POLICY BRIEF: RURAL ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT AND THE INVOLVEMENT OF YOUTH D. Looker Mount Saint Vincent University Halifax, Nova ScotiaThere are two issues addressed in this policy brief: 1. Identifying potential avenues for social and economic development in rural and remote communities of Canada. 2. Engaging rural youth in meaningful ways in their rural and remote communities.BACKGROUNDA number of relevant issues were identified at the 1st Annual Rural Research Workshop “From Policyto Research and Back Again”, hosted by the Canadian Rural Revitalization Foundation, which tookplace in Ottawa, Ontario on May 5, 2011.Reimer highlighted the fact that rural communities have different types of structures and supportswhich they can use to mobilize resources. While there are a number of government programs tosupport rural communities, these communities must be able to identify and successfully apply to theseprograms. Those with well defined bureaucratic structures tend to be those who are most successfulat this access. Ironically, given their resources, they may also be the ones who least need theinterventions.Many papers presented (including Walsh’s discussion of the stability that youth mobility can providefor partners who remain in a rural area) drew on the well known fact of youth outmigration from ruralcommunities. This exodus happens despite the stronger community ties and sense of belonging ofrural, as compared to urban youth (Kitchen). There are a number of gaps in knowledge and skills thatare more typical of rural than urban youth (Ryser), which may contribute to the fact that the levels ofphysical and mental health for rural youth tends to be low (Kitchen), issues that may be exacerbatedby social isolation in some locales (Parent).There was also wide recognition of the diversity of rural areas, based on a variety of dimensions suchas language, history, culture, economic situation, proximity to other communities, including urbancenters. In order to facilitate social and economic development in these diverse regions the uniqueneeds of the community must be identified and addressed.PROPOSALBased on this and other research on rural communities and rural youth, the recommendation is to: Institute a program of employing rural youth to Identify Rural Priorities (IRPs), first as a pilot project in 3-4 communities most in need in each region and territory (including remote aboriginal communities), and later expanded. …/2
-2- The employment would involve: o Training 8-10 youth in the target communities in relevant research (interviewing) techniques, conflict resolution, report writing and presentation. o Once trained these youth would be responsible for identifying (a) some key community priorities (including those specific to youth), (b) available community resources, (c) challenges facing that community and (d) possible external resources (including existing government programs) that could assist the community meet its goals. o The youth would interview business, not-for-profit, volunteer and governmental organizations in the community. o Writing and presenting a report to the community leaders (or equivalent informal group). Ideally the initial trainers would be internal to the community drawing on external trainers only if internal ones are not available. Once trained, the employed youth could mentor other youth in the community. The success of the program itself should be monitored and evaluated by trained researchers.BENEFITS The benefits to the community are that: o Youth are engaged and become knowledgeable about the community. o There is discussion and identification of community priorities. o Available resources and challenges are made more visible. This would be a first step in helping the communities identify more effective ways of mobilizing the resources they already have and identifying those they need. In this way, the overall capacity of the community is enhanced. o Challenges facing community members (including lack of consensus on priorities) would be identified and could be better met. The participating youth benefit by: o Learning transferable skills (their “human capital”) that can assist them in future employment; o Developing teamwork skills; o Becoming more involved in and more knowledgeable about their community; o Gaining self respect and potentially the respect of community members; o Feeling less isolated – a fact which could translate into improved health outcomes. Government benefits by: o Showing it has an active program that addresses not only economic and social development issues in rural areas, but also the widespread concern about the situation of rural youth. o Introducing a relatively low cost program with potentially high returns as communities more effectively access existing programs – i.e. it would be a high value for money program. o Providing a youth training program that will have long term benefits. o Helping to build community capacity in those areas where it is needed most.