Editor's Note: This month, we have a guest post by Amy Greil. Amy is a researcher and community developer from Wisconsin who recently spent several days visiting with us at CTC and experiencing our work. Here, she reflects on some of the things she learned...
From my front porch back in Wisconsin today, I am reflecting on the rich learning experiences I accessed while in the company of the excellent individuals working on behalf of Center for Transforming Communities (CTC). I spent two and a half days meeting with staff, touring the South Memphis Shalom Zone, doing a “deep dive” into asset-based community development and considering the promise of what I call “social impact networks.”
Here are a few of the things I learned:
While in the company of colleagues from CTC, I learned a great deal about how exacting and impactful a proactive, “hyper local,” approach to networks can be! The Shalom Zones that are activated through CTC’s Neighborhood Connectors and support staff were to me an all-together novel approach to networks that truly “walked the talk” of nurturing assets from within and among small geographies.
I witnessed the many forces that are driving the development of social impact networks in the Shalom Zones - in particular the careful, slow and deliberate development of small partnerships and collaborations (2-3-4 person groups, even!). We tend to think it takes a whole hoard of people to make a difference, but that is just not the case. Instead, small groups are an extraordinary vehicle of commitment, because a small group is personal and flexible, very low-cost (or no cost), and conveniently located. Those small groups then add up to be small zones of small groups aligned around good will and progress.
I recall the morning that we heard that immigration officers were targeting residents from within the Shalom Zones. The CTC staff were working quickly that morning to tap their networks so that resident leaders could support their neighbors. It was a scary time for all, though I sensed there was grounded strength among this determined team. They all really know how to not only build but activate a network in urgent circumstances.
As I take an even longer step back and reflect on what all this has meant to me, I can begin to see where my own practice differs from CTC and how to enhance what I do with a “both-and.” I have really seen great success by taking a cross-sector approach with close business partnerships in neighborhoods. Now I see the value in taking a page from CTC’s playbook and figuring out how to dig deeply into a practice of weaving hyper-local resident networks that truly celebrate and call into action the latent abilities and assets of a neighborhood.
Thank you CTC for the eye-opening experience!