By Tim Leeds
A funny thing happened to Jonathan Richter and some associates while on the way to a grant application.
In the process of researching and applying for a grant to increase the use of modern technology in the area, Richter ended up developing a web site to act as a community think tank. The site is designed to enhance the ability of rural communities to change thought and action to participate in the modern economy and in modern technology. It also acts as a clearinghouse for news, events and 21st century trends affecting life in and the futures of rural communities.
Richter, coordinator of the Preparing Tomorrows Teachers to use Technology (PT3) grant at Montana State University-Northern, was working with others in Havre to apply for a grant from the Hewlett-Packard Company. While researching for the grant application, Richter met people from other organizations. These meetings resulted in the creation of the North American Rural Futures Institute web site and started the investigation of an institute at Northern to research and implement the use of technology in rural areas.
The group, including leaders from city and county government, the school systems, The Havre Area Chamber of Commerce and Bear Paw Development Corporation of North Montana, began researching the Hewlett Packard Digital Village grant last summer. The grant would have provided up to $15 million worth of cash and development to up to three selected communities with limited technological access and expertise. The group working on the grant met at 7 a.m. every Tuesday from August through November to research and write the grant application.
Havre was not one of the communities Hewlett Packard chose to participate in the grant, but Richter said he met Rick Smyres, of the Communities of the Future (COTF,) while attending a conference related to technology. COTF, a network of community centers and futures institutes, has the goal of helping communities, through research and development, find ways to obtain a sustainable future in the modern world and economy.
Richter said Smyres' COTF was working to put together a Global 21st Century Rural Network in collaboration with the North Carolina Rural Center. He said Smyres told him, "You're more than welcome to join us."
The concept of The Global Rural Network Project (GRNP) is to develop partnerships, networking and collaborations of different rural areas to explore, develop and implement the use of modern technology, to participate in the modern "digital age."
Richter said participating in GRNP also gives Havre the opportunity to be a "node" in COTF. A node is a participating group that also can be the starting point to expand the network to other areas.
One node in COTF is Sohodojo, a a web-based on-line business community headquartered in Raleigh, N.C. Sohodojo is described on its web site as an applied research and development lab for "entrepreneurial free agents and dejobbed small businesses ," which serves its owners and their community through the development of new business models and modern technologies to support "Small is Good' business webs."
Richter said the creators of Sohodojo, Jim Salmons and Timlynn Babitsky, are "two incredibly knowledgeable and creative individuals," who are regular and respected contributors to the ideas of modern small business. He said they are the hosts of the NARFI web site.
Richter said the NARFI website is now in collaboration with 14-20 other sites around the world, with members in the United States and other countries, including Canada, Mexico, Australia, Scotland and Russia.
"By establishing the rural futures institute, we have become part of the Communities of the Future and have affiliations with these supporting networks," Richter said. "We're the flagship for the Global Rural 21st Century project."
He said NARFI will be intimately connected to 14 communities around the world, working together on grant proposals and other partnerships.
Richter said a major next step is to try to find funding for the Rural Futures Institute, a research and development program at Northern. He said they are in contact with the Montana U.S. congressional delegation, trying to get support for the project. He said Sen. Max Baucus has already said he will support the project if enough local support can be shown.
On the 'net: North American Rural Futures Institute: http://www.narfi.org/
Communities of the Future: http://www.communitiesofthefuture.org