May 18, 2023

Five Organizations Win 2019

Bush Prize for Community Innovation

SAINT PAUL, Minn. (Nov. 12, 2019) — The Bush Foundation today awarded the 2019 Bush Prize for Community Innovation to five organizations with a track record of successful problem solving in their communities.

Staff of Hmong American Partnership, one of five Bush Prize recipients for 2019. HAP was awarded as an organization that drives equity and prosperity for immigrants and refugees through a rare combination of social services and enterprises.

The Bush Prize celebrates organizations that are extraordinary not only in what they do but in how they do it. This year’s winners demonstrate a pattern of working inclusively, in partnership with others, to make the region better for all.

The Bush Prize, now in its seventh year, is awarded annually in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and the 23 Native nations that share the same geography.

The 2019 Bush Prize winners are:


Hmong American Partnership, Saint Paul ($500,000)

Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center, Minneapolis ($500,000)

Rural Renewable Energy Alliance, Backus ($408,000)

North Dakota

Valley City-Barnes County Development Corporation, Valley City ($358,000)

South Dakota

Wokini Initiative of South Dakota State University, Brookings ($500,000)

“The 2019 Bush Prize winners exhibit remarkable creativity and tenacity in addressing issues that are most important to their communities,” said Bush Foundation President Jennifer Ford Reedy. “Their problem solving builds strength not only in their local community but also in the entire region.”

Bush Prize winners receive a package that includes promotional support and materials and an unrestricted grant equal to 25 percent of the organization’s prior fiscal year budget, up to $500,000. The Foundation received 81 applications for the 2019 Bush Prize. Three panels of community members chose the winners from their respective states.

“This year’s winners are defined by their courage,” said Mandy Ellerton, Community Innovation Director. “They shake loose solutions to seemingly intractable problems by opening themselves up to surprising partnerships, sharing ownership and bringing together people who don’t always agree. This method of working takes guts, and our region is better because of their courage.”

Learn more about the Bush Prize for Community Innovation, including winners from previous years, at

About the Bush Foundation

The Bush Foundation invests in great ideas and the people who power them in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and the 23 Native nations that share the same geography. Established in 1953 by 3M Executive Archibald Bush and his wife Edyth, the Foundation supports organizations and people to think bigger and think differently about what is possible in their communities. The Foundation works to inspire and support creative problem solving – within and across sectors – to make the region better for everyone.  

About the 2019 Bush Prize for Community Innovation Winners

Hmong American Partnership

Saint Paul, Minnesota

Hmong American Partnership (HAP) drives equity and prosperity for immigrants and refugees through a rare combination of social services and enterprises. A fierce entrepreneurial spirit fuels HAP’s ever-evolving programs and business ventures.

HAP’s focus has grown from refugee resettlement and youth gang-related violence programming to include workforce development, homeownership, micro-enterprise lending, culturally relevant youth education, and, most recently, health and wellness programming.

When businesses, workers and farmers came to HAP with overlapping concerns, the organization convened the community to discuss a solution that could work for all three sectors. HAP created a social enterprise focused on the high-demand hospitality industry that trains immigrants and refugees for critically needed positions in businesses and provides Hmong farmers with a new outlet to sell their produce. HAP also led the transformation of Community School of Excellence, developing a model for the charter school to select effective teachers and engage parents more successfully in their children’s education. 

HAP addresses problems by beginning with a solution. When it observed the struggles its clients had with transportation, HAP leaders asked, what would it look like if transportation were available to all in the community? The organization developed a bus fleet that provides reliable transportation and jobs for Hmong people, and like other HAP enterprises, generates significant revenue that is reinvested in the community.

Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center 

Minneapolis, Minnesota

Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center (MIWRC) builds hope, health and cultural prosperity for Native women and their families. MIWRC delivers lifesaving programs and leads vital systems change at the local and national levels. It was one of the first agencies in the country to provide gender-based, culturally specific programming developed by and for American Indian women.

MIWRC roots its work in traditional Indigenous values and a deep understanding of the historical trauma of settler colonization and urban relocation. A powerful advocate for its community, MIWRC works responsively, understanding that rapid intervention can mean the difference between life and death for women experiencing family violence, substance addiction, mental health issues, homelessness and commercial sexual exploitation.

