Next Steps Along the NC Regional Exchange Journey

Guest authored by Brian C. Etheridge, President, Leadership North Carolina

In the spring, Sarah Langer Hall of IEI (and an alumna of Leadership North Carolina Class XIX) wrote the inaugural blog post about our collaborative exploration around creating a Regional Exchange in North Carolina. With our shared focus on transparency, we are using these posts to capture the steps of our journey. I’m pleased to offer the second installment.

Our partnership around the idea of a Regional Exchange grew out of the work IEI undertook with their ReCONNECT for the Future series. Following internal discussions between Sarah and her IEI colleague John Dempsey Parker, Sarah and John invited Bronwyn Lucas of the NC Rural Center, Hunter Corn of Wildacres Leadership Initiative, and me in my role with Leadership North Carolina to join the conversation. Bronwyn, Hunter and I were glad to engage, and the five of us began meeting once a month.   

Like everyone, we saw our meetings and our methods of collaborating evolve as we navigated the rapidly changing landscape in the COVID pandemic. We moved from an in-person outdoor meeting in masks around propane heaters back in early March to in-person indoor meetings with masks to, most recently, an in-person indoor meeting without masks, where we gratefully exchanged stories of getting ourselves and our loved ones vaccinated.  

During these early conversations we agreed on some touchstones. We recognize the importance of relationships among leaders and the value personal connection and rapport can bring to addressing challenges. We realize that North Carolina needs more opportunities for building these relationships in rural, urban and suburban communities within an interconnected region. We want to leverage the energy and expertise of individuals committed to building connection among leaders, without reinventing the wheel. 

Much of our time together has been spent asking questions—rich questions that generate more questions and bring forth even better conversations. Through discussion we are learning this may not be as complicated as it may seem, but the questions around why and the framework make all the difference. A few of the questions we’ve been asking are:

If we are looking to address the divides along income/wealth, race, politics, and geography, where should we start?  

What data points are important to use in guiding us to decide where to pilot this idea?

Are there examples of projects or organizations that have done similar projects that we can learn from or can use as a benchmark?

Who needs to be at the table / invited to participate beyond our program alumni? 

Do we ask leaders to begin with a relationship-based approach and build trust? 

Do we start with an anchor or working on shared projects of interest?  

Do we invite leaders to engage where they are most interested—whether that is project-based or relationship-based—and create a framework to guide them regardless of where they begin?


“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

The quote above from Margaret Mead served as a guiding principle as Leadership North Carolina got off the ground in 1995. Fast forward to 2021 and we have just crossed the 1,300 alumni mark. LNC’s participants engage with fellow leaders around issues of importance to the state, building their networks and defining opportunities for impact in the process. We have seen firsthand the power of cross-sector leaders coming together in community with one another.  

The five of us on this Regional Exchange journey are enjoying that same dynamic as we discover and build on our diverse expertise, connections and perspective. Over the course of these last few months, we have seen among ourselves what we hope to inspire among our LNC Program alumni: Trust, appreciation, willingness to listen and understand, and commitment to action.  

We are joined by our vision for North Carolina to become the best version of itself by leveraging the potential of our most valuable resource – our people. I am excited about working with these leaders on what a Regional Exchange may become. I’m equally excited about the connections developing among the five of us at the start of this journey. We look forward to sharing more.