Dink NeSmith understands small towns. For 50 years, the 1970 University of Georgia graduate has been publishing dozens of newspapers scattered across the Southeast. The president and co-owner of Athens-based Community Newspapers, Inc. has witnessed—firsthand—what it takes for rural communities to succeed.

“Look around all of Georgia,” NeSmith said. “Many communities are thriving, but many are struggling. Leadership or the lack of leadership is the significant factor.”

As part of his commitment to developing strong leadership in all sectors of a community, NeSmith 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.

Currently in its inaugural year, the initiative is supporting eight projects in communities of all sizes across Georgia to develop leaders of all ages.

Efforts like this are particularly crucial in Georgia’s rural communities, NeSmith said.

“Just as metro Atlanta has location, location, location going for it, the rest of Georgia, especially rural areas, must have leadership, leadership, leadership,” he said. “Atlanta powers our state’s economic engine, but we can’t rest until all of Georgia has the leadership and the chance to prosper.”

Developing that leadership in communities outside of metro Atlanta is where the Fanning Institute and UGA play a key role, NeSmith explained.

“The University of Georgia touches all 159 counties and its brand is powerful and respected,” he said. “Those attributes open doors for the Fanning Institute, which has leveraged that and with a talented, visionary, high-energy faculty, created a reputation of making a difference.”

NeSmith is pleased to be able to support the institute in its work to make a difference across Georgia and honor the legacy of J.W. Fanning, the Fanning Institute’s namesake and someone NeSmith called a “personal mentor.”

NeSmith was the founding chairman of the Fanning Institute’s advisory board and currently serves as the board’s chairman-emeritus.

“We love UGA and my family loved Dr. Fanning and his wife, Cora Lee,” NeSmith said. “J.W. Fanning’s leadership and influence is a legacy that will impact generations to come.”

Meanwhile, NeSmith is excited about the long-term impacts of the ICLI in communities across the state. Comparing it to architecture, NeSmith feels that success and impact is best measured over time.

“With programs that we design, we should be able to say in 10 or 20 years, not only did we achieve our goals, we surpassed our expectations,” NeSmith said. “When we look back, I believe that’s exactly what we will say about the work of the Fanning Institute through this initiative.”

Work is already underway on the inaugural ICLI projects. A second round of projects will be chosen in 2021.

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

Writer: Charlie Bauder; charlie.bauder@fanning.uga.edu; 706-542-7039
Contact: Matt Bishop; mlbishop@fanning.uga.edu; 706-542-6201