OUR ASSIGNMENT: The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and CFED (Corporation for Enterprise Development) needed a way to motivate private funders to provide complementary financing for the UPLIFT AMERICA FUND, a new federal initiative to channel significant financial resources into persistently poor rural communities.

USDA and CFED wanted to capture the pervasiveness of entrenched rural poverty, explain the work that Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) do, and make the case for expanded public and private partnerships to channel desperately needed funding into these long-neglected regions of the United States.

PROCESS: We analyzed studies and reports prepared by CFED in preparation for the creation of the Uplift America Fund, We worked with CDFI staff in four regions—Appalachia, the Mississippi Delta, Indian country, and Las Colonias along the Texas/Mexico border—to identify individuals and families who could demonstrate both the toll that persistent poverty takes and the support that CDFIs provide.

RESULTSUnlocking Investment in Rural America was launched in July 2016 and is being used to drive applications to the Uplift America Fund.  It's helping CDFIs across the country explain their work to potential funders and partners. The film is permanently housed on the Uplift America website.

The USDA first screened the film in July 2016 at the Community Facilities Re-Lending & Uplift America Launch Ceremony attended by senior USDA officials including Secretary Vilsack and executives from major US banks and philanthropic organizations. 

USDA Under Secretary Lisa Mensah screened it for the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Regional Development Policy Committee in Paris, France. The meeting was attended by government officials of 35 OECD member countries, the European Commission and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations. 

UNLOCKING INVESTMENT IN RURAL AMERICA expertly depicts and articulates the issue of persistent poverty in rural America. It is compassionate, moving and evokes a sense of urgency for viewers to join in with communities that, while economically depressed have an optimistic spirit toward the future.”
— United States Department of Agriculture
“Groundspark is our filmmaking partner of choice for their ability to frame a social issue with power and complexity, engage viewers and lead them to action. Their work for the Uplift America Fund—a new initiative to invest in persistently poor rural communities—succeeded in elevating an issue too long ignored—bringing it to leading philanthropists, policymakers and investors and engaging them in the solution. Their ability to listen to the customer, adapt to the needs of the stakeholders, and create a product of beauty is unequalled.”

— Andrea Levere, President, CFED


  • Producers Debra Chasnoff and Brittney Shepherd
  • Director Debra Chasnoff
  • Director of Photography Jerry Henry
  • Editor Laurie Lezin-Schmidt