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Photo by Mario Purisic on Unsplash

What makes communities successful?

An article written by Sara DeHoff

How can we best build, join and harness our local and international communities? Ethical Business Building the Future (EBBF) recently held a webinar to explore these ideas. They asked their most experienced community builders to share their insights. Here are a few highlights from the webinar.

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Jenna Nicholas is the CEO of Impact Experience. They work with under-served communities in places like Puerto Rico and Houston. They engage the most marginalized populations who are on the front lines in terms of resilience with a specific focus on diversity, equity and inclusion.

Todd Khozein and Carrie Freeman are co-founders of Second Muse. They are building collaborative efforts, building communities to affect systems change across industries, sectors and geographies. Their projects include: organizing global hackathons with technologists, or working with rural or circular entrepreneurs, addressing ocean plastics emergency, creating more gender inclusive industries. They engaged people in over 260 cities around the world.
The questions they focus on are: How do we provide more access? How do we collaborate? How do we support people who want to make a difference in the world?

What are you observing about how communities are reacting to COVID-19?

Moments of crisis bring out panic made evident by empty grocery stores, but also incredible examples of communities coming together and supporting each other.
How often do we have a shared global experience like this?
In some of the communities that we have been working with, the more vocational ones we are seeing their original unity of purpose creating an ever stronger, more resilient ties in these days.

The more uncertain the situation, the more you need to rely on different viewpoints to come to the table to create a vision what is the future. This happens more easily where there is trust.

How do we approach things from an abundance rather than a scarcity mindset? Even the people who are most affected by this crisis are taking the time to show up from a point of abundance, seeing learnings, realizing our interconnectedness and the decisions we make have direct impact on one another.

How do we build these foundations now and perpetuate them beyond this crisis with a new mindset?

What keeps communities together and what makes them fall apart?

Every community has strengths and assets, amazing people and thoughts and ideas.

A key element is to find out how to tap into the abundance of strengths of each individual and into our collective learning.
Creating an awareness of how we each bring value.

Another aspect we experience in keeping the community together is by celebrating the community, telling stories and recognizing the amazing things that are happening.

There’s a lot of knowledge in the community itself, highlighting, honouring and showcasing it.

Learning communities or communities of practice — where do you find the balance?

Learning and practice are two sides of the same coin. In a crisis, the cycle gets a lot shorter. Second Muse has been working with the manufacturing community in New York. Now we have a shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE). How do we quickly re-purpose our manufacturing capabilities to respond?

This crisis has revealed how incredibly fragile our supply chains are. We’re now entering a rebuilding mode. What needs to be rebuilt now, masks, emergency processes, the body of the community?
This is when we need to master the coming together and doing and learning together to address the immediate need but also a wider rebuild.
Will we rebuild what we had before or build something different?

That rebuilding effort should be a collective effort rather than lead by a few inspired individuals here or there as the individual action will inevitably be skewed and focused rather than broad and more widely accepted.

What is the capacity of communities to come up with systemic solutions?

We are now addressing the health crisis, starting to address the economic crisis, in part the environmental crisis, but the way communities can come up with systemic solutions, is for them to understand the complexities of the system as a whole and of the different lenses through which people are looking at the system.

Clearly identifying the barriers we have control over, which ones can we influence, which ones do we want to influence. At the end of the day energy is fed by the priorities we are working with

Your ability to build truly systemic solutions involves your ability to actually see the various parts of the system that interact. As individuals we are notoriously bad at this: we’re built for speed, not accuracy.

The ability to think systemically is inherently a community rather than an individual capability. Our ability as humanity to collectively design and think of a future that is better than the present is not a muscle we have exercised a lot. We tend to rely on well articulated future scenarios designed, proposed by individuals. However individuals are notoriously bad at understanding systems because we need to rely on each others’ views.

This is a moment to ask ourselves what is the future we want to create and how to bring together multiple people who might have different visions of the future and actually bring them together hearing the voice of the collective.
It should not be the loudest voice but a collective voice that will be smarter than the smartest individuals in the community.

It requires trust in other people’s views, using the full capacity of all people, including the often underestimated and underinvested ones.

When the community is already looking after each other, it will be easier for them to have a systemic view. In our society where we are all so very specialized we have broken down that sense of community.

Together is when we can come up with a whole picture and the best possible future.

How do we build a multi-level community spirit to support multi-level governance?

Some of us are just now talking to neighbors we’ve lived next to for years. Historically, we needed community for survival. We ended up creating meaning in our communities.

As the market developed, many community functions were taken over by the the state, by the courts or by larger institutions and this has robbed the original community of meaning.

How do we make community return to be the foundation for our models of governance, the foundation for our markets and economies?

It is not just about being “gooder” but better.
It is about making an economy that is more inclusive, more representative of the demographics it is composed of and that is a fundamentally more intelligent economy.
There is no clear answer, besides the fact that it will look very different, but the path is incredibly clear: we need to incorporate this concept that the community is the basis from the bottom all the way to the top.

The easiest way to innovate around this is in local communities, that is where you have power to act, where the barriers come down, where you can put faces to roles, it is a more agile environment.

How do you open up a community (neighborhood) that’s not used to working together?

Interfaith Youth Corps helps young people from different backgrounds work together.

What is very powerful is that they do things together; creating spaces to do service projects together addressing the basic needs of the community.

Examples like creating a bulk order for groceries on WhatsApp. It’s very practical and action-oriented. What can we do together and how can we support each other?

This creates the kinds of bonds that will then make it easier to build genuine relationships and trust to do even more together as a community.

We are in such a powerful moment in time when people are reconceptualising everyting, the lack of faith in the current systems of governance opens the space to think of other modalities of governance more aligned to the needs of the world and this start from the neigbours, building now the basis for those relationships.

Be intentional. Creating spaces to uplift, get people to share their concerns and hope. Get people to talk. Music is also amazing. Help people feel the wonderment of everyone coming together.

What’s the role of hierarchies in communities?

It might be useful to think of structures of communities. People and communities need structures, these should be evolutionary structures.

There should be a practical reasons to bring people together, solving things that need solving. When it feels useful to people, they’ll perpetuate it.

But what is the voice of the community? How does the will of the community get expressed? You should be thinking of democratic processes.

Our democratic processes are fairly weak and shallow, invoked every 4 years. It’s a miserable expression of the voice of the people.
We should innovate structures of community that allow for more universal participation, to feed into a direction for the community has powerful opportunities to influence and inform how to structure society moving forward.

Is there a difference between communities that make things and those that conceptualize?

There’s always power whenever we engage multiple types of learning: spiritual, mental and emotional. At Second Muse, we started out with global convening of communities. But we’ve learned that so much change really happens in the local community. That’s where the masks get made, sharing meals, working with young people. Building things together is amazing: making art, conceptualizing, praying together taking things down to the local level and then reconnecting it to the global influence that our interdependent local communities have.

What we are seeing now is a real craving for coming together, and for using every level of engagement and intersection between arts, discourse, creating the spaces that brings people together.

What is the best way to enter an existing community?

Approach a new community with a sense of curiosity, openness and humility. Take the time to recognize your own biases and the role that those biases can play as we relate and interact in different communities.

Develop a humble attitude of curiosity and suspend any judgments that might be there.

What makes communities successful?

Abundance, resilience, celebrating our strengths… What are ways that your community is weathering this storm? Please share your experiences in the comments below.

You can view the video summary of the ebbf webinar here
And check out other ebbf events here

Written by

baha’i-inspired global learning community, accompanying individuals and groups, to transform business + economy contributing to a prosperous civilization

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