The Future of Community — What I learned from my Webcast #RiseinUnity

I started my webcast #RiseinUnity in a time of intense uncertainty and isolation: during the first wave of COVID. While we were physically separated and stuck in our homes, I felt the need for a community more than ever. That is why I decided to do my show all about the power of community and why we rise when we grow together.

Over the months as we understood more about what the world around us will look like, I connected to known people in my network and also community leaders which I was recommended to. Some of them I have never met and yet it was proof that digital trust is possible to build online and bring the joint wisdom forward.

Even more so, my webcast helped me adapt my work to the online domain, gain and offer hope for diverse and inclusive mindset to Finnish community, and show that we can all go back better after all impacts of the pandemic. I got recognition for my work as a speaker and volunteering advocate and was invited to contribute at the UN Volunteers — Reimagining Volunteering for 2030 SDG event, speak in Georgia, share experiences of webcast in Uzbekistan, Canada and European community of policymakers and youth workers at European Youth work convention.

In this blog post, I want to share what I learned from my webcast #RiseinUnity about the power of community in our world.

Why we need to speak about community in the Nordics (and invite other perspectives)

In the Nordics, we promote a lifestyle where communities are fostered and wished for. While it is being promoted and talked about in the Finnish media, we don’t always see communities happen. Many people in Finland, especially immigrants, struggle with feeling like they belong and finding Finnish communities they can connect with.

All of the speakers supported what I wanted to highlight, the power of collective action. Through various inputs, they gave examples of why you can’t build resilience alone in your little box, as an individual or a company. You need to experiment, give it a try, and see what works.

Most of the guest speakers on my webcast from the Nordics recognize the need for knowing yourself and knowing your interests as a prerequisite to connecting in community and to using communities for learning and growing. Together, we can collaborate in community for our own and the common good.

While most of the speakers in my webcast were from the Nordics, I loved the episodes where I got to hear different and inspiring perspectives from outside the Nordics such as the episode with Kader Kaneye from Niger, Emmy-award nominated filmmaker Tiffany Schlain from USA and Dutch community building alchemist, Lana Kristine Jelenjev.

Lesson #1: The power of diversity and inclusion

I got the pleasure of having so many diverse interview partners: my 20 speakers come from ten countries 13 different cultural backgrounds, ranging from choreographer, football player, and political activist to digital marketing expert or inclusion consultant.

In Finnish society, diversity and inclusion is still an overlooked topic. There is a need to promote inclusion and diversity in business, arts, nonprofits, and politics. Many companies in the Nordics are still missing out on international talent since diversity and inclusion is not a key element of their agenda. On top of that, companies can use the community approach to build better teams, profitable businesses, and shape the community around them. According to Sitra, 70–85% of jobs are not advertised, in civic sector, volunteering opportunities are limited to Finnish speakers and there are still opportunities to be tapped into a perfect society that functions as an open source.

While many of my speakers were from the Nordics, one of my favorite talks was with Kader Kaneye who brought a new perspective to the table. Kader is based in Niger and has been fighting corruption in the country for over 15 years. He created a community to foster ethical education by founding the first African development university.

Crowdsourced with 200 global volunteers, he didn’t have any money, a faculty, or even a functional building. Three years down the road they are now an ambitious player offering a university space where 70% of the 200 students are women.

He is now coordinating the transition to online learning which fosters values and advocates for taking ownership of what you want to see happening. He’s a role model that other communities can follow. To generate true ownership, he brings back traditional values shared in his own environment, values of responsibility, sharing, and gratefulness. For him, complaining is not a way to live instead he appreciates struggles as an opportunity to learn and grow.

To watch the full episode with Kader and learn more about his work in the Sahel region, click here.

Lesson 2: Importance of Local Community

Communities are often made where you are. It’s easy to connect with people that live in the same town, area, or region as you. The power of these local communities became evident in my episode with Sharron L. Todd.

Sharron is a Black-Korean American business owner who runs a café in Helsinki together with her sister. The Brooklyn Bakery is a gem in the city and cherished by many of the locals for their affordable prices and cozy space. The two sisters moved to Finland eight years ago and have sold two million cupcakes and 250 000 bagels over the years.

But when COVID hit, the café was on the brink of closure. Sharron and her sister decided to ask for help from the local Helsinki community and gathered 50,450€ in merely three days. Their story of overwhelming support they got from their town is incredible and shows us what a community can mean for you. They show how building trust can change your life.

I was especially inspired by this story since the two of them created their own business in a country that they weren’t born into, fighting for their dream time and time again with such courage and a will to survive.

Sharron taught me that trust has no borders and that trust can break through barriers. Sharron showed how you can knock on doors, open them, or as Sharron says “jimmy the lock until it breaks open”. Immigrants deserve their space in society and with Sharron’s example it shows how through her cafe, such interactions help rightfully get to have a seat at the tables of a community.

You can watch the full episode here.

Lesson 3: Online Communities and How to create them

Online communities are on the rise, not just since the outbreak of corona. They are spaces where you can easily connect with like-minded people all over the world without ever having to leave your home.

In my episode with Trine Ravnkilde who is a community strategist and amazing networker, we talked about how to create communities online and create intentional spaces online. For Trine corona wasn’t a big change in business at all, given that she was working fully online already (and we can learn a lot from her on how to work online).

