Friday, August 7, 2009

Action Center 1 - The RRES Institute (Hub for Education and Outreach)

Action Center 1) The RRES Institute (Hub for Education and Outreach)

As should be abundantly clear from the previous discussion, the overall success of the RRES is dependent on all the parts of our approach. To that end, Education is one of the pillars, or in many respects be viewed as the “hub” of the mandala.

The RRES Institute is grounded in three primary concepts 1) creating a central repository of knowledge and technical
assistance, 2) providing strong extension and outreach, and 3) utilizing both in-person and technology based means to deliver various educational content and services. Areas of expertise that are developed are derived from the needs of the specific region where the RRES is established.

As depicted in diagram 9, the success of the RRES is a matter of fulfilling the mission of our strategy which is to successfully empower communities and people. This is accomplished, in short, by utilizing the resources available to us and to create useful educational programs and technical assistance.

A primary role of the RRES Institute will be to provide access to information and technical assistance to the region with an
entrepreneurial focus. The RRES Institute will support a holistic economic development strategy focused on all aspects of a community’s economy. Common areas needing support and expansion commonly include tourism, innovation in agriculture and small business development. As depicted in the bottom center of Diagram 9, there are an abundance of resources that are available through existing institutions around the globe. The key is to decipher, refine and adapt the materials to be usable to each specific audience. The RRES Institute will be comprised of an institutional (physical location) and a Web based distance learning resource center to be accessed through “partner” organizations (e.g. universities, Internet cafes and/or community and school computer centers/classrooms). Additionally the RRES Institute will provide on-site, hands-on training seminars to local “trainers” to create a network of “tech-transfer associates” throughout the region. It is our preference to partner with regional universities to develop educational outreach programs.

Diagram 9: The RRES Institute: Conceptual Model—Inputs and Outputs

RRES Institute – Empowerment, Economic Diversification and Innovation

The following discussion provides a refinement and expansion of ideas of the institute, and details about steps in the process of creating it. Preliminarily, as stated above, a basic assumption of the RRES Institute is the protection of the natural environment, which is where all wealth, and community success is derived from. The aim of the RRES is to develop strategies to grow opportunities and diversify economies, based upon existing agricultural and community necessities. The approach, based on “systems thinking” will enhance ecological sustainability by addressing traditional environmental challenges that usually result from economic pressures and improper planning.

Additionally, this proposal recommends the development of new technologies that will facilitate this process and significantly contribute to a new platform for extending education to more people. An added benefit of these technologies will be the capabilities to track all aspects of the RRES including educational program success, marketing and business performance.

A primary objective of the RRES Institute will be to build a bridge of benefits to communities, supporting the various industries that their economies are based upon. Tourism across the globe is emerging as a strong complimentary sector to agriculture in most rural communities. Our approach will focus on several levels, but entrepreneurship, diversification into value-added agriculture and creative business development will be primary foci. Creative and complimentary business will be encouraged—in contrast to a competitive approach. The main features of the initiative will build upon: a) a regional focus, b) the development of cooperatives, and c) adapting successful innovative initiatives from other places (e.g. Colombia, Rwanda Texas A&M project, etc.).

Technology and education will be the vehicles for success. A primary result of the RRES will be to extend educational opportunities to broader and more diverse audiences. The effort will focus on extension outreach programs throughout the region. Once this effort has been developed, tested and evolved, the same process can be taken to other areas and adopted.

Establishing the RRES Institute - Proposed Approach

1) Aim to enhance a holistic economic development strategy – tourism (ecotourism, nature, heritage and cultural tourism, etc.), agriculture, value-added agriculture, energy, entrepreneurship, micro-enterprise development.
2) Adapt existing educational materials available from many sources.
3) Develop a “custom” entrepreneurial training series (modularized) specific to the context of the host community(s) – resources can be developed with regional universities specifically adapted as “educational outreach programs”.
4) Develop a custom Rural Community Leadership Program
5) Create Web based distance learning portal(s) that could be accessed through “partner” universities, Internet cafes and/or community and school computer centers/classrooms.
- On-site, hands-on training seminars provided by locally trained instructors (using a train-the-trainer) approach supported via Solomon Source Consulting (seek sponsorship from agencies, non-profit organizations or other entities).
6) Conduct research and project benchmarking throughout the project lifecycle.

Steps in the Process
- Conduct Strategic Planning session for the RRES strategy workshop – Identify Project Board and Key Stakeholders for the coalition.
- Form working coalition.
- Identify viable sized “region(s)” to initiate project.
- Create short list of prospect communities (regional based preferred – see criteria below).
- Evaluate those communities based on a set of criteria to ensure project success.
- Resources for the Institute are available and some are in development, or can be adopted/integrated from a variety of sources (e.g. Extension materials from various U.S. universities, etc.).
- Identify potential additional funding sources (public & private)
- Project leaders, community(s), collaborators, and institutional partners “contextualize” the approach based on political and social climate of proposed sites.

Select “Pilot” Community Development Projects – Pending discussion
- Rural agricultural and forestry regions
- See criteria for selection listed below

Potential Collaborators
- Communities in region
- Sponsoring organizations
- Regional (state & national) governmental representatives
- Private businesses
- Regional University(s)
- Etc.

- Stimulate/create robust rural community economies
- Sustainability as a driver creating sensible linkages between the various complimentary “assets” and economic sectors within the community/region
- Conserve (and/or enhance) the natural, historical and cultural assets of the community
- Enhance Quality of Life

The RRES aims to integrate all aspects of community economic development into a centralized approach supported by a technology based information and technical assistance system. Publications, information and a variety of rudimentary tools are available to assist communities realize a more diverse set of economic development opportunities. These resources can be combined with new forms of assistance to address other important areas of need including: leadership training and development, tourism development, community enhancement, technology development and utilization, and forest, animal and plant (ecological) protection and enhancement. These areas can be supported via technical assistance and training and other support to stimulate/enhance other economic activities that are necessary for communities to flourish, while also protecting the natural and historical resource base and culture of the region.

The approach utilized will provide incentives for the adoption and diffusion of the use of new technologies and distance learning tools and information that is, essentially, universally needed for tourism and other economic development
activities. New Web-based technologies can create direct economic returns (rewards) for businesses and communities. These “rewards” then will stimulate people to expand their use of computers for running and growing their businesses and community economic development programs.

An active outreach and “marketing branch” of this initiative will promote resources and services and also conduct in-the-field research to identify and recruit communities that are “primed” with proper leadership and a community collaborative spirit. These communities (or groups of communities) can then be “seeded” with a package of incentives to stimulate their participation.

Because the RRES is designed to be market-driven, it will be economically sustainable perpetually. Driven by a successful business development model, programs will be designed to be self-sustaining over time. Initial funds will be used to “prime” the initiative, but the “Institute” will generate revenues so that the initiative will not need to be subsidized over time.

Pilot Community (Region) Selection Criteria – (tentative and not prioritized)
- Leadership
- Creativity
- Cottage industries
- Relatively stable economic basis
- Community forestry
- Funding assistance available
- Diversity of natural resources
- Critical mass of tourist attractions
- Linkages between communities (collaborative potential)
- Absence of contentiousness intra-community and inter-community
- Infrastructure (roads, telecommunications, service industry e.g. food, lodging)
- Access to financial support and outside funding
- Social networking - capital
- Access – to tourism attractions by visitors, distance from University collaborators
- Prior leadership training
- Volunteer/service organizations
- Prior projects that may have potential to re-start or revitalize
- Rural development models (existing approaches – Rwanda/Texas A&M)

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