Last summer I was sitting with Ankit Shah in a cafe in San Francisco. A while into our conversation a stranger, sharing a table with us, reached over and asked: “Are you the Ankit from Tea With Strangers? I met my two best friends there. I love it”.
This serendipitous moment beautifully captures the essence of Ankit’s work. He founded an organization called Tea With Strangers, which brings people together over tea and helps them have honest, meaningful conversations. The organization hopes to fertilize the soil for deep relationships and ultimately inspire a deeper and more rooted faith in humanity.
I have been inspired by their approach for a while, because what Ankit and his community of hosts are doing isn’t building “community” in the way I normally think of it: they are not trying to create groups that continue to meet and build relationships over time. Instead, they have found a beautiful gathering template that can be replicated anywhere, a template that weaves the fabric of society more closely together. This for me is very much community work and I believe there is so much we all can learn from Tea With Strangers. Below are some highlights of what I learned from talking to him. …
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. …
Over the last two weeks I participated in several community retreats. At all of these gatherings the discussion circles with the full group took longer than they had been planned for and at the end of it people were still hungry to continue talking. People had a lot they wanted to say.
At first I felt exhausted by the people who would dominate the collective space, by speaking often and in long, winding monologues. It reminded me of the underlying, unspoken power dynamics, because the people who speak a lot tend to be men, often white men.
But then I realized that beyond the structural inequality (which is real) there is something else worthwhile paying attention to: I sense that so often in community circles, the contributions are less about deepening the conversation and more about being acknowledged. People just want to be heard and seen. …
A few weeks ago I was part of an inspired dinner conversation where one of the guests told us that many Canadian engineers — like himself — wear an iron ring as a proud marker of their profession and reminder of their work’s ethics.
I had never heard of that. As I was digging more into this story, I realized that this is an incredibly powerful community ritual, with a rich history and the flavor of a long gone era.
A few weeks back I saw Ants Cabraal from Enspiral present at AIME 2019 in Melbourne. He gave a fabulous talk about how community can transform the ways we work together. One of his opening slides showed a big bonfire with people sitting around it and he reminded us that community and community building is as old as humanity. Ever since we learned about the power of the fire, we have been sitting around it, telling stories, building relationships, making sense of the world around us. …
I recently spoke with a UN agency who is building a global community of practitioners. In our conversations I was reminded of a particular image of “community” that I come across often in my client work:
This perspective then drives resource allocation conversations: if we want to improve the community, we should create a better gathering or increase the features of our social network.
I find this perspective limiting. I think nurturing a community is not about one or two singular key pillars, but really about a member journey (that will include these pillars). That journey starts somewhere, has different phases and seasons (often marked by recurring experiences and rituals) and then at some point ends. …
These insights come from user interviews in the last few months, the Canvas 2.0 survey and a 3 day workshop the team held in NYC in February 2019. We’d LOVE to hear any feedback or reflections you have, you can leave a comment below or email us at email@example.com. This post was collectively put together by our project team: Daniel Brooks, Chris Chavez, Erin Dixon, Michel Bachman, Sascha Mombartz, Sita Magnusson and myself.
As we are working on the next iteration of the Community Canvas, an existential question keeps surfacing: can communities even be planned? My feeling is yes and no 🙂
We have been working on the next version of the Community Canvas for the last couple of months and this post is a summary of the clarity we see on where we are headed. We’d LOVE to hear any feedback or reflections you have, you can leave a comment below or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. This post was collectively put together by our project team: Daniel Brooks, Chris Chavez, Michel Bachman, Sascha Mombartz, Sita Magnusson and myself.
Here is what we are sensing for version 2.0 of the Community Canvas:
One of the biggest question I’m holding with nurturing thriving communities is simple: what are the core motivations for people to show up in communities? What creates most value in community?
I sense that there are two basic reasons which energize people to engage: being together and doing together. And at the intersection of these two is learning together. These are far from being mutually exclusive and there is a lot of overlap, yet I sense that their core intentions are different.
Examples of being together: We come together to build relationships. We come for friendship, and to feel a sense of trust, belonging, home and safety. We show up to enjoy each other’s company, for laughter and fun. We celebrate the good moments together and care for each other in the painful moments. We come together to feel safe, to recharge and to fully express our own voice. We come together to grow as individuals and as groups. …