The value of community

By Erika Halonen

A short while ago we were invited to Beijing Design Week to talk about community building. I was the lucky one to go, and while preparing for it, I did some serious thinking about the topic at hand.

Before Maria 01, I had worked with community building at Boost Turku and SHIFT, as well as through my hobby for the last 14 years (capoeira). In other words, I’m very confident in saying that communities are not only good for people, they are also good business.

There is a lot of talk about sustainability these days. All the way from Environmental Sustainability to Financial Sustainability. This is of course a good sign because it means we are realizing there is a need for change both in our behavior and in our values. What I feel, is often overlooked, is the role of social sustainability.

Whenever there is a need for change in behavior, you’ll need a social environment that encourages, supports and rewards the type of behavior you wish to see more of. The structure to facilitate this is community.

So, how do you build a community? I’d like to suggest four points to guide community building.

  1. You can control the goal, the framework, and the values. You can’t control the process.

To start building a community, you first need a group of people with a shared goal. Next, you decide on a framework which will be the means of interaction for this group of people. Third, you need a set of values that are aligned with your goal and which will guide all your decisions.

These three parts are quite easy to control. For instance, for Maria 01, the goal is to help startups succeed, our framework is a physical meeting space complimented by various digital communications channels, and our values are respect, friendliness, and health. Oh, and by controlling, I basically mean choosing. Based on these, we can plan events, activities, partnerships, and we can implement procedures for our activities. But what we can’t do, is control the process itself. By that, I mean how people experience this whole thing and how they relate to each other. All we can do is make sure our goal and values are aligned so that they help us find the right people for our community. After that, it’s time for point number two, which is:

2. Trust the members of your community.

The community exists for its members, not for its facilitators. This means that for a community to prosper, you have to trust that its members will shape it so that it serves them in the best possible way. You also have to trust that your goal and values are strong enough for members to respect them. Your job is to be present, listen (with all senses, not just your ears), and tear down obstacles when you realize there is one.

In our case, this has worked very well. So much so, that we have companies waiting to get in, several partners lined up, and interest from a wide network. Having a large group of people who share the same goal and values creates such a positive energy that it works like a magnet. You can feel the pull. Don’t believe me? Stop by our restaurant, Starter, to get a sense of the energy in this house!

3. Communities are the glue that makes your ecosystem work.

That positive energy, that magnetic force, not only it is good for the immediate community, it is good for the ecosystem. If it wasn’t for communities, that is, groups of people that can interact, regardless of organizational borders, all actors in an ecosystem would be like little islands with hardly any contact with each other. When these actors are instead connected by communities, they can reach their full potential. This way we minimize the risk of someone not finding the right help or support at the right time. Because at the end of the day:

4. What matters are results, not who gets credit.

Do I even have to explain that? Someone else’s success does not take away from your success, it increases the chances of you being successful.

Communities make perfect sense from a business perspective. Collaboration increases the chance for success, it allows for information and knowledge to be shared wider and easier, it builds trust among people, and it expands your network. At the same time, communities cater to one of our most basic needs, which is that of needing to feel that we belong.

Hopefully, this will give you some ideas for your community. Remember, it’s about social sustainability, so make sure to put people first.

Please also check this video from our community members made by Tant Lay.


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