For the last decade the Rural Communities Foundation of Nova Scotia has supported community-based initiatives that improve understanding of issues facing the province’s rural and coastal communities, and offer solutions to some of the challenges these communities face. The organization has invested in projects that support and sustain rural communities throughout the province. It has funded projects that speak to the fabric of rural life in Nova Scotia. The focus has shifted over time from food security and homelessness, to leadership and innovation. The foundation has funded organizations that rehabilitate injured and sick birds and wild animals (Hope for Wildlife) and those that are revitalizing the spoken language of the province’s first nation peoples (Paqtnkek Mi’kmaw Nation Elders Activity Program). It has provided financial support for innovative housing projects (Inverness Cottage Workshop) and championed visionary thinking about the very way we deal with adaptive change (St. Margaret’s Bay Stewardship Association.)
The projects take different approaches, and address a variety of challenges, but each is a response to the threats that drain vitality from rural communities in Nova Scotia. “Of all the challenges facing rural areas of the province, none is more urgent than population decline,” says board chair Teresa MacNeil.
Nova Scotia’s resource-based economies are in decline, and as jobs disappear in the woods and on the waters, so do the young people. “Rural communities differ from each other in so many ways that there is no single, sure-fire way to reverse this trend. It has to be addressed from the perspective of residents who know their community and who can determine how to deal with the issues they face. That is why the Rural Communities Foundation of Nova Scotia identified leadership development and innovation as the two points of emphasis for its granting strategy,” says MacNeil.
The foundation was formed in 2001 through a partnership with Literacy Nova Scotia and the Coastal Communities Network. The two organizations formed the foundation to steward a fund of around $350,000 left over when The Atlantic Groundfish Strategy (TAGS) wrapped up in 1999. That federal government program had provided transition funding in response to the downturn in the fisheries sector. Given that traditional fisheries are the backbone of many rural communities in Nova Scotia, it was perhaps inevitable that this community foundation would focus solely on rural economies.
The foundation invested $150,000 of the TAGS seed money in a permanent endowment fund and began funding projects. In 2004 the foundation received a modest infusion of money from the settlement of a class action suit. More projects got funded.
In 2011 when the provincial government was looking for ways to help rural communities become more resilient and sustainable, it awarded the foundation $500,000 to be invested over two years in projects demonstrating innovative solutions to challenges facing rural Nova Scotia. In two rounds, the foundation sifted through dozens of project proposals and awarded significant grants to 13 projects.
“They offer grand examples of what can really be helped along if you are given sufficient funds,” says MacNeil.
Rural communities are not going to survive by doing things the same way they have been done for generations in the past. And like the rural communities it seeks to support, the foundation is looking for innovative answers to the challenges facing its future.
The board is now at a crossroads. Over the next few months penetrating debate will determine the foundation’s future course.
The chair says all options have to be considered so that the foundation can continue to be a partner in shaping the future face of rural Nova Scotia.