“What does community mean to you?” he asked.
Woah …. Uhhhhhhh …
Big Question. Loaded Question.
I was asked this question earlier this week while participating in a panel discussion about building community through creativity and collaboration. I sat there flabbergasted by the question, and was the first person on the panel to speak. Great.
I often find the overarching word “community” itself, and the many complex socio-economic underpinnings of the concept, to be completely, totally, and utterly overwhelming. To be honest when I think about my “community work” over the last decade, I don’t really see it as an overarching, large sweeping concept. It isn’t really until I sat down and made a list of, “oh remember that thing we did that made me feel good” things, that I really started to see the big picture.
I have always been a heart follower, and I stay very focused on creating little magic moments through connecting people to each other, and to opportunities. In reflecting on what community means to me, what I realized is that when those little magic moments add up, they somehow equal what others perceive as “community building”.
In answering the question at hand, sitting in a room full of business owners, community builders, and invested citizens, I (naturally panicked and) responded with what first came to mind, “I think everyone is looking for connection and belonging. Community means looking for opportunities to connect the dots.”
Connecting the Dots
In a small city like Halifax, we all have so many hats to wear. Sometimes you’ll see me out and about wearing my Cushman & Wakefield hat, sometimes it’s my Paper Hearts hat, sometimes my Catapult Leadership Society hat, sometimes its Dalhousie University, sometimes it’s the Halifax Chamber hat”, you get the picture.
After responding to his question, having not even mentioned any of the specific “community building” initiatives that I had helped to create over the last decade, the facilitator asked me to deep dive specifically into a particular initiative I co-founded, called “100 Entrepreneurs: Planting Seed$”; an event in which we invite 100+ business, academic, not-for-profit and government leaders (and youth spectators) - to crowd fund a youth led business venture. We have a panel of diverse judges rank our submissions, and the top three pitch to a room of some of Halifax’s most influential do-ers and dreamers.
We simply wanted them all to meet, and when they did – magic happened.
Our winning venture this year was awarded $10,000 at our event – as our 100 leaders voted, and then each wrote her a cheque for $100. She is now building prototypes, winning more competitions, and testing her ideas. But in addition to that, multiple job positions were filled with bright, hungry minds - eager to make a difference. Other youth ventures were connected to venture capitalists, financial institutions, lenders, mentors, and a few were actually even funded, with one receiving over $500,000 to date in private investment from someone they met in that room.
Tap Into Your Magic.
Community building is all about tapping into your magic … your super power … that which comes naturally to you. I, by nature, am a connector. I feel a rush when I introduce people to each other, and to opportunities. What is your super power? Maybe it is empathy, or healing, or coaching, or championing change?
It Just Takes One.
A few months ago, at a local not-for-profit fundraising breakfast, a series of videos were shared with the crowd that profiled young people who benefited from various programs that the organization supported. One of the young men profiled was entering into high school, and wanted to be an architect. I left the breakfast with his story in my mind, playing over and over again.
"How did he fall in love with architecture? Does he know any architects? Is that dream his guiding light? High school can be hard…" and on and on and on my mind went.
Later that week, I met with a commercial interior designer, and she asked me about my community involvement, and was looking for insights into getting more connected to giving back in the city.
This was it, the "little magic moment" that I am always on the lookout for.
I said, “Do you want to make some magic happen”?
She (not knowing me at all) responded with, “Umm ... Okay ... what do you have in mind?”
I asked her if she knew any architects – and it turns out – she did. We then connected this young man's family to an incredible local architecture firm that welcomed them into their company with open arms. The president himself arranged for the young man and his family to tour their office, meet their team, and visit the school of architecture.
Following their visit, the young man's mother wrote to the group of us to say that on their way home, the young man said that he will always carry with him that, “architecture is different than most professions. You will also leave a legacy behind, when you pass on”.
This week, his mom sent us all a photo of him holding his “honours” certificate from his first year in high school. The young man will now be spending his PD days throughout high school exploring the world of architecture at this firm, and has even been offered a work placement if and when he should require one in university.
I take comfort knowing now for certain, and not having to wonder, that his dream will be his guiding light when high school gets hard, (in addition to his supportive and loving mother of course).
What Does Community Building Mean To You?
After reflecting on this question, I now know that as you achieve increments of success throughout your lifetime, it is so important to build the staircase that helps others to achieve success around you. I have often heard the “send the elevator back down” pitch, but I live my life through a different lens. Community building for me is all about being a champion for just one person.
Just one ...
… at a time.
You don’t need to do something huge, if you feel like it is bigger than you – it is. All you need to do is tap into your magic – your you-ness. For me that means looking for tiny opportunities to push open doors that someone might not have the courage to knock on.
Now pick up a shovel, or a seed, or a pen, or a hammer … and let’s continue building together.