Community & Ecosystem Builders— the keys to rebuilding a 21st-century post-pandemic society

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Cover Image: Bulabog Putian National Park in the province of Iloilo, Philippines

The Importance of Community

Since the dawn of man, communities have given mankind a sense of belonging and connection — a critical level in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

One can argue that this even goes beyond the Homo sapiens species, as organisms of different kinds thrive in communities. Even the lowly plankton rely on the behavior and activities of other organisms to survive. A macro-level of communities would be ecosystems. As human beings crave social connections, they naturally desire to be in a community.

Human communities have been responsible for building civilizations, industries, and institutions. Therefore in this 21st-century pandemic-affected age, all the more do community and ecosystem builders play a big role.

My Experience as a Community and Ecosystem Builder

I have always been drawn to the experience of connecting the dots. Whether they be with people, ideas, patterns in history, etc. It may have started during my student leadership days, and it translated in my work as a social enterprise and startup founder.

This has led me to the wonderful work of community building in the online spaces especially for startup founders, social changemakers or just regular people who share a common goal. From organizing hackathons in Manila, Startup Weekends and other related startup and social entrepreneur events in the Philippines, I was drawn to the palpable activity of gathering diverse people to create meaningful innovations.

Curating a Community for Changemakers

In 2017, I first stepped into an actual online/offline community building role through the Global Shapers Community of the World Economic Forum. I became a Curator of the Iloilo Hub in the Philippines and it has allowed me to connect with hundreds of young people around the world, passionate in making positive change in their own cities.

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At the Annual Curators Meeting in the World Economic Forum Headquarters at Geneva, Switzerland (2017)

This has also given me an introduction to helpful tools that we can use to design community engagement that leads to real impact, which I will share more of below.

In 2018 it was this Masters of Scale podcast by Reid Hoffman that started helping me form a framework and thought model for community building. It featured Flickr co-founder and Kickstarter / Etsy investor Caterina Fake — arguably the “Abraham of Social Media”. Flickr was one of the first online communities that “begat” social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, etc.

But Caterina (who also happens to be Filipino) corrected in the podcast that Flickr was NEVER meant to be “social media”. Media was where you can buy column inches and a share of readers’ attention. She wanted an online platform for human conversations (no one selling and marketing). That is why Reid corrected in the episode that she is more like the “Noah — moments before the flood”, where online communities are like an ark to help ferry civilization to a better more “humane” internet.

“There are many communities online: Marketplaces. Crowdfunding platforms. Content sites. And many of them are thriving, because they recognize, as Caterina does, that what you’re creating is a civilization. You are the framer, the giver of laws, the establisher of norms — and the way you lead your first generation of users will shape how they lead the next generation and the next. That’s why I believe every founder of an online community has to shape the culture from day one, because the tone you set is the tone you’re gonna keep

— Reid Hoffman, LinkedIn Co-Founder, VC Investor, Masters of Scale podcast host

Building a Community for Women

Serendipitously, in the same year, I got an offer to join Connected Women — a social impact tech startup that aims to match global entrepreneurs with talented Filipino women remote workers. My role as Events & Community Growth manager was to create and co-manage offline interactions and training programs to grow the community that exists mostly online.

I was part of the team that pioneered the first Connected Women meetups. What started from 7 cities in the Philippines immediately grew to hundreds of cities in at least 10 countries around the world.

Innovate Iloilo : Ecosystem Building Work in Action

A group of many communities would be an “Ecosystem”. From building communities with organizations, I went to cross-collaboration work with public-private sectors in our city. This was also done through our Global Shapers Iloilo initiatives. As one of the communities connected with the World Economic Forum, we have been taught to champion awareness on the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and how cities should prepare for this change.

Several discussions and meetings later, a group of organizations loosely called the “Coalition of the Willing” in Iloilo, Philippines was able to launch Innovate Iloilo, a public-private movement to promote an innovation ecosystem in Iloilo, Philippines.

It’s the first of its kind in the country, and an innovation roadmap was created to outline the steps needed to achieve the goal of making Iloilo a premiere innovation hub in the Philippines by 2030.

How Ecosystem Building is the New Economic Development

It was this podcast called “The Keystone” that has influenced the way I think about ecosystem building.

I had a chance to have a call with Yuval Yarden, one of the hosts and co-creators of the show. She gave an important statement of how ecosystem building should be the new way of economic development — which is true.

When I was at a professional fellowship in the US in Spring 2019, hosted by the US State Department, I got a chance to work closely with the Chemeketa Small Business Development Center in Salem, Oregon. I learned a lot from Celia Nuñez, the director of the center. She is one of the economic development innovators & managers I look up to! By being able to identify and work with organizations supporting small businesses, and also making sure not to mission-creep, she was able to accelerate support for the small businesses in her area. This infrastructure support and system is what is enabling her and her team to also respond to support businesses affected by the pandemic.

Through an exchange grant, she was able to come to Iloilo, Philippines in October 2019 and share her best practices with our stakeholders during our Innovate Iloilo launch.

Read the report here:

Project Report from US Exchange Program

Community Building Tools

Overtime, because of these experiences, I have learned practical tools to guide us when we are building communities.

First, it all starts with the purpose of the community, and you design from there.

  1. Community Canvas

The Community Canvas is definitely one of these tools that have helped me in my Community building work

2. Theory U

Developed by Otto Scharmer of MIT, it helps provide framework on how to design more systems-level change anchored on what you truly care about changing.

3. The Rainforest by Victor Hwang & Greg Horowitt

Shout out to Yuval for introducing me to this wealth of knowledge! The Rainforest by Victor Hwang and Greg Horowitt. I recommend buying both the book, and the toolkit if you want to build ecosystems in your city / locality.

4. Startup Communities by Brad Feld

Considered a bible for startup community building.

5. Community Builders Group

Community Builders also need a Community. That is why I was pleased to have stumbled on this Facebook Group (also by the same guys behind the Community Canvas). Shoutout also to Lana Jenelev, my fellow Filipina who is now in the Netherlands — one of the passionate curators of this community for community builders!

6. Startup Ecosystem Canvas by Founder’s Institute

Founder’s Institute has created this widely-used startup ecosystem canvas. It has been a great tool to do mapping on the local startup ecosystem. In fact, the Philippine government, through the Department of ICT used this canvas to map & measure existing startup ecosystems in the country, including our own city of Iloilo.

Local Innovation Ecosystems

It is my hope that we move forward with creating the field and discipline of community and ecosystem building in the Philippines. By harnessing online tools for collective social good, we can help create that “Noah’s Ark”, which Caterina Fake mentioned — a way to guide human civilization into the “new normal” towards more humane and values-driven societies.

I shared a little about this in this webinar with the US Embassy in Manila last April 30

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(UPDATE: June 27, 2020 — I also completed this foresight report on the Future of Local Innovation Ecosystems for my grad school work )

Similar to how keystone species help an ecosystem thrive, I believe, community and ecosystem builders are the keys to build a better society in this 21st-century post-pandemic world.

Interested to learn more about community & ecosystem building? Or do you have a comment / question / feedback? Would love to connect!

Send me a note at: noreenmarian.bautista[at]

Written by

Founder, SlashIgnite — Igniting ideas to reality, building communities and learning how to shape a better future.

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