A deep dive into decentralised community strategy: where is the Enrol Yourself community heading?

Sarah Adefehinti
Published in
13 min readFeb 8, 2022


Enrol Camp magic captured by Thom Bartley

TL;DR — what’s in this blog post:
🌌 A bit about how I got into this community management role
🌱 A commitment to ‘good growth’ and what spurred my research into decentralised community strategy
🤓 Some details of how I approached my research process
🔎 Key findings on questions about community identity, community tech and how to resource community work
🚗 Three potential directions for the Enrol Yourself community

Skip as you like, dig for gems, or read the whole thing. You do you.

Genesis 🍎🐍

Back in 2017, I joined the second ever Learning Marathon with Enrol Yourself — and it changed the direction of my career and life. That’s not an understatement 🤠

I suddenly was surrounded by a community of people who lived completely different lives from me and who were keen to share knowledge, skills and opportunities with each other (something I wasn’t really used to.) It was truly transformative for me, as a 25 year old still tentatively learning how to operate in the world after leaving a cult at 18*, to face the multitudes of what I could become.

My worldview expanded: I realised I could be anything — and I had a group of cheerleaders behind me, uplifting each other.

(*The cult thing is a whole story for another time. Message me if you’re intrigued!)

I loved my experience so much that I naturally dived into connecting participants in old and new groups whenever I could; with Christmas parties, reunions, and pooling together to give Zahra (the co-founder) a ‘hosting retirement gift’. Eventually, I became a freelance Community Steward for the Enrol alumni community — and in Feb 2020, I went full time as the Community and Wellbeing Director (I thought I’d be doing a lot of in person events! HA HA HA.)

The Enrol community has grown pretty organically since its genesis in 2016… but in the past year we’ve grown more than ever before.

This year, we’ve welcomed in:

  • 126 new participants who took part in our Host Fellows’ 15 new Learning Marathons across the world;
  • 8 new people who have just embarked on our first land-based learning journey in South Devon, UK;
  • 28 practitioners joined our first ever Huddlecraft 101 course to bring peer-led practices into their own contexts.

We’re now a community of over 250 people — soon to be many more when we launch the new Host Fellowship in October 2022, and more Learning Marathons spawn out of that 🤯

Mindful growth 🌱

At Enrol Yourself, we strive to approach the way we work in a conscious, mindful way. That also applies to our growth: we don’t want to default to the societal assumption that growth = always good (I mean, that’s how we got to the mess we’re in as a society, isn’t it? 😅)

We want to make sure that we engage in ‘good growth only’ — growth that’s manageable for our small full time team, our Hosts, our collaborators and our wider community of alumni. Growth that adds to people’s experience and expands in value and joy; not growth that saps.

A snippet of our organisational compass with a leaf symbol, asking the following questions: “Are we growing mindfully, and deepening as we grow?” “Are we also considering the limits of our growth, or even de-growth?” — and — “Are we questioning and deconstructing our assumptions about growth?”
A snippet from our organisational compass

So how do we respond to our current spike in numbers, and the incoming expansion of our pool of Enrollers in future?

In the past two months, I’ve been on a journey researching just that. A myriad of questions emerged as I delved into researching communities, best practice and case studies. The questions that I focused on were these:

‍🧭 Who are we as a community — and how does it relate to our North Star as an organisation?

🕸 How can we continue to decentralise how this community connects and organises? Can the use of the right tech support this?

💸 How can we make our community work resourced and sustainable — especially since we’re a small business?

The research 🤓

A screenshot of a Mural board — an online whiteboard with colourful post its, images and separated sections. Brimming with  research insights and explorations!
My community evolution research Mural, where I recorded everything I looked at and heard 🤯

As you can see from the image above, I looked at a loooot of stuff to audit our community so far, get a wider perspective of the way other communities are run and gather inspiration.

