Rural Policies will be the Focus of International Conference

Rural America isn’t alone in dealing with issues like economic inequality, outmigration, resource extraction, and Indigenous peoples’ rights. A biennial international conference this fall will bring together leaders from the U.S. and other industrialized democracies to explore solutions.

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How can policies raise well-being in rural areas? The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has been examining such issues for over 40 years. OECD’s 12th Rural Development Conference will bring together people from across the globe to answer this question. Meeting in Seoul, Korea, on 24-26

In September 2019, the conference will include sessions on the role of innovation and digitalization in revitalizing rural communities to make them attractive for business and residents. Also featured will be examinations of strategies to deliver quality public services and to help rural regions transition to a low carbon economy.

Based in Paris, the OECD is an international organization that works with its 36 member countries, including the United States, to support better public policies.1

Growing out the post-World-War-II Marshall Plan, the OECD is essentially a think tank for the world’s industrialized democracies. It has been engaged in rural development work for over 40 years. A basic principle of the OECD’s recommendations on rural policy is to focus on developing local assets. This includes the belief that in any place local people should set their own development strategy. Local people, in OECD’s view, typically have the best knowledge of what they want and are best positioned to know how to go about achieving it. The success of large numbers of rural regions highlights the potential that can be tapped when rural communities are able to mobilize their place-based assets. Governments can play a role in creating an enabling environment for rural communities to achieve their development objectives.

The OECD has produced recommendations and data and analysis to support governments to implement better rural development policies. This work also includes shared definitions of sub-national regions to enable international comparisons (predominantly urban, intermediate and rural). Thirteen National Rural Policy Reviews have been undertaken with member countries and provide policy recommendations on issues such as boosting rural productivity, promoting economic diversification, delivering better public services, and improving coordination between levels of government. Thematic work has also been undertaken on linking renewable energy to rural development, Indigenous economic development, food security and nutrition, and urban-rural linkages. This work culminated in the OECD Regional Development Policy Committee adopting principles on rural policy to help member countries implement better policies.

An example of the OECD’s rural analyses is the recent Rural 3.0. A Framework for Rural Development. One “policy lesson” identified in Rural 3.0 is the need to foster a multi-sectoral approach to rural policy with engagement from public, private, and non-profit sectors. The U.S. has advanced this approach with, for example, federal programs at USDA, Commerce, HUD, the Appalachian Regional Commission, the CDFI Fund, and other agencies; with private and corporate philanthropy; and with rural NGOs working in every state and region.

Another example of OECD work is a recently completed major study on Indigenous communities and rural development. Although there is great diversity in the development objectives and conditions of Indigenous peoples, they face common economic development challenges and opportunities. For the first time, this study brings together lessons and leading practices from across OECD member countries (including the United States) to improve Indigenous statistics and data governance, create an enabling environment for Indigenous entrepreneurs and small business, mobilize development opportunities on Indigenous lands, and strengthen local governance and partnerships.

Rural practitioners and scholars in the United States may be interested in following the OECD’s work. U. S. rural issues in an international context are important if they can be compared to the situations of other industrialized countries. Some trend and factors that the U. S. shares with other developed nations include working with Indigenous communities, growing inequalities, rural outmigration and population ageing, specialization in natural resource extraction, and increasing diversification into non-agricultural activities. Importantly, the OECD provides a platform to share lessons about how to address these challenges and opportunities.

The OECD Rural Development Conference is a core part of this knowledge-sharing and is held every two years. The first conference was held in Siena, Italy, in 2002. These conferences provide a forum for governments, community organisations and business to engage in dialogue and knowledge-sharing on rural policy across the OECD. The 10th Conference, held in Memphis, Tennessee, in 2015, focused on the contributions that rural areas make to national prosperity and well-being. Information about previous conferences can be found here.

Attendees at the Seoul conference will have the opportunity to learn about leading policy and practices in rural development and share good practices from around the world. For further information and an opportunity to register interest in the conference please contact ruralconference@oecd.org

Chris McDonald has been a policy analyst in the Regional and Rural Development Team of the Centre for Entrepreneurship, SMEs, Regions and Cities at the OECD since 2015. He leads projects on Indigenous economic development and on mining and extractive industries.

Joe Belden is a writer and lecturer on rural issues, based in Washington, D.C.

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