THERE is rarely a straightforward path to becoming an entrepreneur, but choosing to become a young business owner in a rural community can seem like an unlikely aspiration for many.

To tackle this issue head on, Jane Craigie, a chartered marketer, co-founded the Rural Youth Project (RYP) in 2018 – an international grassroots movement that works to empower young people and bring their ideas to fruition.

Ms Craigie works with people aged between 18 to 28 to develop leadership, enterprise and activism skills to help make rural places more attractive and viable for young people to live and work. “I think there is real power in multi-generational communities,” Ms Craigie acknowledges. “As soon as that gets out of balance, then you start to see that erosion of energy and services.”

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As well as investing her time, money and energy into the RYP not-for-profit organisation, Ms Craigie runs her own marketing agency, Jane Craigie Marketing based in Aberdeenshire.

The 52-year-old entrepreneur also sits on a number of boards dedicated to agriculture, young people and leadership programmes, including the International Federation of Agricultural Journalists, the council of the British Guild of Agricultural Journalists, she is a board member for Lantra, and more recently was appointed to Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) board.

Ms Craigie admits she was “delighted” after hearing that both RYP and Jane Craigie Marketing have been shortlisted in the upcoming 2020/2021 Rural Business Awards, the results of which will be announced online at the National Final on February 25. “Scotland is gaining a reputation through the work that we’re doing that we are really beginning to tackle this endemic problem of young people leaving rural places,” says Ms Craigie.

“One of the interesting things we’ve learned through everything we’ve been doing, which includes running ideas festivals, leadership training, ideas cafes during lockdown, the one thing that repeatedly comes back about Gen Z and the millennials is that they are driven by a sense of purpose, a sense of belonging and that power of a collective.

“They will forgo income, a decent place to live and suffer poor digital connectivity if they’re living in a place they love and doing something that they feel is full of purpose and value.”

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Ms Craigie had somewhat of an unconventional upbringing that gave her a rich global perspective. “I’m not from a farming or a rural background, I was brought up overseas,” she explains. “My dad was a spy, he worked for GCHQ, so I was brought up in Cyprus, India and Turkey.

“I think that’s given me a real interest and passion in people and the power of people and community. That’s something that has been an embedded part of my life. I’m very inquisitive and I’m very good at looking at how a rural place in another country is applicable to here. I think we, as individual citizens and living in rural communities, can come up with our own solutions. We can invest our own time and money in coming up with the right things where we live and not always expect that governments should do it.”

The RYP was founded by Ms Craigie and co-director Rebecca Dawes, 30. The pair self-funded the movement for its initial first six months. “Starting something from scratch is always difficult,” says Ms Craigie. There were times I was spending more money on this and worried how long I would be able to keep it up.”

After this period, rural development programme LEADER (a French acronym, Liaison Entre Actions de Développement de l’Économie Rurale, which roughly translates as “liaison among actors in rural economic development”) became the dominant funding partner to the Rural Youth Project, with additional support from Scottish Enterprise. Though Ms Craigie admits the LEADER funding will come to a close at the end of this month.

“If I don’t get replacement funding from other sources then I’ll carry on funding the project myself, because it’s something I feel strongly about,” she says.

The RYP has a core team of four and a steering committee of 10, all on a voluntary basis, with one full-time staff equivalent.  One project Ms Craigie is excited to help launch is “the first dedicated rural youth Smart Village in the world”. Scotland’s RYP is set to launch the digital platform which aims to help young people connect, network, trade, and expand their enterprise, by the end of February.

The effects of the pandemic are being felt in Scotland’s rural communities, she admits. “We conducted a Covid-19 survey recently, and while the levels of optimism about their future in rural places had fallen as a result of Covid (from 72% to 40%), very few of them envisaged moving away from those rural places.

 “Younger people are not very good at asking for help but as soon as you open the door to offer them help they are there and wanting support, and that’s recognition that what we’re doing is valued and necessary.

“I hope in Scotland, through our work and the work of others that focus on young people, that we get a reputation as a country that upholds, supports and encourages young entrepreneurial people to really build a future in rural places.”