In honor of International Day of Rural Women, we are highlighting a trailblazing woman business owner in rural North Dakota! Rebecca Undem in Oakes, ND has a passion for small towns and rising her community and other women business owners . She is an author, speaker, podcaster, consultant, and business owner of Growing Small Towns. Check out her story and passion for International Day of Rural Women and Women’s Small Business Month!

International Day of Rural Women

“When I returned to my hometown of 1,800 people after about a decade away, I knew I’d have adjustments to make. For one, I’d have to live without Target, Starbucks, and the wide array of fresh produce I’d totally taken for granted while living in Fargo.  

But, I loved the idea that I’d be returning to a place of deep connection and roots; the place where many of the people that helped raise me still lived and would now become the village that helped me raise my own family.  

Rural communities are often misunderstood and much of that is fueled by a false and overstated narrative about the lack and scarcity found in rural places.  

There is a sense of what these towns are like—poor, disadvantaged, and run-down. There is a sense of who the people living in these places are like—less educated, poor, and not worthy of investment.  

Being an educated woman who chose to return to a small town, this isn’t the narrative I see playing out on Main Street in Oakes, where I still live 14 years after I first returned. 

Every day, I work with vibrant, smart, and savvy people who have chosen Oakes as their home. The most exciting trend is that we’re seeing many young people, in their early to mid-twenties, making their permanent return even faster than I did.  

It’s true; there is much to celebrate about rural communities.”

“But because it’s International Day of Rural Women, we do have to acknowledge that in many rural places, we still have much work to do to create the same opportunities for women that have traditionally been relegated only to men.  

According to National Today, they define rural women as “active agents of social and economic change. In numerous ways, they’re constrained to their roles as caregivers, producers, consumers, investors, and farmers.” 

The “active agents of social and economic change” part? Yep, that’s absolutely true. Women are often the heart of a community and social issues need as much time and attention as economic ones in rural places. 

As I continue to operate from a place of hope and optimism for rural communities, especially for women, the question I challenge everyone to consider is this: what would be the impact on our communities, state, nation, and the world, if instead of defining rural women by what they’re constrained by, we asked ourselves what rural women should be free to pursue

In the community of Oakes, there has never been a female mayor. Does that automatically imply discrimination? No, but it does beg the question: why are there so few women in positions of formal leadership in rural communities? And furthermore, how can we change it?  

There are many layers to the perception of these constraints and I know that my own perspective, while real and personal to me, limits the conversation to one community in one place.  

Internationally, these constraints are deeply rooted in systemic challenges that are much harder to unravel and untangle. 

But change starts with an honest assessment of the present.  

International Day of Rural Women allows us to reflect on the disparities that still exist for rural women and collectively, calls us to work together to bridge those gaps. 

Technology alone will help to address some of the disparities giving us access to education, resources, and global intelligence that used to require living in, or being in close proximity to, large metro areas where those game-changing resources could be found. 

As long as Wi-Fi is present—which still happens to be a significant challenge in many rural places—the playing field is more level. 

But real change also requires a different mindset; as rural women, we need to be willing to tell our stories and be brave enough to step outside the confines of our usual roles in our communities.  

Rural places are changing and I believe that if we continue to be honest about our challenges, together, we will see the positive changes that need to happen so rural women aren’t only considered in light of their constraints but be defined instead, by their accomplishments.”

Women’s Small Business Month 

“I’ve often been asked,  “What makes running a small business hard for women?” 

As an author, podcaster, consultant, founder and Executive Director of Growing Small Towns, a community development non-profit, and a female, I understand why this gets asked of me.  

Usually? My answer is this: “It’s hard. Full-stop. Regardless of your gender, taking on the task of starting and growing a business isn’t for the faint of heart.” 

But October is National Women’s Small Business Month as celebrated by the Small Business Administration so it makes sense that a person would ask that question, specifically.  

And while I’d generally rather not focus on how much harder things are for women than men, I absolutely can acknowledge the extra challenge that exists for women. According to the SBA’s website, “Until 1988, women needed a male relative to co-sign if they wanted to apply for a business loan.” 

Isn’t that incredible? 

Without giving too much away here…I was already alive when that happened. Only three decades have passed since women were able to independently access business financing!  

Given that recent history, it stands to reason that some gaps might still exist in opportunities for women to advance themselves in the area of small business ownership and entrepreneurship. 

But, like with most things, with change comes progress and women are making huge strides in balancing the scales of business ownership.  

I believe one of the best ways to encourage more women business owners is to . We get what we reward. 

So what are a few ways we can all celebrate women small business owners? 

Here are a few of my favorite ideas: 

  1. Think of a memorable consumer experience with a woman-owned business and take a few minutes to tell them about it in a hand-written note 

  2. Each week this month, choose 3 women in your social media network to give a shout-out to  

  3. If you’re a female business owner, think of the people (male or female) who supported you and give them a shout-out on social media  

  4. Walk into the store of a female-owned business and thank her in person for being there! 

  5. Nominate a woman-owned business for an award in your community or state 

  6. Share a success story about a women-owned business with the media—not nearly enough of us take advantage of this! They are always looking for great stories!  

There are no shortage of ways to encourage, uplift, and support women who are small business owners. The more successful they become, the less significant our short history of having the same rights as men becomes.  

Let’s show ‘em, ladies!”

-Rebecca Undem