The Voice of Appalachia

Ashoka Fellow Brandon Dennison, founder and CEO of Coalfield Development: 

"When I say Appalachian person, really truly what comes to mind? Because there's a good chance it's a stereotype, it's a redneck, or hillbilly, or a Trump voter. Appalachian people are tough and and resilient, and and also resourceful because we have people who want to work; want to learn; want to be a part of something. But everything's just gotten so messed up here that there's nowhere to apply that gumption.

"We start new social enterprises in more sustainable fields. We helped start the first solar company in southwestern Virginia. We have an organic agriculture company. We have a t-shirt company, and the shirts are made out of 100 percent recycled content. So we start businesses that really model what a more diversified, post-coal economy can look like.

"But we use those enterprises to put people back to work. We're one of the few groups around that are adding jobs instead of cutting jobs. And as we show very tangibly what a new economy can look like, it starts to bring people, opening up again instead of closing up.

"It is a really hard time in Appalachia. We're not asking people to take pity on us. I think really I'm actually asking people to believe in this region -- that we have value and we have something to offer to the country. And the way to do that is: do business with us. People, planet, and profit. And that would be my ask."