Until recently, a whole lot of community-minded folks who were hard at work in the crooks, crannies and corners of South Dakota may have been thinking they were alone in their desires to make their communities better.
“The big challenge of being rural is … just the distance between us,” said Heidi Marttila-Losure, publisher and editor-in-chief of Dakotafire Media, in a video from the event, created by Pinnacle Productions. “The advantage that cities have is that there is a concentration of people in one place that you can bounce ideas off of and get inspiration from. RuralX is really … bringing everybody in that same place and creating a … city-like experience for a day.”
After converging in Aberdeen July 19-20 for RuralX , an event created by the nonprofit organization Dakota Resources  to bring together folks’ RuralX-periences, those do-ers were empowered by a network of other do-ers, ready to do and create together.
“We know that connections were made and were made stronger” at RuralX, said Beth Davis, president of Dakota Resources. “We know that people learned. People had new ideas and new conversations. We know that people felt comfortable and welcomed and happy to be together in community.”
RuralX’s focus was bringing the people and ideas together that could help promote rural Dakota life, but the event was a bit different than most gatherings of economic and community developers. Inspiring presentations and insightful speeches were sprinkled into the days’ activities, but the bigger focus centered on conversations.
“There’s so much less emphasis on sharing by lecturers, and so much more emphasis on sharing with each other,” small-town advocate Becky McCray said in the Pinnacle film. “That is the kind of thing that really makes a difference.”
Hugh Weber, CEO of OTA and the Institute of Possibility, spoke about the power of networks at RuralX.
“Research shows that your influence (extends) not only to your friends, the first degree; not only to your friends’ friends, the second-degree ripples; but to your friends’ friends’ friends,” he said. “Which means that on everything from altruism to obesity, you have an impact on everyone around you.”
So if the goal is making rural communities better, change-makers will have more energy, creativity and motivation to succeed if they are connected with others who share those goals.
McCray took it a step further in her presentation with business partner Deb Brown, saying that multi-tiered relationships are key to community-building.
“Make the connections within our community among all the experimenters, and then build the connections outside your community,” McCray said. “It’s not that other places don’t have opposition. … That committee of negativity is still meeting—they are still complaining, but fewer and fewer people are listening to them, because the center of power has shifted … to you when you gather your crowd and you … find the people who are willing to take small steps with you. Then, you have a dozen people—20 people, 100 people, all taking small steps, all trying things out, all experimenting with you.”
The summit’s events inspired some RuralX-goers to look beyond that committee of negativity in their own work.
“For me personally, getting beyond that ‘people don’t support me’ (notion) because three people don’t support me” is difficult, but important, said entrepreneur Liz Hannum of Aberdeen, S.D. “The people who are naysayers usually have the power in town, and can make or break a project I’m working on. Connecting with them can be difficult, and I tend to get hung up on that, rather than trusting my supporters.”
Organizers recently announced that the second RuralX Summit will happen in Aberdeen in July 2017.