Thought Leadership: Key Ingredients for Fostering Community

By Tamara Connell, Lead Educator, RADIUS
In last month’s blog, Jennifer McRae described the genesis story for the RADIUS Fellowship in Radical Doing. In it, she shared detail about what drove her to dream, pitch and then build the Fellowship.
For the past several weeks, our team has been working to compile the outcomes report for the 2016 Fellowship cohort. In it, we discuss the Fellowship programming and the results in our second year. We share what we know works, what we’ve learned about how to do things better, and what we’re bringing forward into the 2017 Fellowship cohort – which will be accepting applications from Nov. 1-26, 2016.

Download the 2016 Fellowship in Radical Doing Outcomes Report

The Fellowship Builds Impactful Community
Time and again, what we hear from Fellows is their gratitude for the community established through the Fellowship. Seventy-one percent (71%) of the 2016 Fellows reported at least one new collaboration within the cohort. The depth of friendships increased significantly, and when asked “To what degree did you expect to remain in touch with some of your cohort members?” 95% selected ‘Absolutely!’ and the other 5% selected ‘Very Likely’. Below are some quotes from 2016 Fellows:
fellows-quotes-3So how does this sense of community get built? What conditions foster the bonds that bring individuals to feel that after just a few months they have developed friendships which will last a lifetime?
Today we focus on three key elements which we feel contribute to the success of the Fellowship’s effort in building a supportive community within BC’s emerging social economy leaders:

  1. Inviting diversity
  2. Working in circle
  3. Sharing joy, pain, and everything in between

Inviting Diversity
When we use the word diversity at RADIUS, we refer specifically to diversity of lived experience. Sometimes lived experience is diverse because of our skin color or our family’s heritage. Sometimes our experiences are shaped by the situations that brought us to Canada, by our family unit structure, by our access to resources, by our gender conformity, by our sexual orientation, or by our ability to fit (or not) into some amorphous set of assumptions about what it is to be ‘normal’ in our society.
Within the RADIUS Fellowship, we do our best to draw a diverse group of Fellows into each cohort. We’ve experimented with a pay-what-you-can model to make the program accessible regardless of financial means. We offer our sessions in the evenings to allow Fellows the ability to continue day-time jobs. In our application review process, we aim to uncover the personal stories leading to ignited changemakers. We look for a multitude of perspectives around certain issues. We actively seek to invite diversity into the cohort.
In these, and other ways, we seek to ensure the  program is accessible to a large number of individuals.
Diversity is a valuable ingredient to community-building because it offers the chance to hear new perspectives, lean on different areas of expertise, reach new networks, and broach challenging topics.
Working in Circle
A substantial amount of literature has been written by leading practitioners about the power of circles. Circles  – simply meeting in chairs formed in a circle, with limited or no furniture in the middle – offer the chance for everyone to be seen and heard. It creates a level field where each individual is as important as every other. It removes a common, often unconscious, tendency to hide ourselves from behind our desks, our podiums, our walls.
Circles offer the invitation for complete and transparent participation, setting the stage for vulnerability and deeper human-to-human emotional connection.
Every single Fellowship session starts in circle, and in most cases is completed entirely in circle. This simple commitment for enacting a form that represents the community we seek to create is a key ingredient in building the community in cohort that is foundational to the impact of the Fellowship.
Sharing joy, pain, and everything in between
Fellows are continually invited to share. They share their recent successes, their challenges, their needs, and any other updates. We invite people to check in from where they’re at. Sometimes this means we can celebrate together; yet other times we mourn, we mobilize, or we offer our input.
The role of normalizing vulnerable sharing begins with the facilitator, and emerges as a collective responsibility as we all hold the space together for various highs and lows. This allows us to step fully into empathetically listening, authentically communicating, and doing our utmost to help one another succeed.
Ultimately, sharing is about trust. We build community in cohort by building trust and accountability to support one another in the difficult work of being a chnagemaker.  
By incorporating these and many other design elements, the RADIUS Fellowship successfully hosts the space for incredible and talented ‘radical doers’ to show up fully, push themselves, and support one another in the challenging adventure of fostering positive societal change.

The RADIUS Fellowship in Radical Doing is open for applications between Nov. 1 and Nov. 26, 2016. The 2017 Fellowship will run from February to June. Sign up to our newsletter to receive updates. 
Read more about our first two cohorts of Fellows here, as well as the outcomes report from the inaugural (2015) cohort.apply-now-button-big