First Person: Commentary by UO student Joy Gipson

| Print |  Email
Archives - February 2007
Thursday, February 01, 2007

JoyGipson0207.jpgThe Finland connection

An international partnership project promotes vitality for rural Oregon.

By Joy Gipson

As a full-time planning and public policy student at the University of Oregon, a year and a half ago, I had a crazy idea that wouldn’t leave me alone. It involved rural communities, international partnering and community development, and arose partly from the cultural isolation that I experienced growing up in rural Oregon. I took my idea to my professor’s office, expecting him to tell me it was too big and too strange to contemplate. Instead he pondered it for a while with a little gleam in his eye and suggested I start writing a proposal.

While I was writing the proposal over and over (and over), I looked for information about overseas rural-development programs that might be interested in my concept. I discovered an inspiring program in Finland and e-mailed Peter Backa with the Swedish Study Centre, which supports community development efforts of Swedish-speaking villages in Finland. When I didn’t hear back for a few weeks I wrote him again. I fully expected him to put me off, but he responded to say he was intrigued.

My persistence landed me in Finland. I worked with Backa’s organization to create a development-focused rural community partnership program between Finland and Oregon. The purpose of this program is to give locals more tools for generating grassroots answers to their communities’ challenges and to build community capacity through broadened perspectives. Oregonians could learn a lot from Finns about how much is possible to accomplish on a local level, and Finns could learn from Oregonians about finding creative, off-the-cuff solutions to obstacles. My thesis is that industry development and job retention are easy when you have an active community working on issues. 

Another primary purpose of the partnership program is to introduce new perspectives on values and culture, as the cultural narrowness of rural communities can interfere with effective problem-solving.

Rural communities in Europe are tackling the same issues that our rural communities face — dwindling populations, closure of small schools, consolidation of farms. Finland is at the forefront in supporting grassroots solutions to these challenges.

We started small. We connected a pair of communities in Western Finland and Eastern Oregon and  are working out the structure of the program as we go. While I have a fairly concrete vision for these partnerships, I also believe that the communities should decide how they want to connect, what they want to do and discuss, and what they want to get out of it.

One main function of this program is to involve students in learning about how their community works and how it is affected by rural policy. I also figure it can’t hurt to have an exciting foreign partnership program right in the old hometown. Certainly all rural areas would like to see more of their young people stay local or come back to settle down, so anything that makes the countryside more attractive to young people is welcome.

First, the students participating in the program document their town’s situation with local stories and pictures. Then they gather information from people in the partner community about their rural-development issues.

And at the same time that the young people are learning all this, the adults will also be learning. Some will choose e-mail partners, and they will have access to question-and-answer forums in which rural-development ideas, frustrations and solutions are shared.

As these partnerships multiply they will all be accessed from one website, (yet to be developed) to make all of the ideas available for anyone to read.

The first communities involved are Halfway and Jeppo (pronounced YEP-po). They have begun by having fourth- and fifth-graders e-mail each other and pairing up adults by position and interest to e-mail each other. Halfway put together a successful Finnish Christmas celebration. The Village Association in Jeppo has officially adopted this project, and the Lions clubs and their members in the two communities are connecting.

I have more villages in Finland interested in joining this project and I’m exploring the possibility of giving it a permanent home at the University of Oregon. Gauging from the enthusiasm in Halfway, I know there are other Oregon towns that would benefit from the connection.

Joy Gipson, a 36-year-old native of the rural Willamette Valley, returned from Finland in December. She will graduate from the University of Oregon in June.


Have an opinion? E-mail This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

 

More Articles

Shades of Gray

May 2015
Monday, April 27, 2015
BY KIM MOORE

Are we too quick to diagnose corruption?


Read more...

Foundations perspective

May 2015
Monday, April 27, 2015
BY KIM MOORE

A conversation with Martha Richards, executive director of the James F. & Marion L. Miller Foundation.


Read more...

6 development projects reshaping Bend

The Latest
Thursday, April 09, 2015
bendthumbBY JACOB PALMER | DIGITAL NEWS EDITOR

Bend has reclaimed its prerecession title as one of the fastest growing cities in the country.


Read more...

The Good Hacker

May 2015
Friday, April 24, 2015
BY CHRIS HIGGINS

As digital security breaches skyrocket, a cybersleuth everyman takes center stage.


Read more...

Undersea Power

June 2015
Friday, May 22, 2015
BY JACOB PALMER

Mike Morrow and Mike Delos-Reyes first came up with the idea of an ocean power device 23 years ago, when they were students at Oregon State University. They realized a long-held vision last summer, when their startup, M3 Wave, successfully launched the first ocean power device that works underwater.


Read more...

Change at the pump?

The Latest
Tuesday, May 26, 2015
001thumbBY JASON E. KAPLAN | STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER

New Jersey and Oregon are the only two states in the U.S. that ban self serve gas stations. But these two holdouts may be ready to give up the game. New Jersey is considering legislation that would lift the state's ban on pumping your own gas. Oregon is considering smaller scale changes.


Read more...

Make the Case

May 2015
Monday, April 27, 2015

10 briefcases that mean business.


Read more...
Oregon Business magazinetitle-sponsored-links-02
SPONSORED LINKS