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Women living in the impoverished rural areas of Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi are not faring well in the current labor market and are poorly positioned to adapt to future economic challenges. Lack of economic opportunity, quality education and training, limited child care, and persistent racial inequality remain huge obstacles. In a survey of rural black women, 80 percent identified unemployment as a problem.
SRBWI’s approach to lifting women out of poverty focuses on building skills, cooperative networks, and local and regional businesses in sectors with demonstrated growth potential rather than relying on traditional economic development practices, such as attracting industry, that have left many rural women behind. We contend that in isolated rural regions, tight local networks of enterprises in the same or complementary sectors, working in collaboration can become economic drivers in our region and will be better positioned to foster innovation and adapt to economic and market changes than isolated corporations with no investment in the long term.
SRBWI supports sector based enterprise development through worker and cooperative ownership as a vehicle for community control of resources, achieving livable wages and providing meaningful work, all of which ultimately contribute to the long term stability of communities and enterprises.
SRBWI has identified several industry clusters in our region including niche manufacturing, value added agriculture and food production, cultural heritage tourism, allied health care, and the growing alternative energy sector. These sectors have significant growth potential and could create quality jobs that do not require professional degrees on the outset, but offer opportunity for growth. Our support of such industries in our targeted counties currently include:
Women, many of them long-time garment workers who lost their jobs to industry globalization, are setting up a regional sewing company across Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi that they will own and operate. They are now busy designing a collection of Authentic and Hand-Crafted Home Décor, Personal Accessories and Gifts unique to the South through their cultural and social inspirations.
This network coordinates training and networking activities to assist women in producing and marketing specialty crops and foods. The network is also focused on improving community access to fresh, quality, affordable produce. Licensed commercial kitchens equipped for catering and commercial food preparation are being developed in the three SRBWI states.
Workforce Development Initiative in Allied Health Care SRBWI is working with Mississippi community colleges to extend training programs in the allied healthcare professions. The project seeks to develop marketable skills and career pathway s for unemployed or underemployed rural black women in a sector that offers livable wages and reliable employment.
SRBWI staff and consultants are working with local women’s groups to develop income producing, community asset development projects fr om the Women on the Move transportation company in Mississippi to the Southern Alternatives worker-owned pecan processing cooperative in Georgia.
SRBWI is developing six cultural heritage sites as part of its Corridor (two in each state). One Hall of Fame site has been identified in each state and is being planned to house inductee exhibits and a digital film archive, including films produced by the young women in SRBWI “New Visions” digital filmmaking training program. State Halls of Fame will employ local women and sell their products. A traveling exhibit of 2005 Inductees en titled “Just Stand Any How!” will begin touring this spring.
This training is made available through SRBWI staff, consultants, community based partners and SRBWI’s Seed Grant Fund.