A primary goal of SOAR is to engage people from across Appalachian Kentucky in defining our own future, and so far there has been lots of engagement. The big question is, where do we go from here?
SOAR is at a critical juncture. It can become another publicly funded administrative black hole that has lots of meetings and issues lots of reports, or it can do the hard and tedious work of keeping people engaged in bringing all of those bold ideas to fruition.
Getting people to stay engaged isn't just the job of SOAR, however. It's up to us as citizens to latch on to the opportunity SOAR presents and make it work for us.
In a recent report issued by the Democracy Collaborative, the authors identify an emerging trend in local efforts for economic revitalization — place-based community foundations as anchor institutions, gathering and deploying all of the community's resources and leveraging all of the assets they can muster for maximum impact.
Promoting the development of local, affiliated community foundation boards as a resource for keeping local communities rooted and engaged in their own work would provide a strong base for the larger vision of SOAR.
In addition to raising local philanthropic funds, a regional network of affiliated funds and community foundations would strengthen the economy by providing thoughtful leadership, local and regional grant-making and all forms of community wealth-building.
Far from simply accepting funds and disbursing grants, community foundations across the nation are proactively shaping initiatives, using grant-making in partnership with approaches like convening, piloting projects and influencing policy.
A network of community philanthropy would provide the vital leadership necessary to reach sustainable solutions locally that would build a strong regional economy.
And it's already working.
Foundation for Appalachian Kentucky currently hosts funds for several counties, and all of them are seeing a resurgence of citizen participation, local financial support and creative energy for a new economy and the next generation. We see ourselves as partners in SOAR, connecting local action to a regional vision. And making sure that regional vision includes all of our local people.
SOAR will only succeed if it is seen as a leader in an ecosystem of interconnected local efforts, maximizing the opportunities and minimizing the hardships for everyday people struggling with local concerns in a region that is destined to look, feel and operate very differently from what we have known in the past.
I hope Feb. 16, the day of the second SOAR summit, will be remembered as when we committed ourselves to move forward and work together to meet the unprecedented challenges of a transformational economic transition.