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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. …

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Photo by Mike Erskine on Unsplash

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. …

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Photo by Allef Vinicius on Unsplash

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. …


Fabian Pfortmüller

Grüezi, Swiss community builder in NYC, author of @CommunityCanvas, co-founder Together Institute,

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