By Mary Littlejohn
I am always struck by the sound of London re-awakening as summer changes to autumn. The hum of traffic increases, cheering noises come in faint bursts from Western signaling the start of Frosh Week, and the gleeful sounds of people of all ages making the best of their holidays at the Western Fair can be heard. There is a real sense that we are all together in the community, poised for another year, ready for what comes next.
This year London is facing a unique set of challenges: a record high unemployment rate of 9.1 per cent, gas prices that make many people rethink their mileage, and a sense that we only just averted disaster in the wake of the US debt crisis. We now feel the impact of these things on our community, and if we listen closely we might notice another sound this fall. If that noise could be personified it would be the sound of creaking, the sound of shifting gears.
How can we safeguard our city from slowing down in response to these local and global events? The solution lies in building a strong community; becoming a city of community builders. The use of the relatively new term ‘community builders’ is increasingly in vogue in the media, yet still eludes concrete definition. Part of the problem may be that community builders come in all shapes and forms and, at times, can be difficult to recognize. They might not always be found in traditional roles, participating on boards or committees. Nevertheless, they are adding value to their communities.
We might consider the recent comments of His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, the 28th Governor General of Canada. At the Community Foundations of Canada 2011 Conference, he used the example of the Mennonite practice of coming together to assemble and raise a barn. It served to remind everyone of the very real ways we can have a positive impact on our fellow citizens’ lives, particularly in times of need.
What then is the tipping point for the community? Community builders are everywhere, and Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point: How Little Things Make a Big Difference provides us with an excellent framework for understanding their role in the community.
Three different parties, characterised by three signature styles, are required to tip the concept of community building “into exponential success”—connectors, mavens and salespeople. Connectors are individuals who have many friends. They function just as their name suggests; they are able to span many worlds. We all know the type; they have hundreds of friends on Facebook and they naturally bring people together. Mavens—information specialists—are irresistible forces for novelty. Their affinity for, and love of new ideas keeps them at the forefront of societal change. They are cultural barometers and we watch them to see what is coming. The salespeople build consensus. They integrate the work of the connectors and the mavens into the broader community. Together they all work to create the synergy of social development and build better communities—these are the `barn-raisers’ of our community.
What kind of community builder are you? I would appreciate your comments and insights.
Mary Littlejohn is Manager of Family Philanthropy at London Community Foundation