Revitalizing rural: A small town with big strengths looks to the future


Campbellsburg, Indiana, resident Sue Bennett wasn’t sure what to anticipate when the Indiana University Center for Rural Engagement invited the community of only 579 people to share its ideas for the future of the town.

“When they came to Campbellsburg, we didn’t expect a lot of people to show up,” said Bennett. To her surprise, dozens of residents came out on a cold February night in 2019 to exchange their thoughts. Among the ideas generated that evening, residents and center staff gravitated toward creating a strategy for growth and revitalization for Campbellsburg. To get started, they turned to 180 Degrees Consulting.

180 Degrees Consulting is an international, student-led consultancy firm with a branch at the Indiana University Kelley School of Business. Haaris Malik, who graduated from Kelley this year, led the six-member consulting team in 2020 as they worked with the town of Campbellsburg to address the issue of revitalizing and growing its population.

“180 Degrees Consulting allows students to connect passions for serving their communities with their passions for academics,” says Bryce Dixon, an accounting and finance major who worked alongside Malik as the assistant team manager helping to work out logistics and keep the team engaged.

The consultancy accepts pro-bono work from nonprofits in the Bloomington area and even internationally. Working to complete projects with 180 helps students leverage and develop the skills they’ve already learned while gaining new ones, says Dixon.

For 180 Degrees Consulting, Malik says the project came with its challenges because it was not the nonprofit work they were familiar with, but his team learned from it. “This project came with a steep learning curve as we adapted our business mindsets to this town’s struggles.”

“Fortunately, we had the help of the Center for Rural Engagement and our client to help guide us,” says Malik. “My team would not have been able to do our job as effectively without the cooperation from our wonderful client contacts.”

Of the collaboration with 180 Degrees Consulting, Bennett said, “They were wonderful to work with. I appreciated their encouragement and ideas. You get kind of complacent in your thoughts, and sometimes you want to think, ‘Well, we can't do anything.’”

Now, Bennett and the local committee are exploring dozens of opportunities, from a sidewalk chalk art festival to small business education events to town clean-up days, all drawing from existing resources available to the community.

“It would be fantastic to see multi-generational pride and engagement in Campbellsburg,” says Malik. “Success ultimately would be a town that laughs at the fact that they ever needed revitalization.”

The IU Center for Rural Engagement improves the lives of Hoosiers through collaborative initiatives that discover and deploy scalable and flexible solutions to common challenges facing rural communities. Working in full-spectrum community innovation through research, community-engaged teaching and student service, the center builds vision, harnesses assets and cultivates sustainable leadership structures within the communities with which it engages to ensure long-term success.