A party of American scholars is heading for three small Scottish islands to learn lessons from local people on ways to regenerate their own economy.
Seven students and three professors from the University of Kentucky will live and work on Bute, Jura and Gigha for the next two weeks. They will study first hand how rural and remote communities identify opportunities to develop their assets, businesses and services to create a long term sustainable way of life.
While there, they will carry out practical projects and offer their analysis of key issues for the island communities.
The international link has been created by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE), which attracts interest from across the world because of its unique business model. For over 40 years it has been delivering community and economic development as one and the same thing.
John Watt is HIE's Director of Strengthening Communities. He is confident the experience will offer the group a new perspective.
“Kentucky is a traditionally agricultural state and the group is particularly interested in looking at how Scotland's communities are making best use of their land assets. The most remote and rural areas of the Highlands and Islands are often the most innovative. We are seeing communities driving their own economic development in many different ways. This could be through income generating renewable energy projects, by taking advantage of an area's heritage and culture to provide unique tourism provision, or by focusing on making quality products,” he said.
Bryan Hains, Assistant Professor of Community and Leadership Development at the University of Kentucky says they want to study the Highlands and islands to examine examples of leadership development in a rural setting.
“Our students want to learn how rural Scottish communities use community development practices to enhance their quality of life. When they return, they will utilise what they have learned to influence their own rural and urban communities both personally and professionally.
“Examining the development model which HIE implements in the region is beneficial because it is continually tested and produces positive results. HIE associates have also worked diligently to adapt their activities to be cross cultural, making it useful for many international communities,” he said.
The group, which includes undergraduates and PhD students, also wants to look at how Scotland's past can play a part in the future. Bryan commented:
“Before heading off to the islands tomorrow we are all visiting Inveraray Castle and Auchindrain Museum today. These will be fascinating examples of how the culture and heritage of Scotland benefit the current generation and rural economy by providing jobs, a vibrant tourism provision and living educational facilities.”
The Kentucky party will divide into three small groups for the two weeks they are staying on the islands. They will take part in project work in the communities, offering feedback on what they find and using the experience to help shape their own analysis on how social and economic development are interlinked.
On Jura the main areas of exploration will be alternative energy provision and croft development. On the Isle of Bute the students will be developing an action plan to get island products to market. On Gigha the students will look at social infrastructure and how the various communities can work together to meet long term needs.
HIE's John Watt commented: “We are very proud that as part of their training the University looked to Scotland, and particularly the Highlands and Islands, for a model which encourages entrepreneurial thinking and actions from within communities by the people who live there. These activities grow out of specific need in fragile areas, out of a desire to create opportunities but also out of the shared knowledge, experience and culture of the communities themselves. It is HIE's aim to continue to support these communities in identifying the opportunities which will help them grow.”