Volume XII | Issue 1 | Spring 2012
The Tupelo Model is built on the belief that before a community can build or attract economic development, it must develop its people.

A model for the Leadership Program

Moving a rural community toward vitality is not easy. It takes commitment, dedicated leaders, training and, most importantly, time. We have learned a lot from the Oregon State University evaluation of the Ford Institute Leadership Program, and it has reinforced our belief that economic development must come from within the community.

The Ford Institute’s approach to building healthy communities reflects this slow and careful approach. Some economic development strategies depend on attracting outside resources—the idea that if you build an industrial park, companies bearing jobs will come. The Ford Institute strategy is much more in line with the Tupelo Model, which builds a base of human, leadership, organizational and community “capital.” 

The Tupelo Model, conceived in the 1950s in Tupelo, Miss., is famous in development circles for its success in building a strategy that rests on the belief that before a community can build or attract economic development, it must develop its people. The Ford Institute has followed many of the precepts of the model: local people must address local problems; each person should be treated as a resource; the goal of community development is to help people help themselves; and it cannot be achieved without organizations and collaboration.

The town of Tupelo reinvented itself as a thriving economic center, but it took more than 30 years to get there. We believe that our rural communities hold the same promise for vitality, but we aren’t expecting it to happen overnight.

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