Staff Blog

This is a space where Foundation staff share their thoughts and musings on giving and community:

Philanthropy for Rural Economic Development

Posted by: Chelsea Bardot Lewis on 8/18/2017

This summer has been bittersweet, being the first one in 11 years that I haven’t lived or worked on a farm. After the birth of our son, my husband and I decided that we would hit the pause button on our farm business, giving us more time for family. It has been nice to wake up in the morning without a sore back, and to relish more social time on the weekends and take our first week-long summer vacation since we graduated from college. However, we both miss owning a business and being a part of Vermont’s vibrant agricultural economy.

In my previous position leading the business development team at the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, I worked closely with food, farm, and forest sector businesses across the state. By their very nature, these working lands companies have a deep connection to Vermont, stewarding our natural resources to produce our food, clothing, homes, and heat. The jobs that they create retain and attract young families, building vibrancy in our local communities. In every sector, social enterprises are part of the movement towards cleaner energy and environment, higher quality healthcare, more accessible learning opportunities, and greater social connectivity.

The day that I accepted the job at the Vermont Community Foundation, President Dan Smith sent me an article that I have read, re-read, and carried with me for the past two months. Entitled “A New Domain for Place-Rooted Foundations: Economic Development Philanthropy,” it outlines the important role that community foundations like ours can play to drive towards an economy that benefits all.

So what is the role for the Foundation in economic development? An example: this month, the Vermont Business Roundtable released its 3rd Quarter Business Conditions Survey, in which 71% of companies responded that they had a negative outlook when it came to finding qualified candidates for available positions. At the same time, we know that too many Vermonters are unable to get ahead. The McClure Foundation is playing a leadership role in bridging this gap, investing in career education and highlighting promising career pathways for young Vermonters.

The Vermont Community Foundation was one of the first foundations to put a portion of our investment portfolio to work in a way that supports our mission, with a 2001 commitment to invest 5% of our total assets in Vermont. I am excited to be a part of the team considering how we can leverage these investments with our grantmaking in new and exciting ways. I look forward to working and learning together with our family of donors, nonprofits, and businesses.

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