By Ret Boney
RALEIGH, N.C. — Debby Warren, the first staff person and founding executive director of the Southern Rural Development Initiative in Raleigh, announced she will leave her post by the end of the year.
A transition committee has been named and will conduct a national search for a replacement, says Warren, who has been with the organization for almost 12 years.
While Warren has made no firm plans yet, she hopes to consult and teach, primarily in the areas of sustainable development, economic development and organizational development, she says.
“I have a passion about the work but I want to be in a learning and sharing mode, not running an organization,” she says.
The Initiative has offices in Raleigh and Asheville and an annual budget of $1.3 million and eight employees, and works in 11 southern states to strengthen rural communities.
Having recently completed a strategic planning process, Warren says the organization is in a good position to weather the transition.
“We’re in a sound strategic place,” she says, “with clear and compelling programs, a diverse and dedicated board and wonderfully talented staff.”
The Initiative, which celebrated its 10th anniversary this year, focuses it efforts in three areas — creating tools for rural communities to develop their own philanthropy; realigning public spending; and developing alternatives to industries of last resort.
Looking back over her tenure, Warren says she is proudest of the catalytic role the organization has played in creating other community-related groups and initiatives.
The group helped launch the South Carolina Association of Community Development Corporations, which led to an increase to 80 from two the number of community development corporations in the state.
The Initiative also is working with a local coalition in the community of Talulah, La., to prevent the conversion of an abandoned juvenile detention center into an adult prison, instead developing a community-based learning center that will serve four local communities.
And the group’s community philanthropy program has helped launch philanthropic institutions in poor rural areas that previously lacked adequate funding for local groups, Warren says.
“It’s been a very rewarding, challenging process and the needs of the rural south are as strong as they ever were, if not stronger,” she says. “I hope we continue that work, have continued successes, and transmit a sense of opportunity to rural communities.”