The fact is that thousands of small towns are being depopulated as their youth are leaving in search of better perceived opportunities in larger urban areas. The impact is that small towns are seeing a catastrophic decline in businesses, population, social capital, and tax base. Based on a recent Community Conversation event, we have a new idea about how a small town with limited financial resources facing this drain can address community and economic issues: personal, long-range outreach.
According to Patrick Carr, author of Hollowing Out the Middle, “Communities need to start cooperating beyond their borders.” There has long been the technical capability to communicate beyond borders, starting with mail, then phone, then email, then social media. However, what has been missing is a method for the deliberate rekindling of relationships with persons who have moved away. Small towns must emotionally and professionally reconnect to their missing human resources to become competitive with major metropolitan areas. To that end, we are seeking feedback on and applicants for a bold new initiative.
SPOKEs (Sharing Partnerships, Opportunity, Knowledge, & Education) projects view a community as a hub, the outside world as a wheel, and the people who connect the two as spokes. A SPOKE is an achiever with wealth of knowledge, connections, resources, and successes that used to not share with home due to the geographical distance but now who can and does.
Historically, the problem was that finding and engaging SPOKEs was difficult because they could be anywhere in the country or world. Postal mail, email, and social media can deliver information across wide distances, however, what’s new is a technology for finding the right people (called Updentity®) and a framework (called SPOKEs) for how to reach them as a town, a community, and an asset to somewhere they once cared much about. The approach is modeled after the marketing strategy utilized by successful nonprofits and alumni associations.
The Updentity technology enables SPOKEs projects because it can match years-old and out-of-date mailing addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses to current contact information for the same people. It answers the question, “Where are they now?” This, in turn, enables a community to create outreach efforts to bygone residents. A town can let them know that they are remembered and missed. It can tell them about opportunities back home, ask them for advice and business connections, and teach them about the good people, humble activities, and unexpected achievements of a place that once shaped the person they are today. In an informal survey, we found that people would be more likely to contribute to their home town than to their alma mater… if only they were asked.
The makers of Updentity are seeking visionary community leaders to partner with us on defining and launching SPOKEs projects. For more information, email Trish Harrell at firstname.lastname@example.org.