Entrepreneurial Social Infrastructure and Community Development: Implementing Biodiesel Initiatives in Rural Communities

Rural communities suffer from a current trend of population and opportunity loss. A means of community development is needed to reverse these trends. Black diesel and biodiesel cooperatives are seen as a method by which community development and revitalization can be achieved. However, it is important to note that community development requires certain prerequisites within the community. Namely, high levels of social capital and entrepreneurial social infrastructure must be present within the community for effective collective action to take place. Within this project, a literature review was conducted to better understand the relationship between social capital, entrepreneurial social infrastructure (ESI), cooperative structures, the role of extension agents, the sociology of technology, and community development. Furthermore, the activities of current biodiesel organizations were analysed in the context of the Flora & Flora model of ESI in order to ascertain how these activities serve to strengthen ESI in communities and thus contribute to community development. If the creation of a black diesel/biodiesel cooperative is the desired means of achieving community development, the success of the cooperative will depend upon levels of social capital and ESI present within the community, as well as on choosing an appropriate cooperative structure, garnering support from extension agents, understanding existing attitudes towards new technologies, and the existence of cooperative activities that serve to strengthen levels of ESI within the community.


Rural communities across America are facing decline. Residents are aging, populations are decreasing, and employment opportunities are disappearing (Flora & Flora, 2008). Many have turned their attention to rural community development projects in hopes of combating these recent trends. One possible way to encourage community development is by creating black diesel and biodiesel cooperatives in rural communities. Black diesel is produced from recycled automotive oil, and biodiesel from used vegetable oil. This fuel can be used to power buses in rural school districts. If restaurant owners, cooperative members, and rural school districts can come together in rural communities to create partnerships, communities may positively benefit from increased social capital, entrepreneurial social infrastructure (ESI), and community development, all while combating the rising costs of petroleum based diesel. However, in order to implement a black diesel/biodiesel cooperative in rural communities, rural communities must first possess an atmosphere conducive to development. Namely, there must be high amounts of social capital and entrepreneurial social infrastructure within the community to begin with, as well as support from extension agents to create a cooperative structure that suits the community. Therefore, while rural communities must devise a means of development if they wish to reverse the trend of opportunity and population loss, development in the form of effective community action does not take place out of sheer will. Rather, collective action requires an environment rich with diverse ideas, resources, and relationships to produce lasting and positive changes for all community members. As some communities lack these basic prerequisites for effective community action, they must focus on creating social capital and ESI in their communities before other development projects can take place.

ruraldevelopment farm schoolbus

Social Capital, Entrepreneurial Social Infrastructure, and Community Development

Social capital is conceptualized as social networks and relationships between individuals that hold within them the potential for knowledge, resources, and other benefits. Social capital is often divided into two categories: bridging and bonding social capital. While bonding social capital refers to intimate ties between similar individuals or groups, bridging social capital refers to less intimate ties between dissimilar individuals and groups (Agnitsch, Flora, & Ryan, 2006). Both bonding and bridging social capital are important predictors of community action. When bonding and bridging social capital are high, effective community action can take place. When one or both is low, community action is hindered (Flora & Flora, 2008). Furthermore, when both bonding and bridging social capital are present, entrepreneurial social infrastructure (ESI) is possible. ESI is a form of community action characterized by three dimensions: legitimacy of alternatives, mobilization of resources, and network qualities. Legitimacy of alternatives embodies a respect for alternative points of view. Mobilization of resources is the willingness of citizens and organizations to invest in their community. Network qualities are the connections established between members within a community, and from one community to another. Diverse connections between community members and other communities encourages the movement of ideas, knowledge, resources, and opportunities (Flora, 1998).

The Flora & Flora Model of Entrepreneurial Social Infrastructure (Flora, 1998; Sharp et. al, 2002).

REU Paper

Cooperatives, Extension, and Sociology of Technology

The traditionally organized cooperative is characterized by open membership, capital that remains unassigned to particular members, and a one-member-one-vote style of governance. Traditionally organized cooperatives have shifted to entrepreneurial cooperative models (Nilsson, 1999). Furthermore, there is a movement toward bureaucratization and proportional representation within the cooperative (Mooney, 2004). Cooperative Extension agents have the responsibility to inform rural community members of the growing opportunities in the biofuel industry. Extension agents can achieve this by keeping their clients informed and in contact with those who are already involved in these growing technologies (Fortson, 2006). The success of biofuels is attributed to the fact that the socio-technical system of the automobile was not required to change with their adoption. To the extent that next generation biofuels cannot fit within this same system, public adoption and widespread support will be lacking (Carolan, 2010).

VegOil BiodieselConverter BlackDieselFilters BlackDieselConverter

Established Biodiesel Operations

There are many established biodiesel organizations and there is much to be learned from their operations. By examining the activities of these already established organizations, we can learn from and incorporate their most beneficial and productive activities into future organizational and cooperative structures. These activities will be explained within a model of entrepreneurial social infrastructure. Therefore, each activity can be seen as fitting into efforts to increase legitimacy of alternatives, mobilization of resources, and/or network qualities.

Legitimacy of Alternatives

Legitimacy of alternatives is characterized by a respect for diverse opinions. The more diverse opinions are accepted, the more opportunities a group will have to grow and develop, as they will have greater access to potentially innovative ideas. Already established organizations demonstrate legitimacy of alternatives by seeking collaborations between diverse groups and individuals, and by holding meetings for both organization and community members. For example, the KU Biodiesel Initiative is a student-run organization enabling equal student participation (KU Biodiesel Initiative, n.d.a). This encourages member input and involvement, and contributes to the generation of diverse and potentially innovative ideas. Furthermore, many biodiesel organizations hold weekly or monthly meetings that are open to the public, which further encourages the generation of diverse ideas by bringing together different people.


