Central Appalachian Network
The Central Appalachian Network was established in 1992 after several nonprofit organizations in Kentucky, Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia began exploring intersections in their work. Anchored by a steering committee of seven large non-profit organizations, CAN facilitates a network of anchor organizational partners and sector-focused working groups that coordinate regional analysis and strategies in six Central Appalachian states.
How we support the Central Appalachian Network
CAN’s strength as a network has allowed it to become more intentional in advancing specific work in key economic sectors: food systems, clean energy and creative placemaking. This work is led by working groups made up of representatives from CAN’s seven core network member organizations or the more than 50 other organizations (CAN describes this as its “network of networks”). For example, in 2019, the clean energy working group worked to disperse rapid response advocacy mini-grants to organizations in the region working on clean energy, and coordinate a communications campaign which lifted up important stories and placed them in regional news outlets.
While CAN has no formal staff, Rural Support Partners, a Western North Carolina-based social enterprise that supports Appalachian nonprofits, serves as the network coordinator, scheduling and guiding meetings of a steering committee, setting the annual budget, and more. CAN raises funds to pay for these contract services, advance the shared work of the network, and provide stipends to the Steering Committee members. As an anchor organization and fiscal sponsor, Mountain Association supports CAN by providing back office support, including payroll services, human resources, and other administrative needs. Having us as a fiscal partner allows CAN to provide audited financials to potential funders and keep overhead costs at a sustainable level.
Learn more about CAN: https://www.cannetwork.org/
What’s Next East Kentucky?!
What’s Next EKY!? (WNEKY) is a network of community-based and regional partners who connect and learn from one another to improve and move their communities toward a new economy. Initial WNEKY conversations began in 2017 when community groups from several counties observed that while multiple regional intermediaries and organizations were leading various initiatives to support community economic development, there was little collaboration between those groups, or across county lines.
How we support What’s Next EKY?!
A group of leaders came together in 2017 to apply ideas around network theory to the blossoming work they were doing. They were faced with an over-arching question: Why build another network when several Eastern Kentucky and Central Appalachian networks already existed? The answer was found in the well-documented parochialism that exists from county to county, and even within counties between the county seats and more rural areas. Community identity and membership is distinct, well understood and often related to geographic and political boundaries. Rivals are identified early in life through sports in the school systems, and the experience of resource scarcity for community development, which perpetuates a spirit of competition rather than collaboration between communities. And while other networks have championed traditional approaches such as industrial recruitment, many grassroots groups in the region favor more locally-driven approaches.
After several months of discussion, the partners decided they would support development of a new grassroots network of communities in Eastern Kentucky. In thinking about next steps for their coalition, they came together at the annual Brushy Fork Institute in Berea, Kentucky. A steering committee came out of that gathering and later that year, the What’s Next EKY?! network was born.
The Mountain Association recognizes that solutions must address issues on individual, community and regional levels, and they must be rooted in place, culture and local knowledge. As a part of developing these solutions, we have focused explicitly on developing and growing a network of local community groups across Eastern Kentucky to demonstrate what is possible with strong inter-regional collaboration. We helped form the WNEKY network in 2017, and have supported its Steering Committee to build and grow its work.
We know that many networks fail because participants don’t have the capacity to ensure the work is being advanced, so we provided fiscal sponsorship and initial capacity for backbone support. Our definition of just transition rests upon the work being led by communities, and WNEKY holds this principle as its primary value.
Today, WNEKY’s mission is to build relationships, connect communities, celebrate successes and collaborate to support a thriving Eastern Kentucky, guided by values of inclusion, mutual respect, accountability and equity. At the core of its work is convening community leaders and lifting up ideas that are working in the region.
In 2018, WNEKY hosted physical tours of various communities. In a tour of Carter County, stops included Grayson Gallery & Art Center, which was established in 2011 to provide the community with a place to gather around the arts, a lunch with the owner of the Drive-In Restaurant, and a trip to Smokey Valley Farms. These learning journeys took the format of a town hall in 2019 and 2020, wherein people visited a community to hear from a series of speakers about what is working in their town. The network pivoted and began hosting virtual community connections meetings in 2020 in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. As of the beginning of 2020, nearly 30 community groups and entities from 16 Eastern Kentucky counties have participated in WNEKY network activities.
The Mountain Association recently began contracting with Brushy Fork Institute at Berea College to provide coordination services, including communication, meeting support, follow up on action items, and logistics. This ensures the work moves forward and that steering committee members do not feel overburdened, which can create burn out and high turnover of volunteers.
With the Mountain Association remaining the fiscal sponsor, and with the support of other regional nonprofit partners, part of WNEKY’s aim is to bring more resources to communities through technical assistance, funding, leadership development, training for entrepreneurs, and development of local food, arts and tourism sectors. Our hope is that WNEKY will build more trust and stronger relationships across the region; support the growth of stronger leaders and organizations; leverage more funding for communities and greater influence on policy and systemic change that is needed; and, accelerate change through collaboration and regional initiatives. While this network is at an early stage, a strong foundation has been laid to support a strong organization that can and will help advance a just economic transition in Eastern Kentucky.
Learn more about WNEKY: https://whatsnexteky.org/