Our work with the Community Canvas has allowed me to see the state of “community building” from a bird’s eye view. Through the Canvas and the Facebook group we started I met community builders from Australia, Singapore, China, India, the Middle East, allover Europe, Russia, Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Mexico, Canada and unexpected places across the US. On this journey I learned two simple things:
1) There are incredibly talented community builders allover the world. There are so many people who love bringing people together and who are good at helping them build trust and belonging. As far as I can tell community builders cross all the lines of power and privilege that sometimes separate us: gender, race, age, socio-economic class, urban vs rural. And they work across many different sectors. When I see all this tremendous talent, I’m reminded of John O’Donohue’s perspective that maybe we all have an innate talent for community. Maybe as humans we’re just naturally good at this.
2) Most of the community builders I meet can’t make a living from their craft. Despite their talent and genuine interest, most community builders I meet make their living outside of their community work. Their love for community building often stays a side element of their job, a volunteer engagement, a project they don’t expect to be paid for. As a result, a lot of community building potential is lost. There is a notable exception: community builders who work for for-profit companies, mostly for technology companies in the customer engagement / brand community. I’m still learning to better understand that type of community building, but I sense that even there community builders struggle to be fully appreciated.
A tremendous opportunity for a complex and scary future
I see all these under-appreciated community builders as a tremendous untapped resource for society. And I believe we need their skills now more than ever. We live in a world that is as disconnected as ever before. We are individualized, polarized, tribalized and lonely. And we’re facing a scary future: from climate change, ecosystem collapse and mass migration to tremendous social inequality further enhanced by technology. Ironically, if we want to thrive (or simply continue existing) our future will require us to collaborate, to support each other, to be empathetic with each other, to welcome strangers and to trust each other.
What if the community builders across the globe have something important to contribute towards that future?
What if we could see the value that all these community builders are creating for society? What if we as society would invest into community builders? What if “community building” became a profession? What if community building became a career people could thrive in?
I think the world would look different, better. So what’s holding us back?
As usual, I don’t have answers and would LOVE to hear your thoughts. But I strongly believe that we as humans have the ability and skills and talent to be more in relationship with each other, to trust each other more. And I do believe that there is a huge, untapped potential in all the underemployed community builders across the globe.
So so curious to hear your perspectives!