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Virtual Community Building

I am a big fan of asset based community development (ABCD) and my practice is to find assets, bring them into the open, invite the human potential locked in those assets to be unleashed, become visible and released for sharing. We can all recognise the person on the train who seems to be the go-to person when the ticket machine isn’t working, or the parent in the school yard who seems to know the names of most of the children, many of us naturally gravitate to the place where the noticeboard is at a music festival to connect with friends or fans of the same performer. Building bumping into spaces in the virtual world, where these same phenomena can occur and can be nourished and nurtured in real time and real life is fairly new.


Creating these platforms as safe and positive spaces requires the same skills, and is part of what Chooks has to offer. When considering how to bring people together who share aspirations for gender equity for women entrepreneurs and innovators, especially those drawn to start ups and social enterprises; and wanting to ensure that diversity in the group could be fostered, I decided on a closed facebook group. I chose this medium for the following qualities:

  • you would need to be invited in, and if you didn’t know someone already in the group (and sometimes if you did) you could answer a few simple friendly questions in much the same way you would at a party or down the street
  • you could participate in small or big ways – there would be no prescription as to how you wanted to participate and for those who wanted to lurk quietly and listen and learn from media posts they could just do that; this meant useful posts needed to be available on a regular kind of daily news basis
  • you could connect to individuals and buddy up in real life incidentally (self organised tagging and connecting) and also intentionally (eg organised events)
  • you could ask for support and ideas and be confident someone would build a connection – I make sure every request gets some traction by offering a response myself and then tagging one or two others to encourage and invite

After four months of the Chooks closed facebook group, there are now 300 members and only 2 people have left the group since it started. At least 4 off line mentoring relationships have started as far as I can tell, and possibly more. The blend of in real life and in real time events is about to start. We launched a month ago and the next initiative is each month for a female founder and member of Chooks is going to be hosting an intimate meal for ten others to share female founding stories, to collect data on what works, what are the top questions being asked, exploring the gender differentials and building the case for advocacy to bring equity to investment decision-making tables.

I am anticipating these conversations will also bring more opportunities for mentoring and peer support. We can learn from each other and are each others peers, mentors and mentees; we can extract and unlock wisdom and experience from listening to one another, asking great questions and modelling what it means to build on (as ABCD says) what’s strong, not what’s wrong. The online bumping in space of the facebook group enables not disables; and the in real life connections deepens what may have been sparked through a news story or personal sharing.

Speed and online dating has revolutionised relationships and finding partners for life, so no reason why similar tools and techniques can’t be used for building a movement and meeting those who share a common desire for equity.

What’s good for society, is good for business and the environment; and in the ingredients of being culturally sensitive and alignment with values to build community and capacity and you are smoking!

Bringing tools and platforms from social media and technology will help advance and unleash our ideas and innovating for good through the trust built in these relationships. I can’t wait to see what is going to happen next with the Female Founders table of ten gatherings starting this week. In the words of the immortal Margaret Mead: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens could change the world; indeed its the only thing that ever has."

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