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What makes communities successful?

hillside community next to the sea
Photo by Yeo Khee on Unsplash

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: Best Practices in Building, Joining, Harnessing Communities. They asked their most experienced community builders to share their insights. Here are a few highlights from the webinar.

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.

Todd Khozein and Carrie Freeman are co-founders of Second Muse. They are building collaborative efforts to affect systems change across industries, sectors and geographies. Their projects include: organizing global hackathons, working with rural entrepreneurs and addressing ocean plastics. 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, but also incredible examples of community. How often do we have a shared global experience like this? The more severe the situation, the more you need different viewpoints at the table. This happens where there is trust.

How do we approach things from an abundance mindset? The communities that are most affected by this crisis are taking the time to show up from a point of abundance. How do we build these foundations now and perpetuate them beyond this crisis?

What keeps communities together and what makes them fall apart?

Every community has strengths and assets and thoughts and ideas. How do we tap into the strengths of each individual and our collective learning? By celebrating the community, telling stories and recognizing the amazing things that are happening. There’s a lot of knowledge in the community itself—value it and showcase 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 vulnerabilities that were already there. We’re now entering a rebuilding mode. What will we rebuild? Will we rebuild what we had before or build something different?

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

To build systemic solutions, we need to understand the system. Individuals are notoriously bad at this: we’re built for speed, not accuracy. The ability to think systemically is a community capability, not an individual capability. It requires trust in other people’s views and that together we can come up with a whole picture.

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 society developed, many community functions were taken over by the market and the state. How do we make community the basis for our governance from bottom to top?

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. They do things together. This is very powerful—addressing basic needs. Create 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?

Be intentional. Share your hope. Get people to talk. Music is amazing. Help people feel the wonderment of everyone coming together.

What’s the role of hierarchies in communities?

There should be a practical reason to bring people together to build community. When it feels useful to people, they’ll perpetuate it.

How does the will of the community get expressed? Through democratic processes. In the U.S., our democratic process is fairly weak and shallow, invoked every 4 years. It’s a miserable expression of the voice of the people. How do we innovate structures of community that allow for more universal participation?

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.

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. 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.

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