APPALACHIA FUNDERS NETWORK 2024 GATHERING: BUILDING CONNECTIONS, PROMOTING INNOVATION, AND CELEBRATING CHARLESTON’S HOSPITALITY

Ryan Eller
Executive Director
Appalachia Funders Network

The success of the Appalachia Funders Network (AFN) 2024 Gathering was a testament to the dedication and support of over 165 philanthropic, government, and intermediary leaders from across the nation. This milestone event underscored the growing interest in supporting the unique needs of the Appalachian region. It was a collective achievement, made possible by the active participation and contributions of each attendee and the warm welcome extended by the Community of Charleston, which set a new standard for future events.

AFN’s mission is to unite funders and foster partnerships that drive positive change in Appalachian communities. Through events like the annual Gathering, AFN provides a platform to explore critical issues impacting the region, strengthen relationships among funders, and deepen the collective understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing Appalachia.

This year’s Gathering was preceded by the Central Appalachian Access to Capital Summit. In this special pre-gathering event, the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) released its new “Access to Capital Report for Entrepreneurs and Small Businesses in Appalachia.” The report provides crucial insights into the capital and credit obstacles that entrepreneurs face while contributing to the economic and cultural vitality of Central Appalachia. The Summit brought together over 40 capital providers from across the financial spectrum, fostering an environment of collaboration and co-investment to support a more equitable and vibrant enterprise community in the region.

At the main Gathering, keynote speakers such as Gayle Manchin, the Federal Co-Chair of ARC; Kristen Campbell, CEO of Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement (PACE); and Dale Anglin, the inaugural Executive Director of Press Forward, shared their expertise and perspectives on the evolving philanthropic landscape. Their insights underscored funders’ critical role in fostering community
resilience and social impact.

Charleston was not only an ideal host city for this landmark gathering, but also a vital part of the experience that made the event memorable and inspiring.

Throughout the multi-day event, attendees engaged in various skill-building workshops, panel discussions, and presentations. These included workshops on participatory philanthropy, equity, and community engagement led by experienced professionals in the field. Panel discussions covered sustainable development, social entrepreneurship, and cultural preservation, providing a platform for diverse perspectives and insights. Presentations by regional leaders, scholars, non-profit professionals, local entrepreneurs, and federal agencies highlighted innovative projects, research findings, and policy updates, fostering a deeper understanding of the region’s challenges and opportunities.

In addition to the release of ARC’s access to capital report, the Gathering also featured three significant announcements: the Green Bank for Rural America, the creation of a Rural News Fund, and the launch of the Appalachian Rekindling Project. The Green Bank for Rural America, a transformative multi-billion dollar initiative supporting renewable energy development in rural areas with a focus on communities in Appalachia, is poised to revolutionize the region’s energy landscape. The creation of a Rural News Fund, a partnership born from AFN members, aims to bolster local journalism in the region, promoting a vibrant media landscape that fosters civic engagement and community resilience. The Rekindling Project offers a unique model for reconciliation with indigenous leaders and rematriation in the region, promising to ignite a new era of cultural revitalization. These initiatives are tangible steps towards a brighter, more sustainable, culturally rich future for the Appalachian region.

With its exceptional hospitality, Charleston was not only an ideal host city for this landmark gathering but also a vital part of the experience that made the event memorable and inspiring. The warm welcome and vibrant atmosphere created by the Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation (TGKVF), a vital member of the Program Planning Team and local host sponsor of the Gathering, made a significant impact on the attendees. The open-air tour focused on downtown revitalization, organized by TGKVF’s own Todd Dorcas, was a highlight of the event. Thanks to the Benedum Foundation, funders also visited Clendenin, which provided an inspiring case study of a town recovering from significant flooding, and the Westside of Charleston, highlighting the resilience and creativity of Appalachian towns.

The 2024 Gathering demonstrated the growing commitment among funders to support the strength and resilience of Appalachian communities and left a profound impact on the attendees. They returned home with new ideas, strengthened relationships, and a renewed sense of purpose, inspired and motivated to continue their work in fostering a brighter future for Appalachia. The warm welcome and vibrant atmosphere of Charleston served as a reminder of the importance of collaboration and partnership, underlining that our collective efforts are essential to the future of the Appalachian region.

The 2024 Gathering demonstrated the growing commitment among funders to support the strength and resilience of Appalachian communities.

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