Some gems I particularly want to shout out are this blog post on community strategy by David Spinks (jam packed full of super useful stuff: definitely one for me to revisit); this podcast on intentional gatherings by Brene Brown and Priya Parker, and this blog post by Lisa Xu on web3 DAO communities (really helpful to get an overview of what DAOs are and how they’re being used — and their potential for the future.)

I also, of course, reached out to our lovely community to get their input on these questions and beyond, by hosting:

  • 🤖 A group chat on DAOs/web3: sense-making together and brainstorming ways of playing with this to learn more.
  • 🏡 A group chat on co-living: connecting to and sharing our individual dreams, ending with thinking up micro-experiments to move towards this reality now.
  • ☕ One to one chats with community members from various ‘generations’ of Enrol Yourself, asking them about their experience within the community, the communities they feel at home in, their community tech habits and what they most care about in life.
A collage of images, screenshots of comments and post it notes of outcomes from in person and online events over the past 2 years — some Zoom calls with smiling faces, and a picture of Zahra, our Chief Exec, laughing in an apron at our annual Enrol Camp.
Snapshots from our community audit — snippets of events, outcomes, interactions, joy and learnings.

Key findings 🔑

‍🧭 Who are we as a community — and how does it relate to our North Star as an organisation?

To be honest, there are still some things to iron out here in my own head as a result of the data I gathered — it’s a lot to take in and process!

It was fascinating speaking to people about their experience of who we are as a community; the most common descriptor was that the Enrol community is ‘full of interesting, curious people who are supportive, generously share interesting initiatives and opportunities, and who share values’… which is… just bloody lovely to hear over and over again, to be honest.

When asked to describe their felt sense of those shared values, the recurring themes that emerged were these:

Some bright green, navy and grey bubbles and post its detailing the Enrol community values according to community members I spoke to: curious; keen to actively learn, change and develop together; inclusive by actively celebrating and welcoming difference in its myriad of forms; caring about the world and people; playful and creative
Vales of the Enrol Yourself wider community according to community members

Here are some thoughts that arise for me here:

  • Okay great, so now we’ve reiterated our values, how do we nurture our culture while we grow mindfully?
  • How do we explicitly welcome people into the wider community once they’ve completed a programme with us — so it’s less ‘default’ community and more exciting and active participation?
  • How do we create liberating structures that give people express permission to create their own events, start conversations and collaborate with each other beyond their Learning Marathon groups?

There’s also something here about redefining ‘success’ for our community:

What if it was less about consistent engagement — and more about continuing to facilitate deeper, more meaningful connections?

I’ve now confirmed my hunch that the Enrol community isn’t most people’s #1 community that they turn to for everything (nor should it be!), so my role is to perfect a community structure that is valuable, welcoming, collaborative and porous — allowing people to dip in and out as they need to, whilst still getting injections of Enrol magic.

Which brings us onto tech…

🕸 How can we continue to decentralise how this community connects and organises? Can the use of the right tech support this?

Oooh so this was a juicy one for me, because I came into this research almost convinced that Slack wasn’t right for us. I was wrong 😀

Although Slack isn’t the holy grail, the majority of people I spoke to either already used it regularly for work (and so checked the Enrol channel easily as a result of this)… or they simply didn’t want to engage via community tech, and were only keen for live events, online or offline — which is totally fair enough!

Again, redefining what success means is so key here, because you simply can’t please everyone.

Of course, there are people who clearly hate Slack or it doesn’t work for them, and there are ways of enhancing our connection on Slack which I’d love to try in the coming months. Buuuut at the moment Slack is the lesser of the evils of migrating onto an unknown platform — especially since it’s such an active space for us right now.

What was regularly mentioned, though, was a desire for an easy directory of Enrollers. I stan this idea.

A screenshot of our Issuu website — a collection of our peer groups’ showcase booklets
How do we go beyond sifting through showcase booklets to find like-minded community members?

There’s such a breadth of experiences, interests, specialities and generally interesting, diverse people, that it’s a shame that this doesn’t exist already (for many reasons, mostly to do with resourcing and time!)

