@JimCollins: rural communities just announced their BHAG!

North America — 90% World — 66%

These numbers represent the population projections of people living in urban centres by the year 2050.

Does that scare you?

It should.

We’re fighting against the clock as the world urbanizes and our rural communities disappear.

What does rural population decline mean?

Reduced Population = Dilution of Rural Voice, Perspective and Political Power

This directly translates into decisions being made about and for rural residents instead of with and by them.

Limited Political Voice and Tax Dollars = Cuts in Essential Services

This directly translates into increased poverty, hardship and the loss of identity — global rural impoverishment.

Cuts in Essential Services = Struggle to Stay and Push to Leave

This directly translates into urban centres inheriting displaced and defeated people who don’t want to be there.

Fewer Rural Communities = a larger population but a smaller world (in the pejorative sense.)

Disregard for the interdependence of rural and urban directly translates into environmental and social challenges that will negatively affect future development, limiting diversity and innovation.

Why the urgency now? We’ve been having these conversations for decades.

15 years ago the Harris P.C. Government in Ontario, Canada commissioned a report on small, rural and remote communities for the Panel on the Role of Government. It reads like A Modest Proposal by Jonathan Swift, but unlike the 1700’s political satire, the report made real recommendations that included “planning for downsizing,” and “relocation grants.”

From the Report:

One part of this settlement strategy will have to be devising innovative methods of “planning for downsizing” or, as defined above, planning for decline among existing communities, but done on a thoughtful and humane basis. This will initially require convincing communities that their future is smaller, and then working with those communities to achieve that shrinkage while maintaining a viable and vibrant quality of life.
While it is recognized that an appealing natural environment offering opportunities for recreational activity can be a major asset contributing to local quality of life, this alone is insufficient in the absence of more urban-focused quality of place attributes. In those communities without sufficient potential, the goal of provincial policy should be to facilitate downsizing in an orderly and systematic way.
While it is fashionable to pursue economic development strategies for smaller and remote communities that promote diversification, it should be acknowledged that regionally appropriate activities should form the basis for a sound economic development effort.

While this interpretation of the data is heavily influenced by an urban-centric perspective it continues to be at the centre of political debate everywhere (from board rooms to kitchen tables.) The report is clearly provocative and made me feel like an insecure school kid being forced to validate my existence before being allowed to sit at the table with the city kids (but only for a second.)

The report data used to make the recommendations 15 years ago hasn’t improved.

It cites high rapidly aging populations, high out-migration of youth, low immigration, high levels of social dependency, a weak tax base, a lack of economic diversity and opportunity.

Sound familiar?

Data experts will say it’s impossible to slow the rate of urbanization that is expected to claim 90% of our North American population and 66% of our world population.

We don’t believe that.

We have faith in the future and so should you.

This is our 4-minute mile. For years it was generally accepted that it is impossible for a human being to run a mile in under 4 minutes. That belief has now been disproven many times with new records being set. There’s no statistical accounting for human will. Red Bull television wouldn’t be as popular as it is if we didn’t love to challenge the “inevitability” of things.

But, make no mistake we do not have the luxury of investing in small, conservative improvements in our rural economy any longer. We need new opportunities.

If you do not change direction you may end up where you are heading — Lao Tzu

Enter our Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal!

A BHAG is a long-term goal that changes the very nature of something. It’s almost impossible to achieve without working outside of your comfort zone. It involves committing to a huge daunting challenge like climbing a mountain and it exudes a relentless sense of urgency.

Our BHAG:

10 Years

10 000 Communities

say “not mine!”

By June 2028 at least 10,000 small communities from around the world will report that urban growth DIDN’T come from their community.

Are you living Rural on Purpose? This is your BHAG too!

What are we doing to get there?

1. We’re working to create “entrepreneurial” rural communities — communities that are ambitious, confident and are rock stars at opportunity identification, with systems in place to test and iterate. We pilot uniquely rural solutions to high impact workforce trends like the growth of independent professionals that is predicted to make up the majority of our workforce within the next decade, in order to provide economic opportunities and attract new residents to our rural communities.

2. We are building a place for people and organizations to find each other and connect. We’re all doing important work and engaging in a global dialogue around rural issues (gathering data and building relationships) is going to accelerate development and delivery of solutions to all.

Let’s get started! Please reach out. Join the conversation or better yet — start one. Tell us what you’re doing to strengthen your rural community.

Join our SLACK group (online group discussions) here.

BHAGs are bold, falling in the grey area where reason and prudence might say “This is unreasonable,” but the drive for progress says, “We believe we can do it nonetheless.” Jim Collins


Rural on Purpose is a social enterprise with a global mission to change the course of rural communities and introduce a new era of rural leadership, confidence and prosperity.

…by piloting high impact programs that

1. fuel entrepreneurial ambition and thinking

2. support the development of the Independent Professional workforce

3. create new business ecosystems that attract investment and new residents.