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Blog: Agriculture Secretary Vilsack Urges Philanthropists to "Step Up and Take Risks"


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One of the great things about being Secretary of Agriculture is that I get to see first-hand how truly vast our great nation is. It's been my privilege to represent USDA and President Obama from Alaska to Florida and from North Dakota to New Mexico. Of course, I also spend quite a bit of time in the Midwest. The scope of rural America is truly awesome, and so are the challenges we face as we work to create jobs and improve the quality of rural life.

Earlier this week, I delivered the keynote address at the Council on Foundations Rural Philanthropy Conference in Kansas City, and I urged those in attendance to work hand-in-hand with us, our counterparts in state and local government, faith based organizations and non-profits to bring substantial, sustainable improvement to rural living conditions in small, rural communities across the country.

The theme of the 2011 Rural Philanthropy Conference is "Innovate, Implement, Impact." The nation's top innovative philanthropic leaders convened in Kansas City, MO, from July 25-27, 2011. The conference provided foundation leaders with the tools and knowledge required to capture new resources, engage in the arena of public policy, and address the unique challenges of rural economies. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack gave the closing speech at the 2011 Rural Philanthropy Conference held at the Marriott in Kansas City, MO on Wednesday, July 27, 2011. Secretary Vilsack discussed the crucial role philanthropy will play with the newly created White House Rural Council and how foundations have the ability to leverage private capital to invest in rural communities.

President Obama said in a State of the Union Address that it shouldn't matter where someone lives, they should be able to achieve their full potential. I fully agree. That should be true no matter if someone lives in Manhattan New York; Manhattan, Kansas or Manhattan Beach, Oregon. Using the power of the Internet, a student in rural America should have access to cutting edge information, the finest teachers and the resources they need to compete. We have helped make this a reality in much of rural America, but there is much more to do. Especially in these difficult economic times, government resources are not enough to accomplish our objectives. And the Internet is just one piece of the puzzle. Health care, public safety, clean water, great schools, and affordable, reliable power service is all required if rural America is to thrive.

That's where philanthropy comes in. In my address, I asked the philanthropists in attendance to forge new partnerships to increase rural investment. I seek a full partnership across political and geographic boundaries to maximize the impact of the limited resources and help the 50 million residents of rural America thrive.

In June, I was selected by the President to chair the White House Rural Council. Later this summer, I will chair a series of meetings to advance the Council's objectives. Philanthropists not only have a place at the table, I want to work with them to set the table. Together, we can improve the quality of rural life and in doing so, boost the economic health of all of America, rural and urban.

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