You Have to Create Hope: Reflections on the Philanthropy and Rural America Conference | Not in Our Town

You Have to Create Hope: Reflections on the Philanthropy and Rural America Conference


Former President Bill Clinton spoke at the recent Philanthropy and Rural America conference in Little Rock, AR

 “You have to create hope. People want to know that their tomorrows will be different than their yesterdays.”  — Bill Clinton,  July 14, 2009, Little Rock, AR

Former President Bill Clinton presented a clear agenda for change for rural America during his talk at the Philanthropy and Rural America conference, held last week at the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas.

I had never heard the former President speak, and was thrilled when I saw that Dee Davis from the Center for Rural Strategies had saved me a place at the front table.  Dee sat in front and videotaped the entire speech on his iPhone.

I attended the conference to meet people in rural areas who are engaged in robust community building activities. The Not In Our Town movement was born in the mostly-rural state of Montana.  Over the years, we have seen that both the sharpest needs for joint action against intolerance, and some of the brightest innovations have emerged from small towns.

As we celebrate the 20th anniversary  of The Working Group this week, I was heartened to hear President Clinton present some dynamic ideas that will address the challenges facing American workers.

A Green Agenda for Rural America

Speaking in his new role as a philanthropist, Clinton said that those who are not paying attention to the devastating effects of climate change will look back and realize they were “crazy” not to take action. He argued that wind and solar energy could be a boon to rural America, and would provide not only cleaner energy than coal or nuclear plants but significantly more jobs to hard hit communities.  And an even bigger job boon would be created for rural and urban areas if there were more investment in retrofitting current buildings to make them energy efficient.

The biggest obstacle to attacking the environmental and economic challenges is finance. He said the banks are sitting on 900 billion in capital and somehow it has to get moving. The President knew his crowd. The Conference on Rural Philanthropy gathered an amazing group of creative and committed foundation leaders from large funds like Kellogg and Ford  to smaller community based foundations who live and work in the areas they serve.

Like President Obama, Bill Clinton has an ability to make us see what is possible and encourage us to go after it.

While I will keep repeating Bill Clinton’s urgent message about climate change and jobs, the words that will stay with me forever are the simplest, but most powerful.

“You have to create hope.”  That’s what all of you are doing with the Not In Our Town movement. And we are proud to share your stories.


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