Citizen Investment Fuels Rural Turn-Around

Declining enrolment. Low property values. “For lease” signs in shop windows. These are such common sights in rural parts, it’s a relief to hear about a place that is beating the macro-trends. When the place is Sangudo, Alberta, it’s more than a relief – it’s astonishing. Sangudo’s 400 citizens didn’t wait for a town council, regional municipality, financial institution, or provincial or federal agency to take the lead. They took it themselves.

First, Sangudo took on the school board when it wanted to close the high school. Since then, they’ve organized bees to build recreational facilities and carry out local beautification.

The next part is where things get really different. In a place where so many folks are nearing retirement, a couple of dozen formed an investment co-operative. They use it to pool investment funds (theirs). Then they design and promote enticing venture opportunities where before there were empty or soon-to-be-empty commercial spaces.

Dan Ohler has been in the thick of Sangudo’s rebound these past three years. He pulls no punches about it. “Is your community another Sangudo? Not a chance,” he says. Every place has its own particular blend of economic sector, location, history, and politics. No place will address its challenges by trying to match Sangudo, step for step.

That said, Ohler perceives four things that are fundamental to Sangudo’s can-do attitude. Four keys, he calls them:

  • Common Vision: In the course of facing down a serious threat, residents have developed a clear idea of where they want to go.
  • Trusted Leadership: A number of locals habitually do things for the good of the whole community, while not trying to steal the show.
  • Economic Strategy: the investment co-op fights to retain Sangudo’s core businesses largely on the strength of local savings.
  • Wider agenda: Finally, local leaders are pressing for reforms to provincial policy that will help their co-op and others to do more of the same. While thinking and acting in the here and now, they’re looking to their “greater neighbourhood” - other small towns and what they can achieve together, given some strategic government action.

In Dan's view, these are all different ways of expressing the same thing. He explains it on YouTube.

There’s nothing exotic here. Yet together these factors are helping to put a twist in the tale of rural decline we all know too well.

Read Dan’s Ohler’s complete article, “What is it about Sangudo?”

Photo: Sangudo’s kids enjoying their new playground, courtesy Shelly Starman.

What about your town? Are you looking to put a "twist" in its "tale"?

i4 is an ejournal about Inspiring, Innovating, Inciting, and Inventing ways of life and work that permit humanity and the planet to thrive in this century of unprecedented challenges. i4 is a publication of the Canadian Centre for Community Renewal.



Just wanted to say great story about Sangudo.  We are also taking similar action in Musquodoboit Harbour, NS (  MH was the first rural community to go thru a process of community visioning as part of the Halifax Regional Municipality's (HRM) regional planning process. 

After a full year of consultation we developed a vision that has been very helpful in making several other things happen in the community including everything from re-development of our local park, new bike racks about 'town', re-development of an old elementary school as The Old School Community Gathering Place (, and a new community transit initiative. 

Very excited to hear about other communities working on local initiatives as well.  Certainly various other levels of government and organizations have been very important in the work we have been doing too - but starting local definitely seems to be a key way to go to be able to actually make some concrete things happen.  Agree with all the points in the story about how to get things going. 

Hi Laurie,

Congratulations on the work you are doing!!!  I commend you for your dedication and commitment.

Thanks for your comments too.  I totally agree that we need to take the bull by the horns at the grass-roots level. That's where change happens because there is an emotional motivation.

If you think back to when your community was formed (possibly hundreds of years ago), people had to work together to survive.  I think we've gone through a time of migration and urbanization so that now we are needing to rebuild community again - to become communities of "genuine well-being".

Thanks again.

Dan Ohler

That is a wonderful story out of rural Alberta!  Thanks for sharing details about the Sangudo Opportunity Development Co-operative.  About 7-8 years ago, a few community leaders had a similar idea in the little Wisconsin town of Gillett.  But there weren't quite the right people with the right skills to follow through on the concept.  It's exciting to hear about this investment co-op.  I've forwarded the story in to five groups across Wisconsin.  Please keep us posted as things progress! 

Indeed we will keep you updated and will ensure the authors hear of your interest. We would also encourage you to search our site for additional resources. For example, if you search for development finance you will find a range of articles relevant to community and regional finance innovations from our 21 years of publishing Making Waves, the predecessor of i4.  One example  is a major case study of Coastal Enterprises Inc., a leading Community Development Financial Institution in the U.S based in rural Maine. Another is the still operating Saskatchewan Community Bond Program, a useful method for mobilizing community based finance. Feel free to ask questions related to what you are particularly interested in an we will try and direct you.

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Thanks for your comments, Margaret.

I commend you for your efforts in the past.  And I encourage, invite, and maybe even challenge you to give it a go again.  I don't know about your State legalities and what's possible.  But I know that a committed and dedicated group of people can change the world.

We're just working into our 3rd project now and it's really exciting as we're learning ways we can access local capital.

Keep up your awareness and work!

Dan Ohler