Rural Ontario is more than farms with villages and larger towns spaced between farmland.
It is a place filled with people enjoying strong agricultural traditions bolstered by local industries.
However, leadership is always something that a culture can never get enough of, and the Rural Ontario Institute has amongst its many programs one called the ‘Rural Change Maker’ program.
Just like a crop in a farmer’s field, rural leaders either agriculturally bent or supporting members of a rural community do not just happen.
The Rural Change Maker program nourishes leadership qualities and grows the next generation of emerging rural leaders.
Communications manager and program coordinator for the Rural Ontario Institute, (ROI) Melanie Bidiuk said, “The Rural Change Maker (RCM) program is the culmination of 10-years of youth programming by the Rural Ontario Institute (ROI). RCM launched as a pilot in 2021, with the upcoming program welcoming a third cohort of emerging rural leaders in July.”
A brief description of the program taken from The Rural Ontario Institute’s website states, “The Rural Ontario Institute will select and prepare up to 36 motivated young adults, between the ages of 18-35, from across Ontario to address community identified priorities in their region. Up to three regional partners will be established, setting the stage for local youth recruitment to the RCM program, leadership skills training and hyper-local community economic development projects. As a group, these leaders will participate in a series of developmental learning labs and come together for face-to-face experiential gatherings supporting them to take action on a challenge/opportunity they have selected in their community. Changemakers will be supported by coaches, mentors, partners, and each other.”
The RCM program encourages young people from a rural environment to lead community development solutions within their communities.
Bidiuk believes young leaders are crucial to the future of rural Ontario.
Once engaged, their leadership will help foster a sense of belonging, value, and relevance.
The program is continually updated.
Bidiuk said, “What is unique this year is that RCM has been “co-designed” and directly informed by the perspectives of rural youth engaged through a Trillium supported project called Young Rural Resilient – an initiative aimed to understand the unique needs, priorities and aspirations of rural, remote and Indigenous youth in Ontario.”
She added,” Rural change makers come from all walks of life and diverse backgrounds with a common thread through each – they have rural roots and a desire to grow both their leadership abilities and local solutions to community-identified priorities. Something the YRR project showed us is that youth care deeply about rural priorities like food security, housing, equality, reconciliation, elder care, agriculture and community wellbeing. It also showed us that the pandemic had profound impact on rural, remote and Indigenous youth with resource insecurities driving a sense of disconnection and instability.”
The program is free. There is only room for 36 applicants and the deadline for applying to the program is approaching in June.
The ROI is hoping to attract applicants 18 to 35 year’s old from all across Ontario.
Program participants have the opportunity to learn leadership skills but also encourage their own personal growth.
Bidiuk explained, “Something the upcoming RCM program has thoughtfully considered in the curriculum, and program model with supportive mechanisms built into the design is peer groups, coaches, mentors, elders and partners coming alongside youth on their program journey. Leadership and community development training also addresses this need with a blend of self-development and core skills training that is transformative personally and professionally.”
The Rural Ontario Institute offers several different programs such as the BUILD Leadership Training, Rural Community Wellbeing, and Rural Housing Information System project.