We talked about how community leaders online are not just moderators or hosts, but they are facilitating a transformation within their group. If you look at yourself as more than just the host of a community, you can inspire change — no matter if you want your community to live more sustainably, learn to speak a language, build an online course or empower girls to feel more confident. Keeping the end destination in mind that you want your community to achieve is what makes communities great.

To create a community for your business, don’t organize the community around your product but think about what inspires your clients and leads them to you. You can’t create a community around a glass, but you can create a community for decoration enthusiasts. Remember: humans connect with other humans, not a product.

To learn more on how to create online communities, you can watch the full episode with Trine here.

Lesson 4: Resilience and Covid

When corona entered the world, it showed us the importance of resiliency and being able to bounce back. On one hand we saw the spike of racism and xenofobia in many countries across the world. In Finland, it was noticed that the exceptional situation made it more difficult for immigrants who have already arrived, to integrate and build good ethnic relations with Finns.

Pandemic also brought vulnerability for people in all sectors, and showed how people yearn for connection and community when they are forced to isolate and stay alone. But anywhere you looked, there were communities that help each other out, be it families, relatives or even neighbors who offered to buy food and bring it to elderly people in the building.

Volunteering showed how it plays a huge role in any society across developed or developing countries (and still does). Through volunteering in communities we can feel our presence, support vulnerable groups of people and our ability to give back and belong to something greater. Being kind is the new cool. I spoke with Johanna-Mai Riismaa, the CEO of Zelos App, who created a software on task management, to manage volunteer tasks online.

With her tech, Estonian community could connect volunteers with vulnerable people in their community in need of help. Zelos offered its solution for Estonian hackathons on hacking the covid crisis and GlobalHack. Johanna encouraged future volunteering and was instrumental in showing the amplified power technology and startup community offers to increase the impact and visibility of volunteers locally and globally.

Through her app, exchange students could sign up to deliver food to the elderly. Imagine what it was like for an older woman to meet a black student for the first time. If you want to listen to the full story on how one interaction can really shift perspectives on people and connect them deeply, you can watch my episode with Johanna-Mai.

Lesson 5: Beyond Volunteering and Crowdfunding

At the end of the day, communities are spaces where humans connect. We are social beings that love to be in contact and to create together. In my talk with Jukka-Pekka Heikillä, who is an academic researching communities, we talked about the importance of finding your context and relevance. Now more than ever it is good to keep in mind that we are all people.

If you’re humble, it will take you far, no matter if you are a CEO or a student. Jukka-Peikka is an advocate of inclusion, diversity, and empowerment. When we talked about accessing support networks, he shared his story of how he had to leave his home country and live abroad to “make it”, including his funding for his research as well as recognition.

The lesson learned is that foreign and local communities strengthen your competencies and abilities to succeed when it comes to your CV, references, and professional ambitions. Have faith and act local, think global.

How to benefit, learn and grow from community

If you are an immigrant, international talent, spouse

You already are part of many communities, you are worthy of your communities and you can contribute. Remember to give as much as you can get back in return. Communities are meant to be reciprocal and serve you and your values. In the beginning, you might be a consumer but life starts when you are a creator, in your own professional role, or just to be active in your local environment.

If you are a teacher, team leader, CEO

Build, maintain and engage conversations online as it adds up to employee experience & interactions. That is the ultimate source of well-being and protection from isolation, fatigue or exclusion. Community building fosters organizational culture. Recognize community champions in your team and enable community appreciation days which are beyond numerical company KPIs.

Diversity makes communities creative, communities turn to inward siloes. When you limit community, the collective mindset is experiencing diminishing creativity. In and outside of business, we are all living collectives and we can be sustainable as much as we are creative and can lean on each other’s strengths.

If you are a policymaker

Reach out to community leaders and channel all your work with people and embrace a technology lens. You have the ability to connect and show the synergies of communities — it is needed more than ever. Contribute part of your budgets to any policy communication that enables community leaders to speak and bring visibility and shape the communities

Some overall tips on how to create & foster community:

  • Recognize the community around you. Ask yourself what gives energy and what drains you. You are actively shaping a community with your actions or inactions. Be intentional when it comes to your and community expectations. This is a place you can grow, develop, learn and give back to.
  • Recognize the space which is safe for learning and growing, invite others and be among people who are like-minded and also those who are not. Keep your perspective broad. Learn to cooperate despite the differences.
  • Dialogue means growth. The more we talk to one another, the more we are able to break down our internal conscious and unconscious bias. Diversity and inclusion is everybody’s business and communities help us have these dialogues.
  • Community building allows for collaborations for a common good: In that common good I see the innate need for belonging, standing out and rise in unity through the power of collective action.

Need help with fostering communities?

I’m an award-winning community-builder and love to inspire my audiences to empower them to take action. If you want to create communities for your business or your organization, I can support you with events, workshops or consulting. Feel free to reach out to me or check out my website.

Want to learn more? Some further resources for reading:

Serendipity mindset — Dr. Christian Busch

24/6 — The Power of Unplugging One Day a Week — Tiffany Shlain

Humankind — Rutger Bregman

Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment — Francis Fukuyama

Self-worth Safari — John Nyland

Inklusify — Stepanie Johnson

Community Builder — The Book by Ghost Company

I’m a keynote speaker and entrepreneur with a passion for diversity and inclusion and all things cross-sectoral.