A key theme that emanated from several of the 2014 TEDxUniversityofNevada talks was the concept of community. Whether it be analyzing the structure of a community, building a community, or fostering the growth of a community, one thing was clear: community counts.
Some of the individuals who spoke to the importance of community included Silicon Valley startup expert Victor Hwang, University of Nevada, Reno MBA students Kristin Stith and Paul Klein, pastor Harvey Turner of Living Stones Church, social and emotional learning advocate Trish Shaffer, and military veterans advocate Dr. Michael Haynie.
According to Victor Hwang, CEO, Co-founder, and Managing Director of T2 Venture Capital—a Silicon Valley firm that builds startups and designs the ecosystems that foster entrepreneurial innovation—building or supporting the growth of a strong community is central to an organization’s ability to thrive.
In his recent book Rainforest: The Secret to Building the Next Silicon Valley, Hwang talks about the concept of crops vs. rainforests and specifically what it takes for a community (whether that be organizational or otherwise) to thrive. Ecosystems modeled after “crops” are representative of our industrial economy, whereas rainforests generally resemble the economy of today that has produced such unpredictable “weeds” as Google, Facebook, and Twitter. To have a rainforest economy there must be a strong sense of community rooted in such values as openness, diversity, serendipity, fairness, experimentation, play, and giving.
Ultimately, said Hwang, “it’s about people to people.” While you can invest in an economy all you want, without paying attention to building the invisible infrastructure of a community you can never create sustainable wealth. He mentioned that entrepreneurs know a few things to be true when it comes to building community: 1) handshakes are more durable than contracts 2) altruism can be more efficient than selfishness, and 3) silly things like truth, dreams, and love really do power the world.
From the standpoint of first person experience, University of Nevada, Reno MBA students Kristin Stith and Paul Klein spoke to their formula for building a grassroots movement within one’s community. As volunteers participating in the “Biggest Little City” movement, Klein and Stith detailed how every day citizens from within the community of Reno have worked together to build a grassroots movement to change the perception of the town by burying negative references with honest and positive content from the citizens through embracing a “biggest little” theme. For example, in their talk they wore shirts that read “Big Community” and “Big Tomorrow.” They emphasized a formula in which entrepreneurs, supporters, schools, inclusiveness, and engagement lay the groundwork for building an effective and genuine grassroots movement.
In terms of growing the “Biggest Little City movement, Stith stated, “we believe the brand has to come from the community so it can speak to the community … the citizens of your community are the nucleus of your town. If you can find a way to be about your people, you can humanize your movement so it lives on … you can take control, it’s your city, it’s your community, it’s your home.”
When it comes to building a community, Harvey Turner, pastor of the Midtown Reno-based Living Stones Church expanded on what it means to be “in the city for the city” and the importance of living for something bigger than yourself. In his talk he outlined his church’s decision to locate in a run down and generally abandoned area of Reno that has since been reinvigorated and rejuvenated. While it may be counterintuitive, he emphasized that by focusing on growth outside of the walls of your organization as opposed to within, businesses can not only thrive and re-build their communities in the process.
He stated: “When people see that it’s more than just the bottom line that matters, that your organization has a greater good, and that their part in it is bigger than just their job, and bigger than just their contribution, it goes beyond to impacting a community, a City, and causing human flourishing. Selfless organizations that are in the city and for the city are not only the best organizations for cities, but the best organizations period.”
So why is community important? According to social and emotional learning (SEL) advocate Trish Shaffer, the primary reason kids drop out of high school is because they lack feeling as though they are a part of their community: the ability to connect with other people is important because you tend to be more loyal and accountable to those whom you feel connected. And according to Dr. Michael Haynie, the high rate of suicides among military veterans today (military veterans represent just 10% of the population but account for 20% of suicides) can be directly traced to the fact that veterans lack feeling as though they are a part of their community upon returning to everyday life following their service. Clearly, people need community and the community needs its people to thrive.