I also realised that the problem with tech lies with me lol - hence why I came into this with such a strong bias. I have a problem with the tech I’m using to communicate with our community because it eats up my time, so things are taking me waaaaay longer than I’d like to.

I feel like I got really clear actions from asking community members about this, they just need time to be implemented. If you’re an Enroller and you’re reading this — hiiiiii there! Watch this space 🙆🏽‍♀️

💸 How can we make our community work resourced and sustainable — especially since we’re a small business?

I really really reeeeeeaallly hate when brands think that creating a ‘community’ around their products is inherently good. I absolutely despise the idea of ‘community’ (in the loosest of terms) being commodified for sales, content or anything extractive. That isn’t what true community is about.

Those feelings are why I felt a massive resistance to exploring this question… But I also had to get over myself and realise that in order to survive as an org, in order for people to keep connecting and making magic as they currently are, and in order for me to keep doing this work I love — community work has to be resourced somehow. Or it’s not sustainable, and it won’t last very long or retain its quality.

So how do we nurture this authentic community connection (that arose organically) whilst also resourcing the time and effort needed to help it thrive?

As a social enterprise, we need to step away from the martyr narrative and value ourselves.

This is where the shared value of generosity really shone through in my one-to-one chats — the love and care people felt for us as a team and for the wider community felt really tangible. It makes me feel mounds of gratitude. 😭

What doing the community one-to-ones felt like 😭

It was clear from the community members I spoke to that:

  • 🤗 People are really keen to support us in any way they can — and that we need to get better at asking for help!
  • 💰 Many would happily give money towards sustaining our work, because they believe in what they do (some already do this)
  • 💌 Lots of Enrollers already feel like they get lots of value in being part of the community, so they didn’t feel the need for extra ‘offerings’ if we were to start a membership model.

There was also a really clear appetite for these contributions or memberships to reflect the inclusive values we share as a collective, just like our tiered payment system for the Learning Marathon: making sure that those who couldn’t afford to pay still got access to the goodness of the community.

I also love that this suggestion came from community members who are more financially able to contribute — again, it was a clear embodiment of the community values and I’m heeeere for it!

Three possible routes forward 🚶🏽‍♀️🚲🛵

Ok so now I’ve splurged some of the many feels, thoughts and data from this process, we’re at a fork in the road. Beyond the immediate tasks (of which there are MANY) and this year’s co-created events programme, what does all of this mean for our long term community strategy? Where could we go from here?

Here are three possible routes for us to go down — with the caveat that we are open to re-routing, pivoting if needed, and of course will continue to be community-led in our thinking.

🎫 Option 1: the Enrol community as an opt-in membership

As mentioned above, inclusivity would still be baked into this so there are minimal barriers to access.

Introducing a tiered membership model (incl. free) in future could:

  1. Enable people to easily support our work and invest in the continued success of the community:
    Enabling us to allocate more time and resources to making things happen, connecting people more thoroughly and being able to play around with ideas more (like randomised coffee dates with other Enrollers, or 3 month ‘buddy’ pairings for continued accountability!)
  2. Bring more financial transparency:
    Sharing what’s going on with us, how money is being used and where we are as an organisation more openly.
  3. Continue to welcome people with low funds and allow them to still reap the benefits of the community and share their gifts with other community members.
  4. Probably enhance the community experience:
    What I wrote earlier about ‘opting in’ would be really tangible in this scenario, because you would more actively choose to be part of the wider community when you completed your Learning Marathon, or Huddlecraft 101 training — even if you chose to go for the free tier.

The potential downsides is that this could feel ‘yucky’ for us or our community if we don’t introduce this with the right framing — especially if we don’t communicate our intention for doing this very clearly. This would then probably have the opposite of the desired effect. We would never want people to feel like we’re just trying to monetise them, because that’s not what this is! That would be my worst nightmare 🙃

I also can’t help but wonder: if we put a price to being part of the community, would people expect more from us? Would we somehow start to feel like we aren’t doing enough? Would we go above and beyond what’s actually needed to appease a sense of needing to provide ‘more value’? Would our ego be hurt if we don’t get ‘enough’ sign ups?

