Regionality has been top of mind for me lately. Regionality, defined as an arrangement or ordering in regions, often becomes a roadblock for change, advancement and innovation. The part that bothers me most is the ‘ordering’ portion – the thought that one region is better, faster, stronger, than another. Between political regions, geographical regions and other arbitrary boundaries, it can sometimes feel like the world is constantly dividing.
In my line of work around entrepreneurship, economic development and community development, that buzz word – collaboration – is thrown around. Often I hear the old adage “all boats rise in a high tide.” But what does all of that really mean? Which boats are we truly willing to collaborate with?
At the Conductor, we often coach our entrepreneurs that there are riches in niches, but are there riches in regions? I’ve wondered if regionality may have its benefits and even participated in it myself. But, then again, why would my area of the state, the country, the world be unable or unwilling to team up with others when we’re all trying to accomplish the same things?
That’s where my love for Global Entrepreneurship Week began. Global Entrepreneurship Week, aka GEW, is a collection of tens of thousands of activities, competitions and events held each November that inspires millions to explore their potential as entrepreneurs. The central purpose of GEW is to foster deeper cross border collaborations and initiatives. To date, there have been GEW events in over 170 countries with over 35,000 events and 9 million participants.
I love GEW’s ability to remove regionality, creating opportunities to talk and collaborate with others. We found through our work with GEW that we all have similar goals – supporting, cultivating and celebrating entrepreneurs, innovators, makers, small business owners, investors, policymakers and founders. Even when the people we’re working with are in Eureka Springs, Fayetteville, Fort Smith, Searcy or even Gutenberg, Germany, to name a few.
As part of our #GEWArkansas preparation, we had a virtual conversation with a woman named Melanie from the Gutenberg Digital Hub. Between our physical distance, time difference and cultural distinctions, it would be easy to assume that we were worlds apart. However, it was a very impactful conversation for me. We both left with so much value from each other through the conversation that we’ve decided to meet regularly, with or without a GEW collaboration.
Oftentimes, I believe that rural America, rural Arkansas specifically, gets a bad reputation. My organization specializes in working with rural entrepreneurs. However, to some, that statement is a contradiction – rural entrepreneurs? Some of them are very surprised to find that the state of Arkansas is leading the country with the most events celebrating entrepreneurs during Global Entrepreneurship Week this year.
Arkansas is leading the way not because we have the most entrepreneurs, or the most entrepreneur support organizations, or even the most entrepreneurial activity, but because we’re coming together. Groups across the state from chambers to cities to universities to entrepreneur support organizations are coming together. Organizations that could easily see themselves as competitors for the same funding dollars, talent, resources or partners, are all coming together to celebrate entrepreneurship.
And what I’ve found through this work is that there are riches in reciprocation. Reciprocation of ideas, time and support, especially when we reciprocate across arbitrary regional barriers in our own state.
So my overall hope for Global Entrepreneurship Week, outside of celebrating and promoting entrepreneurs, is that we’re able to gain a little perspective on the detriments of regionality, and spend a little more time reciprocating with each other so that all boats really do rise when the tide comes.
Grace Rains is the director of operations for Conductor and the executive director of the Ark Angel Network. She is the Arkansas state co-coordinator for Global Entrepreneurship Week through the Global Entrepreneurship Network.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in op-eds are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of Arkansas Money & Politics or About You Media Group.