New Careers: The Art of Being a Host

by Maria Glauser

Hosting visitors, parties, gatherings, celebrations and conversations is an age-old practice present in all human societies. What’s more, cultures root themselves in rituals that involve hosting others in our space. I remember the period before Christmas, in Paraguay, where neighbors take the time to visit each other’s nativity scenes. Families prepare themselves for hosting the visitors that will arrive anytime, setting aside food, drinks and even little gifts for them to take home. Each of our cultures has practices that involve visiting others or being visited. Those hosting spaces have great potential to influence — for good or for ill — the outcomes of these social encounters and the experience people will have there.

I wasn’t aware of the active role of hosting others, before I became a member of the first ‘Hub’ that opened in London in 2005 (www.the-hub.net). I was invited to be one of the first hosts of that space, so I had to find out what this role was all about… I still remember putting the word ‘hosting’ in Google to find out what I was supposed to do. Of course, that didn’t help! I initially didn’t learn about hosting from reading existing social theories, but rather, from following what felt intuitively right. Some insights came from conversations with members of the Hub, and some from people who were hosting other communities around the world. But most of my understanding came from what felt natural to do, in each specific situation.

At the Hubs, hosts set the conditions for interdependence, collaboration and collective social action to happen among a diverse group of people. This sounds big, but how it is done lies in the simplicity of everyday activities.

Hosts do three key things. First, they co-create an open and inspiring physical shared space, together with the community, where people can work, meet, talk, share, learn. A key moment in this process is where the community actually designs the space with chalk or post-it notes with ideas, or builds the furniture to be used.

Second, they attract a variety of skills and personalities into the network or community. People and projects are mapped and invited to form communities of interest and practice across disciplines.

Third, hosts help set a rhythm of common activities. They co-create a culture and environment that is conducive to experimentation, courage and mutual support. Learning that every conversation we have can lead to creating inspiring and meaningful activities for others, is one of the biggest satisfactions I have felt as a host.

I see hosting as a new paradigm for inspiring and supporting people to realize their initiatives. It is rarely seen inside conventional ‘incubators’ or development agencies, where people are encouraged to work in isolation, under the fallacy that they can achieve more on their own. In contrast, hosting is about collaboration. It responds to complex situations which value and, indeed, often require a number of diverse ideas, projects and peoples.

A common challenge for hosts is knowing when to pause. A host I know was so busy that she was unknowingly creating a stressed environment. I find it is challenging to host when I am feeling sick, because, as with any party, everyone expects the hosts to be jolly and entertaining. That’s why I recommend hosting in teams, because nobody can be a host all the time.

I even see hosting as a new profession. Publicizing and honoring it could allow millions of hidden hosts and conveners — like librarians, secretaries, youth workers, nurses, mothers, to name but a few — to unlock their individual and collective leadership capacities, and generate new ways of creating social interactions and transformation in their organizations and communities.

If there is one thing that would summarize the essence of hosting others in our spaces, I would say that you can’t host others if you don’t know your place well — meaning your shared spaces, communities, rhythm, organizations, and networks. We need to know everyone in them, their stories, talents and dreams, so that our interventions as hosts are useful for the groups we belong to.