In 2018, MIWRC partnered with several Native organizations to respond swiftly and effectively to the grave conditions in a Minneapolis encampment of nearly 200 predominantly Native people experiencing homelessness. MIWRC built public understanding of the situation and partnered with government agencies to effectively address the crisis. As a result of MIWRC’s leadership, the City of Minneapolis adjusted its housing budget to better address the needs of the Native community. 

On the national level, MIWRC has influenced the federal government’s definition of domestic violence and improved services by helping remove silos between federal domestic violence and sexual violence agencies.

Rural Renewable Energy Alliance
Backus, Minnesota

Rural Renewable Energy Alliance (RREAL) wants to end energy poverty with pioneering, climate-appropriate solutions. The organization uses solar energy as a powerful tool to build the economic well-being and energy sovereignty of low-income communities and Native nations in rural areas.

From humble beginnings in an unheated garage in a small town in northern Minnesota, RREAL has grown into an innovative national model for rural communities that have high energy burdens but have been left out of the renewable energy economy. RREAL’s approaches reduce inequality, build jobs and provide long-term, clean solutions for the environment. 

In partnership with the Leech Lake Nation, RREAL delivered the first community solar installation to be formally integrated with the federal Energy Assistance Program. This community-owned asset provides solar assistance to qualified families, lowering their energy burden and freeing resources for basic needs. It also creates a clean alternative to conventional energy assistance and provides career pathways in the solar industry for tribal members. RREAL’s ambitious Solar for Schools project creatively integrated site-based solar into multiple education facilities across northern Minnesota.

A catalyst in the national conversation about energy equity, RREAL continues to break down barriers so that low-income rural communities can benefit from solar solutions. RREAL is scaling its solar assistance locally, nationally, and even internationally in West Africa.

Wokini Initiative of South Dakota State University

Brookings, South Dakota

South Dakota State University (SDSU) is on a mission to transform its campus into a welcoming environment for American Indian students. It is the first university in the country to dedicate a portion of its land grant funds to elevate American Indian student success, a decision that explicitly acknowledges that SDSU and the state have benefited from lands taken from the Lakota and Dakota people by the U.S. government.

SDSU’s new Wokini (“new beginning” in Lakota) Initiative seeks to eliminate the significant barriers that American Indian students face in achieving a college degree. The program combines transformational change in campus culture with holistic support for Native students, including dedicated scholarships, extensive outreach, academic mentoring and emergency funds. To ensure that the community is prepared to welcome American Indian students, SDSU has developed a state-of-the-art training for staff and faculty to build understanding of Native cultures. In spring 2020, the initiative will move into a new American Indian student center, located symbolically in the heart of the campus. 

An advisory board of tribal leaders and educators throughout South Dakota helps guide the Wokini Initiative and provides a tribal perspective to move the Initiative forward. The University’s decision to dedicate land grant funds to American Indian students has inspired numerous other universities throughout the country to consider a similar commitment. 

Valley City-Barnes County Development Corporation (in collaboration with the City of Valley City)

Valley City, North Dakota

Valley City-Barnes County Development Corporation tirelessly pursues a higher quality of life for its community, located 50 minutes west of Fargo. The organization employs a successful, non-traditional style of community-led economic development to address such issues as affordable housing, childcare, and development of a skilled workforce to serve growing businesses in the area.

The Corporation combines grassroots dedication, technical expertise and financial resources to catalyze economic opportunities and development. When faced with workforce shortages, it invested in education partnerships to provide a steady supply of skilled workers who can fuel long-term growth for area businesses. The Corporation also created space for technology companies and entrepreneurs.

The Corporation often makes bold moves when the well-being of its community is at stake. To attract an established manufacturer, it spearheaded vital infrastructure development along a major transportation corridor. To help businesses access capital for renovations and expansions, it took a leadership role with the Bank of North Dakota to establish a statewide financial assistance program to buydown interest rates.

The Corporation analyzes opportunities through a “people first” lens, making decisions based upon the needs of its residents and potential impact on local businesses. This approach results in consecutive economic wins that increase the health and prosperity of residents.

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