A Major Initiative

With more than 80 applicants and ideas drawn from 53 counties and six Native Nations, winnowing the pool of Initiators Fellowship candidates every two years to a shortlist of finalists is hard work that gives Chris Fastner great hope for the future of Greater Minnesota.

“Too often people assume that great innovation and good ideas can only live in urban areas, but from what we’ve seen, that’s simply not the case,” said Fastner, who manages the Fellowship program for the Initiative Foundation and its Minnesota Initiative Foundation partners. “There are so many people in small towns across Greater Minnesota who are amazing innovators, doing purpose-driven work and who are really committed to the betterment of their community.”

Since 2016, the Initiative Foundation and its partners have relied on a selective process to pick the most promising social entrepreneurs in the region for an immersive leadership development experience. The program provides each Fellow with a $60,000 stipend over two years and combines that investment with mentor support, peer-to-peer learning opportunities, business start-up expertise and technical assistance to help give life to big ideas that can transform Greater Minnesota. While the program is still in its early years, the goal is to build a network of next-generation leaders equipped with the skills, connections and confidence to take on some of the toughest challenges facing the area.