Mobilization of Resources

Mobilization of resources is the extent to which resources within and outside of the community can be accessed. Cooperatives mobilize resources by requiring member dues, holding fundraisers and donation drives, as well as by encouraging businesses to participate. For example, School & Community Assistance for Recycling & Composting Education (SCARCE), a Glen Ellyn non-profit, has established drop-off locations for used cooking oil (SCARCE, n.d.). Furthermore, the organization conducts a Thanksgiving drive to collect turkey fryer oil to be converted into biodiesel (Carlman, 2013). Green Circle North Carolina, an organization that provides a B20 blend to rural school districts for use in their buses, encourages restaurant owners to donate or sell their used cooking oil to Green Circle by providing participating businesses with a window decal that indicates their involvement. These decals are desirable as members of the community are more likely to support participating restaurants, as doing so also supports their schools (pittcountygovernment, 2013).


Network Qualities

Network qualities are defined as the links created within and outside of the community. Linkages can be created between the cooperative and other community members by creating a user-friendly website and holding community meetings. Creating a website and holding meetings will ensure that information about the cooperative will be disseminated to the wider community. This will, in turn, encourage widespread community participation and contribute to legitimacy of alternatives. Similarly, cooperatives can create relationships within and outside of the community by creating partnerships with like-minded cooperatives and organizations, and by joining regional associations. For example, the KU Biodiesel Initiative has a partnership with the Kansas Soybean Commission, and Green Circle North Carolina partners with school districts (KU Biodiesel Initiative, n.d.b; Green Circle North Carolina, 2014). Faculties of extension at universities can make a substantial impact in terms of encouraging the growth of biodiesel initiatives through enhancement of network qualities. By working in rural areas, they can encourage the growth of new technologies while also putting rural communities in contact with one another to enhance the learning process. For example, Stebbins-Wheelock et al. (2012) describe a project undertaken between two Vermont farmers and University of Vermont Extension agents. Working with Extension, Vermont farmers were able to produce oilseed crops, vegetable oil, biodiesel, and oilseed meal for livestock on their farms, thereby becoming more financially and energy secure.



Agnitsch, K., Flora, J., & Ryan, V. (2006). Bonding and bridging social capital: The interactive effects on community action. Community Development, 37(1), 36-51. doi: 10.1080/15575330609490153

Carlman, S.F. (2013, October 18). How to get rid of oil after deep-frying turkey. Chicago Sun-Times. Retrieved from: http://www.suntimes.com/lifestyles/23218114-423/how-to-get-rid-of-oil-after-deep-frying-turkey.html#.U8fhHVZH3FI

Carolan, M.S. (2010). Ethanol’s most recent breakthrough in the United States: A case of socio-technical transition. Technology in Society, 32(2), 65-71.

Flora, C.B., & Flora, J.L. (2008). Rural communities: Legacy + change (3rd ed.). Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Flora, J.L. (1998). Social capital and communities of place. Rural Sociology, 65(4), 481-506.

Green Circle North Carolina. (2014). Sustainability Partners. Retrieved from: http://greencirclenc.com/sustainability-partners/

KU Biodiesel Initiative. (n.d.a). People. Retrieved from KU Biodiesel Initiative website: http://biodiesel.ku.edu/people

KU Biodiesel Initiative. (n.d.b). Sponsors. Retrieved from KU Biodiesel Initiative website: http://biodiesel.ku.edu/sponsors

Mooney, P.H. (2004). Democratizing rural economy: Institutional friction, sustainable struggle and the cooperative movement. Rural Sociology, 69(1), 76-98.

Nilsson, J. (1999). Co-operative organisational models as reflections of the business environments. The Finnish Journal of Business Economics, 4(99), 449-470.

pittcountygovernment. (2013, September 26). Wheels on the bus [Video file]. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v7kWiGxJb5U

SCARCE. (n.d.). Recycle your cooking oil into bio-fuel. Retrieved from: http://www.scarceecoed.org/recycling/cooking-oil.html

Sharp, J.S., Agnitsch, K., Ryan, V., & Flora, J. (2002). Social infrastructure and community economic development strategies: The case of self-development and industrial recruitment in rural Iowa. Journal of Rural Studies, 18(4), 405-417.

Stebbins-Wheelock, E.J., Parsons, R., Wang, Q., Darby, H., & Grubinger, V. (2012). Technical feasibility of small-scale oilseed and on-farm biodiesel production: A Vermont case study. Journal of Extension, 50(6).

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About Me

    My name is Vanessa Zuchetto. I enjoy reading fiction and going for walks.

    Professional Picture

    I am a student at the University of Calgary, in Calgary, Alberta. I am in my final year of a Bachelor of Arts Honours degree majoring in Sociology (with a concentration in criminology) and minoring in Psychology. My honours thesis will focus on the relationship between media representations of crime and perceptions of crime in society. I will be graduating in May of 2015, at which point I hope to pursue more education.

    bow Calgary Skyline bridge winter

    I grew up on an acreage in Sherwood Park, Alberta with two siblings and three dachshunds.



  • Patrick Rissler
  • Dr. Laszlo Kulcsar
  • This material is based upon work supported by National Science Foundation Grant: "REU Site: Summer Academy in Sustainable Bioenergy; NSF Award No.: SMA-1062895, awarded to Kansas State University."