Gainesville businessman and J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development advisory board member Philip Wilheit believes developing leadership within a community is a necessary first step to that community’s long-term success.

“If you don’t have leadership within a community, it’s not going to go anywhere,” he said. “The base of any community’s success is leadership. As a graduate of Leadership Georgia, I’ve seen the benefits of leadership development throughout the state.”

To help communities develop that foundation of strong leadership, Wilheit has made a gift to support the Innovations in Community Leadership Initiative (ICLI) at the UGA J.W. Fanning Institute for Leadership Development.

The ICLI allows the Fanning Institute to partner with organizations or communities that may not have the resources or technical expertise to sustain effective leadership programming.

About to enter its second year, the initiative supported eight projects in its inaugural year in communities of all sizes across Georgia.

A strong leadership program provides many benefits for communities, Wilheit said.

“I’ve sent several employees through Leadership Hall County,” he said. “I think it’s that important. It lets them get involved in the community and see what the needs are. At the same time, the community gets to see them and see what their talents are and where they can plug them in to different areas.”

While larger communities have the assets to more easily develop leadership programs, such programs are equally important in rural communities, Wilheit said.

With leadership development you break down some of the barriers to prosperity that affect rural communities more than their larger counterparts, he said.

“Communities of all sizes need to have leaders who are focused, who develop leadership skills like collaboration and communication, and who can network with other leaders to share best practices and ideas,” Wilheit said. “Through collaboration like that, it’s amazing what we can get done.”

Unlike larger communities with more resources, small rural areas need assets that Fanning can provide through the ICLI, Wilheit said.

“The Fanning Institute can best help identify and enable leadership in communities to grow roots and have successes,” he said. “I think Fanning will play a major role in the future of Georgia.”

Contributing to the institute and leadership development in Georgia also allows Wilheit to help continue the legacy of the institute’s namesake, J.W. Fanning.

“Dr. Fanning was a mentor to me,” he said. “I’ve always described him as a man who had a perfect memory of the past, a clear vision of the future and a willingness to share it with anyone who wanted to sit down and talk with him for a few moments. I don’t know that he ever led me astray on anything we ever talked about. Anytime I can associate my name with his, I’m thrilled to do so.”

The Fanning Institute will soon begin accepting applications for the second round of ICLI funding.

Meanwhile, to make a contribution to the ICLI or the Fanning Institute, click here or call Cherie Duggan at 706-542-6654.