Four Stages of Offline and Online Community Building

Mar 3, 2015

In an email thread, I had shared this around the ServiceSpace process of building community and thought I'd share here ...

Initially, we be-the-change. If you believe creating a kinder world, for instance, you would do small act of kindness. :) If we are working with values that are in our inherent nature, like compassion, then this will effortlessly create an affinity with those whom we serve. Depending on the strength of our merits, this can take time, but that doesn't change much -- because either way, we keep practicing. :) I learnt this most explicitly during our walking pilgrimage.

Then, we ladder those who are resonant with our values. For example, we could ask friends to share on the ServiceSpace feed, and if they didn't have the time or the articulation skills, we would support them. During Awakin Circles, for instance, we would listen for great shares -- and then write them up on behalf of the folks and them send them a note saying, "Your comments were great and we felt that others might benefit from it. Here's a sample draft of it -- would you be comfortable sharing that or an edited version of it?" Basically, make it easy for people to share, do the background grunt work ourselves and not take any credit. It's a practice of servant leadership.

Then, we search for consistent contributors. As one-time contributors see the ripples of their shares, they self organize into a community that encourages consistent sharing. If you posted a story on KindSpring, for instance, you would feel very grateful when someone unknown posts a comment about how the post touched them -- it's like being tagged with anonymous gratitude. :) Over time, whole bunch of people will have that common experience, and as keepers of the space, we would find creative ways to mirror this community onto itself -- in a many-to-many sort of way. Somik, for example, created a list of frequent commentors on Awakin Readings, and sends them the reading for pre-commenting before everyone else gets it -- and that's been a great success. It's a practice of holding space.

Finally, we amplify the patterns of positive deviance. In the context of these micro communities, people will start to do unexpectedly beautiful things and organically push the edges of the ecosystem. Wherever that emergence has an alignment with our core organizing values, we would gently nudge by making ourselves available as bogey's behind their engine. For instance, after few years of Amit and Kanchan hosting summer internships, we setup a curriculum on, which then led to Birju and Audrey anchoring Laddership Circles, which is expected to lead to a bunch of other things. Over time, this starts to build a very strong engagement spectrum. It's a practice in skilful creativity.

All of this is seems like a lot of work for relatively small gain -- and that too, if it works, most unseasoned eyes will not even be able to recognize your effort. Taking short-cuts is tempting. :) However, such cultivation done in this do-nothing way builds a lot of invisible tentacles along the way and hence has a ripple potential that can change lives in a very deep way -- starting with our own. :)

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"Service doesn't start when you have something to give; it blossoms naturally when you have nothing left to take."

"Real privilege lies in knowing that you have enough."