
- Betsey Russell
We’ll elevate the most exciting ideas we’ve heard so far and open the floor for more. 

3:30-4:00 – Big Idea Story #3: Embracing our Deep Stories to Transform Our Deepest Divides
- Anna Claussen, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Minneapolis, MN

4:00-4:30 – Circle Up and Adjourn
Our end-of-day check-in to reflect on key takeaways, nagging thoughts, lingering questions

4:30 – Shuttle returns to the Charlotte Westin

Evening Dine-Arounds in Charlotte

Thursday, February 23, The Duke Endowment

8:00 – Breakfast and Keynote
- Cornelius Blanding, Federation of Southern Cooperatives

9:00-9:15 – Let's review
New additions to the Big Ideas board are still welcome. 
- Whitney Kimball Coe

9:15-11:00 —Turning Big Ideas Into Bold Next Steps
We’ll identify the most promising Big Ideas that have arisen and ways to pursue them going forward. 

11:00-noon – Final Thoughts and the Way Forward
- Whitney Kimball Coe
What’s next for our individual and collective work? 

noon - Adjourn and Lunch

1:00 – Shuttle returns to Charlotte Westin

Ad-hoc meetings
1:30-3:00 - Young Leaders Meeting
1:30-3:00 – Participant Debrief (as needed)


Participants are encouraged to share resources and materials that are influencing their work. Email karen@ruralstrategies.org to have yours included.


Rural Climate Dialogues from the Rural Climate Network

"Climate and Community Energy Use: Morris, Minnesota" from the Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy

"Art Matters—In Rural Classrooms and Beyond" from Stephen Sugg and the National Housing Institute

"Inside the Nation's First Bilingual University" from the Texas Observor

"A Model Network: The Federation of Southern Cooperatives" from the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Working Group

Prairie Dreamers documentary (video)

Creative Exchange toolkits for arts and community development

Big Ideas from Our Community

Rural Big Ideas from our community - here and here


"A More Inclusive Place for All" from Anna Claussen, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy

"Unequal Lives: The State of Black Women and Their Families in the Rural South" from Southern Rural Black Women's Initiative

"The Rural Compact" from National Rural Assembly


"A National Strategic Narrative" by Col. Mark Mykleby, USMC ret and CAPT Wayne Porter, USN ret

RVCC 2017 Transition Proposal for a New Congress and Administration

"Principles for Action" and "Recommendations to Increase Opportunity and Decrease Poverty in America" from Opportunity Youth United

"Rural Strategies that Work," White House Rural Council memo


"Red State, Blue City" from the Atlantic

Daily Yonder


For additional information, contact Whitney Kimball Coe at whitney@ruralstrategies.org or 423-506-1136.


Carol Blackmon
Quitman County Development Organization



Cornelius Blanding
Federation of Southern Cooperatives


Xav de Souza Briggs
Ford Foundation


Edyael Casaperalta
Colorado Law School

Jack Cecil
The Duke Endowment



Marlene Chavez
Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid

Anna Claussen
Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy


Tom Cosgrove
New Voice Strategies


Dee Davis
Center for Rural Strategies


amalia deloney
Media Democracy Fund


Susan DuPlessis  
South Carolina Arts Commission


Karen Fasimpaur
Center for Rural Strategies

Tanya Fiddler
Native CDFI Network

Oleta Fitzgerald
Children's Defense Fund



Dan Gerlach
Golden LEAF Foundation


Jason Gray
North Carolina Rural Center


Cheryl Green

Paul Green
Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative


Francisco Guajardo
B3 Institute at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley


Charisma Hibbler
The Duke Endowment



Holmes Hummel
Clean Energy Works


Elena Kaye-Schiess    
NeighborWorks America - Rural Initiative


Whitney Kimball Coe
Center for Rural Strategies


Jim King    

Jim Kleinschmit
IATP/Kleinschmit Consulting


Tim Lampkin
Higher Purpose Co. LLC


David Lipsetz
Housing Assistance Council


Charles C. Lucas III
The Duke Endowment

Tim Marema
Daily Yonder/Center for Rural Strategies


Justin Maxson
Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation


Jeff Michaels
UNCC Urban Center


Alan Morgan
National Rural Health Association


Doug O'Brien
National Cooperative Business Corporation

Tyler Owens
Gila River Indian Community

Kim Phinney
YouthBuild USA


Sarah Pytalski    
National Congress of American Indians


Scott Reed
PICO National Network


Kristen Richardson-Frick
The Duke Endowment



Jocelyn Richgels

Niel Ritchie
Main Street Project



Betsey Russell
Last Word, LLC

Angela Shirey
Walton Family Foundation


Adam Strong    
National Council of Young Leaders - Opportunity Youth United

Stephen Sugg
Housing Assistance Council (HAC)



Stephanie Tyree
WV Community Development Hub


Ali Webb
W.K.Kellogg Foundation


Robb Webb
The Duke Endowment


Patrick Woodie
N. C. Rural Center



Curtis Wynn
Roanoke Electric Cooperative & Affiliate Organizations


Laura Zabel
Springboard for the Arts