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The Community-led School That Wasn’t

I recently had a fascinating conversation with fellow community builder Derrick Chiu. He shared that a few months ago, he joined a well-known program to teach people how to become community builders. Teaching is a privilege that few people in community space get to enjoy, and Derrick took this task seriously.

However, he felt that his cohort (a group of nine people) wasn't that close or connected, and he hadn't heard from them since the program ended several months ago. He had no idea where they were or what they were doing now.

He had so much energy to give to the program, but the program didn’t foster the connections in a way that provided long-term value.

This struck me as odd.

We were talking about a prominent organization that is teaching people how to build community. Wouldn’t this, of all places, be the space you would walk away from feeling like “Wow, now that is a community!”

I joined similar programs years ago, and I can still vividly remember what it felt like to show up in that community. You would take the relationships and connections you made there with you for the rest of your career journey.

So, what was broken?

We realized that the key selling points of this community were less about equipping members with the skills they need to find a job in the community space and more based on the career services they offered. The organization did prep the students with interview sessions, but it makes me wonder, what would a community-led approach to finding a job in the world of community look like?

If you start the relationship with, “Here’s what we will give you when you pay us,” you are robbing your students of the autonomy and agency that is needed for a successful outcome.

A community-led approach would look more like this: “Here’s who gathers here, here’s what we’ll equip you with, and here’s how people have taken advantage of these things in the past and where they are today.”

This offering still provides value, but it’s really clear on the requirement of agency and initiative required from members in order to get the desired outcome.

It would be easy to be really hard on this organization, a giant in the community-led world, for such a critical oversight in a very expensive program. But I think it simply goes to show that we have a long way to go in reorienting ourselves with a community-led approach.

How would you use community-led principles in recruitment? Let me know in the comments below.


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