Strengthening Social Connection and Opportunities in Rural Communities

This article was originally published by Grantmakers in Health, Views from the Field and is accessible at:


Abena Asante, Senior Program Officer, St. David’s Foundation
William Moore, Principal, The Strategy Group and Senior Fellow, Midwest Center for Nonprofit Leadership


This brief describes an unfolding learning journey intended to strengthen social connection, resident voice, and agency to address inequities in rural health and well-being. Along the way, we have come to realize the important lessons for each of our institutions and ways in which we are better off for having taken this approach to our work.

The Foundation’s rural strategy ( centered social impact networks (Plastrik et al 2014), network weaving (Holley 2012), and sustained community engagement to create an expanding, diverse, inclusive resident-led network focused on health and wellbeing inequities often reinforced by historical and structural legacies of exclusion and privilege. Stuart (2014) notes, “this is one of those cases where a commitment to social justice is crucial. It is important to consider who is included in the “community” that is leading the process. Who is excluded from community leadership? Whose voices are missing from community debate? Whose interests are being served?” And if the community is driving decisions about their own development, what does that mean for how the Foundation should be investing in community?"

The community network approach in Central Texas prioritizes:

1. Centering the voices and lived experiences of rural BIPOC residents (equitable opportunity);

2. Seeding a network of interested resident leaders who have a deep understanding of their and their neighbors’ needs to direct their own community development work; creating new relationships; and offering new ways of working, thinking and leading in community; (i.e., social impact networks);

3. Engaging and supporting local residents to organize themselves to work on projects that move the community from talking about problems to taking action on problems (i.e., self-organizing);

4. Supporting residents who want to develop the leadership skills to engage other residents to work together in a resident-led network focused on health and wellbeing (i.e., network weavers); and

5. Putting a pool of resources into the hands of those who have the lived experiences of health inequity, poverty, social isolation; are closest to community problems; and who want to work with their peers to improve community health and wellbeing from a solidarity stance.