🏡 Option 2: Community ownership? And in future — a DAO?

A snapshot from our co-living chat

After our community group chat about web3 and DAOs (eg. decentralised communities set up using web3 tech like NFTs and tokens) Zahra shared with me that it was really clear that there’s a distinction between Enrol Yourself as an organisation and the Enrol community. Instead of community ownership of the organisation, what would it mean for the Enrol community to own the community?

In a way, that’s a very web3-ish question. But I don’t feel like DAOs are there yet with accessibility, there’s too many barriers to entry at the moment and I am still not 100% convinced that NFTs aren’t a scammy fad that replicates the consumerist tropes that are destroying us all (fight me!) and that would evolve fast enough for this to become relevant to us. Maybe I’ll read back at this sentence in 3 years and laugh at my naïveté. Anyway.

Whatever form it takes, perhaps there is something here about rotating community ownership.

For example, those who are invested for a certain period of time could buy part ownership of the community, and vote on its direction. This helps fund community work, and could mean the community decides where we reinvest our profits. If you want to sell part of your ‘shares’, you could only sell them to another community member.

The potential downsides of this probably mostly have to do with voting power:

  • Would this system mean that more affluent community members would get a bigger slice of the pie, and therefore more steering power?
  • What about when someone doesn’t have the capital, but still really cares about our direction?
  • And what happens when those who part-own the community lose interest in steering it?

It makes me think a bit about intentional co-living and the level of commitment members of that community need to have in order for it to actively work. At some point, people’s priorities inevitably change. What happens then?

🌍 Option 3: Self-organising Enrol chapters across the world?

Eight people from our Brazil peer group with graduation hats as Zoom filters, celebrating the end of their journey together
Our first group in Brazil celebrating the end of their Learning Marathon!

Something I’ve been hitting my head against lately is this question of how we create a community that’s decentralised and also localised — moving away from its London-centric origins, but still bringing people together in person where they can.

I would love love loooove for there to be Enrol community ambassadors, or chapter leads, in different parts of the world! This would be different from our Hosts because they’d be there to activate events and meetups with Enrollers in their local areas, helping people cross-pollinate between peer groups and strengthening connections.

I don’t feel like we’re there yet because, apart from London-based people, we’re currently quite geographically scattered (for ex. there’s been 1 peer group in Brazil, 1 in Berlin, 1 in Sheffield etc.) — which means that wider community meet ups in these locations would essentially be peer group reunions; which is still really lovely, just different.

When we grow to even just twice our current size — and community members are more concentrated in certain locations — I can really see this being more tangible and feasible.

The downside to this would be that those who aren’t in ‘huddle hubs’ (locations where there’s a concentration of Enrollers) might continue to feel more removed and feel more FOMO than right now, when online events are the norm — but I think this would easily be addressed with continuing our global, co-created virtual event series. Also, this route by itself doesn’t address how we continue to resource community work.

These three routes are not mutually exclusive — and they are subject to change depending on what happens in the world (and with us!) — but it’s good for us to consider what direction we might want to set sail towards.

Writing this is both a way for me to work out loud, and for us as a team and community to figure out where we want to go.

Wherever we’re heading, one thing is clear: nurturing a thriving and connected community is absolutely essential to our direction as an organisation, and to the impact we want to create in the world 💥

If you’ve made it this far, congrats! I hope you’ve gained something from my musings.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and connect on the subject, especially if you’re an Enroller or you’re a community builder yourself. You can reach me on sarah@enrolyourself.com or tweet me @SarahAdefehinti 👋🏼



Sarah Adefehinti

Community and Wellbeing Director at Enrol Yourself