Rural depopulation is becoming a major policy challenge in Europe as the population and employment have become increasingly concentrated in the urban centres and rural regions showing an ever-continuing downfall in terms of the population size. Further pressing challenges in rural areas include risk of poverty and social exclusion and raising unemployment rates. These challenges are felt in the Alto Minho region, which is a markedly rural territory, with more remote areas largely depopulated, to the detriment of urban areas, which concentrate more than 75% of the population in only one-third of the territory.  An ageing region concerning the country and the northern region, as a result of the general ageing of the population in all the municipalities, and also of the difficulties of population renovation (the two youngest age groups, up to the age of 24, assuming modest proportions in the total population). Also, the population of Alto Minho has low levels of school education. The entrepreneurial spirit of the region is less intense when compared to regional (North region), and national indicators. Although entrepreneurial initiatives are, in general, well succeed, business ideas that arise in the region require more incentive measures and continued support.

Furthermore, the crisis around the Coronavirus pandemic leads to further difficulties, making it harder for entrepreneurs to survive in the uncertain, risky, turbulent, and ambiguous world of today. On the other hand, and although the pandemic may have left several sectors in a bad situation, in summer 2020, tourism had “excellent” results, without compensating for the losses felt in this difficult year.  In the whole interior North, the season was marked by the high demand, with many accommodation units fully booked, in a search for quite for family holidays, far from crowds.

On the 27th of November 2020, the Polytechnic Institute of Viana do Castelo (IPVC),  member of the international consortium of the ARDENT (Advancing Rural Development through Entrepreneurship Education for Adults), hosted a rural consultation event, an online meeting with the members of the Rural Council  aiming to define the economic and societal challenges of rural areas in the Alto Minho region and the further use of the meeting results as a basis for the adult education program “Rural Entrepreneurship Accelerator”.

The event started with the presentation of the participants, objectives and planned activities in the ARDENT project, as well as recently concluded projects in the area of entrepreneurship promoted by IPVC, as some of the participants did not attend the kick-off meeting. Subsequently, it was presented the design of the “rural entrepreneurship accelerator training”. After that, IPVC team requested support from participants in identifying societal and economic challenges, specific to the region. Participants were encouraged to scribble their ideas through Padlet, a digital wall.

The participants identified specific challenges and aspects such as opportunities, potential barriers, and stakeholders involved, among others. These aspects were mainly derived from the “Societal Innovation Canvas” model, which served as a template to support and guide the structure of the creative process.

All participants contributed with their ideas on economic and social challenges.

It was a great reflection moment and excellent contribution to the ARDENT project. The participants were interested and had interesting and pertinent interventions, as well as expressed wishes of collaboration among all.