Really? Why a Greater Minnesota Fellowship?

Like everything the Minnesota Initiative Foundations do, the Initiators Fellowship supports rural renewal, revitalization and renaissance by supporting budding entrepreneurs who demonstrate a commitment to their community by including a social benefit in their business idea.

The Goal: Accelerate Positive Impact for the greater good

As you’ve read about the Initiators Fellowship, maybe you’ve found yourself wondering: “What are these people trying to accomplish with this program? It seems like a lot of resources invested in a few people.” 

As the relatively new program manager for the Fellowship—I’ve been in this role since March—I’ve asked myself this same question. I hope I NEVER stop asking that question, really. Our answer drives the entire design of the program. 

I was recently considering this question with program consultant Andrea Davila, and she asked me, “What is the problem we’re trying to solve with the Fellowship? Is there a shortage of social enterprises in Greater Minnesota? Is there a lack of leadership?”

I thought about it and then went with my knee-jerk response: Like everything the Minnesota Initiative Foundations do, this program is fundamentally about rural vitality. This Fellowship supports rural renewal, revitalization, renaissance—call it what you will—by supporting budding entrepreneurs who demonstrate commitment to their community through the addition of a social focus to their business idea. Making a profit is not sufficient for these folks. Doing good has to be part of the equation. 

And, if we’re betting on individuals to help catalyze community development, these selected Fellows must also show promise for having an outsize positive impact on the life of their community. We sometimes think of this in ecological terms. In natural communities there are species, called keystone species, that have a “disproportionate impact” on the rest of their community.

We are looking for “keystone leaders” to be Initiators Fellows. Then, once we select these individuals from our rich pool of intriguing and committed applicants, we support them with money, training, mentorship, etc., to help them fast-track their outsize impact.

If there is a problem to be solved by the Fellowship, it’s that imaginative, engaged, committed people in our rural communities don’t have the support they need to have their “disproportionate impact” right now. So, that’s why we’re stepping in. We want to help accelerate the positive and powerful impact of these individuals on their communities and on all of Greater Minnesota.