An exploration several years ago into various aspects of the U.S. informal economy—entrepreneurs engaging in legal, but unregulated, activities—led FIELD to take an in-depth look at rural entrepreneurship. Since that time, our work in the area of rural microenterprise has broadened and now includes:
W.K. Kellogg Foundation's Entrepreneurship Development Systems for Rural America project
Under a three-year contract that began in 2006 with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, FIELD implemented a national evaluation of the Foundation's demonstration program, Entrepreneurship Development Systems (EDS) for Rural America. The Foundation awarded $12 million in Rural Entrepreneurship Development Systems grants to six collaborative efforts in nine states to stimulate entrepreneurship across rural America. Each of the six groups received $2 million over three years to promote entrepreneurial activity in their region, showcase successful models of entrepreneurship activity to rural communities outside their area, leverage significant new investments, and stimulate state and national interest in rural entrepreneurship policies and strategies. FIELD worked in partnership with six local evaluators, gathering needed information to provide a comparative analysis of the operations of the six EDS sites, and identify the key lessons in developing and maintaining a successful EDS. Click here for the study that provides the results of this research.
AEO Rural Initiative
The Association for Enterprise Opportunity (AEO), which launched a Rural Initiative with funding from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, subcontracted with FIELD in 2006 to provide support on three aspects of the project: the Rural Policy Networks Learning Cluster, the Regional Flavor Learning Cluster, and the New Program Development in Underserved Rural Areas.
It involves licit but unregulated work: Enterprises, employers and self-employed individuals do not comply with standard business practices, taxation regulations and/or other business reporting requirements, but they are otherwise not engaged in overtly criminal activity.
Specifically, FIELD is providing technical assistance and expertise on the development of tools to help grantees: report on their activities; track technical assistance requests; evaluate technical assistance receive by grantees; and track lessons learned among the grantees regarding framing policy messages, entrepreneur engagement, and strategies and tactics. In addition, grantees will use MicroTest's standard intake form to collect data on client and business characteristics and will perform outcomes tracking of clients served using the MicroTest Client Outcomes Survey. More information is available on AEO's Web site.
Rural Informal Businesses
As part of larger FIELD research in 2003-04 on the domestic informal economy, the experiences of 42 individuals working informally in western, rural Nebraska were explored in an ethnographic research report that examined the characteristics of the individuals' informal businesses, their motivations for working informally, and the implications for microenterprise programs interested in serving these informal entrepreneurs. This report, entitled The Informal Economy: Making It In Rural America, is available for free download as a PDF.