I’m reluctant to write yet another retrospective on the last year, one to forget, according to many. Instead, I want to share my thoughts that have evolved during 2020 and focus on the possibility of incorporating them into the year ahead. I want to make a case for community.
For a dictionary definition, feel free to consult your nearest bookshelf encyclopaedia or favourite search engine ( Ecosia?). As always, I don’t claim to have any authority on the matter. My aim is to convey what I have come to understand about the role of communities in our individual, societal and economic lives. It is purely based on personal experience, so I invite you to disagree with me on any of the below.
As far as I can make out, community is deeply interwoven with the human experience and condition. To avoid isolation, to connect with others and to feel supported, we’ve evolved as a species to seek in some shape or form fellow individuals who satisfy our needs around:
- a sense of belonging
- support networks
Communities have evolved around humans organically or forcefully since the beginning of time, clustering around a shared:
- faith or world view
- occupation or trade
- political ideas
- taste in music
- … and virtually an infinite number of other interests
As individuals, we get more out of a community than what we put in — a great example of an entity being more than just the sum of its parts — or members in this case. A diverse community can support its members, share resources, develop ideas, create value while developing resilience and sustaining itself.
The funny thing is that all this is fundamental and obvious, we’ve been joining and contributing to communities since childhood. We’ve all been to school and experienced it as more than just years’ worth of lessons. We’ve all had jobs where we’ve developed bonds with co-workers, through the ups and downs of creating economic value. We’ve all been to concerts where we felt at one with the crowd, through the shared experience of enjoying music. These are all examples of communities forming around common values and interests.
During 2020, I had the privilege and opportunity to connect and interact with communities that were either previously unknown to me or only in my peripheral vision. The range of issues they assemble around, the platforms they use to organise, the value they represent, even their communication methods fascinate me. Only after dipping my toes a bit further and experiencing the power of communities more last year did I start to think about the wider role they play in our social and professional lives.
That’s all great, but can we see some more specific examples please? Sure, here you go:
- Impact Makers — online global group of engineers, product specialists and technologists who gather to share projects that benefit our planet. Members share profiles, projects, advice on finance even jobs and suggest ways to get involved locally
- Cargonomia — Budapest-based collective organised around cargo bikes, access to locally produced, seasonal vegetables for city folk, building a community around shared values of degrowth and sustainability
- Zsambok Organic Farm — family-run market garden around which groups of conscious consumers form, who want to better understand where their seasonal produce comes from and support the people who care for the land that provides quality food
- Northcoders — a Northern England software engineering bootcamp with a strong alumni community focused around career support, technology trends and developing ideas of diversity and inclusion in wider software community
- Kaptar — Budapest co-working space with a strong startup community and ethos. Members work in the same space, share experiences, access business support and develop new ideas together
- E-Nano — international group of engineers building an open robotics platform to provide solutions for agriculture. Working across continents to build prototypes and access funding
- ROS — Robot Operating System. A set of Linux-based open-source technologies to build robots with an active contributor and user community
This list is a highly individual and by no means exhaustive, I simply use it to illustrate the very human need to belong, share experiences and learn about others’ views and opinions, while feeding our own imagination. It’s also clear that they represent value to members and wider society simultaneously.
In this truly unique time of global thinking and relative physical constraints, seeking community takes on new and old dimensions. People are spending more time where they live, exploring and building communities locally, while finding online platforms to allow their thoughts and interests to evolve beyond borders. In beautiful human fashion, we’ve adapted quickly to our changing environment and we can use this opportunity to engage with others around ideas that matter to us most.
I want to make a case for community in 2021. Could we convert the learning from last year and assign new value and importance to communities for the future in years to come? I do hope so!
May the coming year be one of belonging, mutual support and growth for us all. ☮