Coalfield Development

Brandon Dennison.
United States
Development of resilient Appalachian communities with socially, environmentally, and financially thriving economies which create the adequate conditions for all kinds of people to unlock their full potential, power, and purpose.
What solution does the innovation propose?

This community-based social enterprise has an innovative approach to rural workforce development, investing in neighbourhoods facing barriers to prosperity. It addresses two issues: the undiversified economic system, which breeds a less resilient workforce; and the outdated development system for this workforce, which only addresses “circumstantial poverty”, not widespread or generational poverty and its underlying challenges. Jobs and businesses that have sustainable revenue, are created for out-of-work coal miners and their children aiming to foster a more diverse, dynamic, entrepreneurial, and well-educated workforce, and by doing so, change the region’s intergenerational cycles of poverty.

Their innovative model combines employment, education, and mentorship. Besides training people, the organization is developing a wider network of other local backbone organizations to launch their own social enterprises and training programs, with the aim of creating new markets and opportunities in a more diversified rural economy.


24th Heinz Awards Honors Brandon Dennison (2019). Brandon Dennison is an Ashoka Fellow (2018).

Impact evidence

  • $20M in new investments were attracted.
  • Over 250 new jobs created and more than 50 new businesses started.
  • Over 1,000 professional certifications for formerly unemployed people.
  • The message about a new sustainable economy has reached over 15M people globally.
  • In 2019 they have redeveloped more than 200,000 square feet of dilapidated property.
  • 100% of the apprentices have gotten a job after completing the program.
  • In 2018, there was a 42% reduction in crime in the area they work at.
How does it work?

Unemployed people are trained and empowered through the holistic 33-6-3 workforce development model. Each week, crewmembers or trainees partake in 33 hours of paid work, 6 hours of coursework delivered by a local community or technical college, and 3 hours of personal development coaching on issues like career planning, time-management, or emotional and physical health. After about two years participants graduate from the program after earning an associate degree and at least four professional certifications from the participating college. Graduates are then placed with employers throughout the state, are hired at one of Coalfields enterprises, or begin their own venture. While people are trained, the organization also seeks to diversify the economy and create more proactive and dynamic markets. For that, they have launched five social enterprises which build off of existing strengths or assets in the community, like the fact that almost all underground miners are licensed electricians, or that working the land is a valued activity. The enterprises successfully launched are Revitalize Appalachia (green-collar construction), Rediscover Appalachia (arts and culture), Rewire Appalachia (renewable energy and solar power), Refresh Appalachia (sustainable and organic agriculture), and Reclaim Appalachia (mine-land reclamation). Each convert perceived liabilities, such as dilapidated buildings, former strip mines, disconnected workers, or untested business ideas, into assets. On the other hand, the SEED (Social Enterprise and Economic Diversification) network aims to scale the model into other rural communities throughout the region. Partners are usually workforce development non-profits eager to replicate the new model and create a new system. Partners receive in-depth technical assistance and benefit from jointly developing products and projects across the network, as well as joint fundraising and generation of revenues.

Geographical scope

Where was initially developed
West Virginia (United States).
Last updated: 
September 2020