To enhance the Golden LEAF Community-Based Grants Initiative’s (CBGI) impact on each region, Golden LEAF recently added a Regional Leadership and Capacity Building Initiative to the program managed by the N.C. Rural Center. Typically, coaching and project development meetings are held in-person; however, the pandemic forced program organizers and participants to adapt.
The CBGI process culminates in an $11 million regional grantmaking opportunity that provides funding for economic investment and job creation, workforce preparedness and education, agriculture, and community vitality projects. The optional Regional Leadership and Capacity Building Initiative works in conjunction with the CBGI to increase the region’s leadership base, enhance collaborations, and develop strategic, innovative projects to transform the economy.
The February 2020 kickoff training in Caldwell County included more than 130 participants from the 12-county Northwest Prosperity Zone. Following the training, county and regional project teams began to think strategically about projects that build on community and regional assets as well as address gaps and needs to support the regional economy.
Momentum stalled when the pandemic hit the region.
“At that time, in-person team coaching was scheduled to begin but was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the ‘shelter in place’ order,” said Misty Herget, N.C. Rural Center Senior Director of Programs. “As a result, the coaching team had to alter processes and future training opportunities to virtual delivery platforms.”
Concerns from participants in the regional initiative arose about a decreased level of engagement due to the lack of in-person connections, people feeling distracted, and facing personal challenges, said Herget.
The N.C. Rural Center staff conducted a survey to understand the specific obstacles people were facing and found that more than 75% of participants had encountered or were anticipating major delays or difficulties in planning as a result of COVID-19.
“With this in mind, we adapted our coaching process by increasing the frequency of our communication and meetings with project teams to build rapport and offer a high level of technical assistance,” said Herget. “Project team participation is very high, and we are working with 12 teams to develop project ideas that focus on Golden LEAF’s priority areas.”
In June, the N.C. Rural Center brought participants back together with a virtual regional training.
“We are pleasantly surprised at the level of engagement from the region,” said Herget. “We have determined that some of the current needs of the region include technical assistance, capacity building, and connecting to partners and resources.”
The Northwest Prosperity Zone is the third region the NC Rural Center has worked with to provide training in advance of the Golden LEAF CBGI process. This work will enable the region to better compete for other national, state, and private resources, including strengthening the quality and reach of grant proposals for future funding.