Cormac Russell and John McKnight believe in the power of communities to create shared well-being — and their new book The Connected Community: Discovering the Health, Wealth, and Power of Neighborhoods, is an illuminating look at how to make it happen. But it’s principles can be applied to any small group, including the teams that make up the backbone of so many businesses today.
Both the authors are experts in community development as well as organizational dynamics —the common asset is people. Russell is a longtime veteran practitioner of asset-based community development (ABCD) with experience in 36 countries. He teamed up with McKnight, cofounder of the Asset-Based Community Development Institute and a community development visionary, for this book.
A central tenet of The Connected Community is that leaving problem-solving to larger, external institutions is a mistake. That approach has become an unfortunate norm in this modern era: the concept of a small group coming together is too often dwarfed by an idea of big government or institutions — but they are too far removed from the real needs and goals. As they write: “The story that top-down big institutions are our best hope is half baked. That story is written on a promissory note that has bounced over and over again. It is a story that has run its course, and in doing so has run us and our planet into a brick wall.”
As Russell and McKnight assert, there’s incredible social capital in our communities — and it’s around the “kitchen tables and local shorelines” where real change happens. Once people discover each other’s skills and gifts and ally together, they can achieve shared goals around health, wealth, security, and sovereignty.
The question is how to tap into this tremendous resource — and here’s where the strategies offer a great lesson for any organization, but just a neighborhood. The authors offer a proven, effective approach that harnesses differences as well as similarities — enabling collaborations that draw on the best of what everyone has to offer. They remind us that all those little associations, groups and organizations all add up to a dynamic, vital engine for the greater good.
They provide plenty of inspiring examples of how this community connection can work: towns making space to grow food, sharing resources, building a virtual network of support and assistance during lockdown, welcoming in newcomers, and improving the local economy by supporting local businesses and initiatives. They point out how an apparent niche mission may have far-reaching benefits — it’s just a matter of opening our eyes, making connection, and taking action. Certainly there’s a lesson in there for every team, whatever they do.
Given the tremendous social, health, climate and economic pressures this planet is all under right now, the time is now to come together, the authors write. The road isn’t easy, they acknowledge, and provide effective strategies for pushing back, handling friction, maintaining our course, and gaining momentum — and again, this is powerful wisdom with universal appeal. As people gain their voice, they also gain the ability to have a direct impact on their own well-being. The book will give readers faith in the energy and capacities contained in the “village,” and in each other. When we put our heads together, we can indeed make a difference. As the authors write, whoever and wherever we are, the future is up to us.
The Connected Community: Discovering the Health, Wealth, and Power of Neighborhoods by Cormac Russell and John McKnight (Berrett-Koehler, September 27, 2022).
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