Community profile: MakeSense

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A few months ago I sat down with my dear friend Christian Vanizette, co-founder of MakeSense. MakeSense is a global community of 40'000+ engaged citizens across the globe working on social change initiatives in 45 cities, run by 2500 community volunteers with a staff of 80 people in 8 offices across the globe. The scale, approach and impact of MakeSense is impressive and full of learning opportunities for other community builders.

A Tahitian social entrepreneur

It all started with a journey to “make sense” of social entrepreneurship

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Christian Vanizette, co-founder

Inspired by Muhammad Yunus’s book about social business, Christian embarked in 2010 on a backpacking trip across Asia to meet social entrepreneurs and help them solve their challenges. Christian started making short videos on his phone about the social entrepreneurs he was meeting and put them on Facebook and his personal blog, www.makesense.org. And every city he went to, he organized a workshop that followed a simple format: during 3 hours he would bring together citizens eager to work on local social and use a design thinking process to come up with solutions for the concrete challenge of a local social entrepreneur.

When posting his findings online, people started reaching out to Christian, asking how they could get involved. And when he posted photos of the workshops, people asked how they could organize their own workshops. Christian could tell that there was a huge, untapped hunger of young people across the globe what wanted to use their energy and creativity for social good. Most of them were probably never going to be social entrepreneurs themselves, but they wanted to support social entrepreneurs, and ideally in tangible ways.

MakeSense is born

How local chapters are structured

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SenseCamp2017

MakeSense calls their local chapters “ hotspots” (and their community members “ gangster “ ;-)) and by now MakeSense has 130 hotspots in 45 countries, all run by volunteers. Every hotspot has 2 main goals: 1) To raise awareness around social issues. 2) To activate people and engage them in concrete action for social good.

What unites the MakeSense community is their shared belief in social change and their willingness to take action. And everything within the community is organized around a list of social campaigns, based on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. In a first step local hotspots use art to raise awareness around the campaign issues. They organize concerts (called MakeSense Rooms), where they invite artists that are connected to a particular social issue to perform. This is a great way for them to spread the word and recruit new volunteers. They also organize bigger, barcamp style retreats once a year that they call “ SenseCamp “.

In a second step they engage local citizens to take action through design thinking workshops (still based on the original idea, but now with extended support of the social entrepreneur and their ventures that goes beyond the actual event), prototyping workshops and a social venture incubator hosted at their regional offices with full time staff in Paris (for Europe), Beirut (for the Middle East), Dakar (for West Africa), Mexico (for Latin America) and Manilla (for South East Asia).

The crucial role of global cross-pollinators between the different local hubs

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Photo from 2017, when Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus stopped by at the MakeSense office in Paris

When learning about MakeSense’s growth and development, I was inspired by how intentionally they use “cross-pollinators” who bring the experiences and values of MakeSense to different local communities. When Christian set out on his first backpacking trip, he called it a SenseTour, as he was trying to “make sense” of social entrepreneurship, going from city to city. And he realized that this personal connection in real life made a huge difference for their online community, too. Christian: “The people who were most active online, were the ones we had met in real lives”.

On his trip, not only did he help spark excitement among local change agents, he helped them also connect with peers in other cities. And — most importantly — he gave them a sense that they were part of something bigger, a global movement. In Christian’s words: “We were just connecting the dots”.

That’s why to this day, backpackers are an amazing type of ambassador and evangelist for MakeSense. So if you’re a backpacker and eager to go and spend 6 months in South America, but you want to be more than just a tourist and deeply engage with local social entrepreneurs, MakeSense will help you organize your own “SenseTour”. They will train you how to organize workshops wherever you go and connect you with the local community so that you can stay with locals. As backpackers move from MakeSense hotspot to the next, they become the nodes of trust in this global community. Current and past SenseTours can be found here http://sensetour.makesense.org

The crucial role of volunteer training

MakeSense has developed two different types of training programs, each lasting 3 months: one is for people wanting to start a new local hotspot, the other one is a leadership training for existing chapter leaders. While the training happens online, the organization wanted to make sure that it feels human. That’s why the training happens in cohorts and is taught in a peer-to-peer way: the best graduates from the previous cohorts are invited to help teach in the next cohort. Not just organizational, but also personal sustainability are part of the curriculum: the training covers community building from a holistic point of view, including questions of personal balance and energy management.

The importance of collective leadership and intentional governance

People join to have impact, they stay for the relationships and that’s where they have the biggest impact

A non profit financed through partners and client work

When reflecting on their business model, Christian said that it made sense for them to be a non-profit, “because most value is created by the volunteers” and he also pointed out that running a similar model without the help of a community would cost ten times more and be less effective because their theory of change is based on grass-root engagement.

Impressive engagement metrics

  • 86% of hot spot organizers stay engaged for about 2 years, because MakeSense helps them connect with like-minded people, helps them learn, helps them build a network in an industry they might want to work in.
  • On average their 40'000 volunteers attend to 2–3 events per year. For 31% of them it’s their first time ever volunteering.
  • The community has worked with 3200 social entrepreneurs and 80% of them report they are happy with the outcome of the workshops

Organized through Facebook groups

Originally published at http://together.is on March 19, 2019.

Together Institute

Hi there, we are Together Institute, we exist to help…

Fabian Pfortmüller

Written by

Grüezi, Swiss community builder in NYC, author of @CommunityCanvas, co-founder Together Institute, fabian@together.is www.together.is

Together Institute

Hi there, we are Together Institute, we exist to help people and organizations build more meaningful communities. Here is where we share what we learn and think about. https://www.together-institute.org/

Fabian Pfortmüller

Written by

Grüezi, Swiss community builder in NYC, author of @CommunityCanvas, co-founder Together Institute, fabian@together.is www.together.is

Together Institute

Hi there, we are Together Institute, we exist to help people and organizations build more meaningful communities. Here is where we share what we learn and think about. https://www.together-institute.org/

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