In southwest Minnesota, approximately one in six kids lives in poverty; research shows that not all of these kids, no matter how hard they try, will be able to reach their full potential. This impacts not just individual families, but also companies’ bottom lines and entire communities.
On Dec. 15, the Southwest Initiative Foundation (SWIF) hosted the Grow Our Own summit at Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall. A full lineup of experts focused on how everyone has a role to play in preparing the next generation to succeed.
According to Julie Rath of the Redwood Area Development Corporation (RADC), who was one of the summit planning team members, the event was attended by more than 550 people, including  individuals, elected officials, employers, community leaders, educators and students and was open to the public.
“Our sense of ‘we’ has shriveled,” said keynote speaker Robert D. Putnam, Malkin Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University and author of Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis. “This is a big deal for all of us.”
Additional speakers focused on state and regional information, with experts from The Carsey School of Public Policy, Northwest Area Foundation, The Minnesota Children’s Cabinet, The Aspen Institute and YouthBuild USA.
The day’s focus was the “opportunity gap” faced by American youth, where the division of economic classes is widening and children born into poor families are unable to access the opportunities they need to become successful.
Specific areas of discussion were inclusion as an economic growth strategy and how kids can be supported from cradle to career in order to prepare the next generation of workforce.
SWIF believes the region’s economy depends on the success of our next generation, and this event kicked off SWIF’s new focus on supporting all of southwest Minnesota kids and the communities they call home.
As these kids are the region’s future employees, entrepreneurs, community leaders, homeowners, volunteers and taxpayers, SWIF wants to work to ensure the American Dream can stay within reach of these kids.
“Too many kids in our region aren’t getting the best possible start to their lives,” said Diana Anderson, SWIF president/CEO. “We can, and must, do something to change that. The time is now, while we are working from a position of strength with the ability to preserve and protect our precious assets rather than reacting to an impending crisis.”
Anderson said leaders across the state and country are watching SWIF’s work unfold.
Attendees were equipped with knowledge and a sense of urgency about this work, as well as ideas to consider in their own communities and businesses. Looking ahead, SWIF will use its resources and tools of business finance, grant making, early childhood and community philanthropy to ensure that the next generation has the opportunity to succeed in southwest Minnesota.
Rath said the message was about what can be done together to help everyone’s kids see success, and not to dwell on the past or point fingers.
Rath said she learned that it is about interweaving the resources of not only individuals communities but all of the communities and their resources.
Rath added for any effort to be successful as it relates to kids those being impacted by the decisions also need to be involved in the conversation.
When decisions are made one of the questions that needs to be asked is whether or not it will make life better for every child. Find more at www.swifoundation.org.