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Social Networks Importance to Community Economic Development

Co-operation is central to community economic development (CED). And so are the social networks that transcend the geographic boundaries of the communities in which we live, work and play.

“Social networks are really about being exposed to different flows of information based on the networks you are in,” says Terry Rock, former strategy professor and founder of Calgary Arts Development (CADA).

According to Rock some of the connections we’ll make at events like the Social Enterprise World Forum (SEWF) are weak ties Granovetter (1973).  Clearly not a term coined by the eternally optimistic social entrepreneur set, potentially-stellar new connection is more like it.

On the importance of new connections, Stephanie Jackman, founder of Calgary’s REAP network which represents over 100 locally owned and sustainably operated businesses shares, “At one of our eat local events a farmer told me how amazing it was to have built mutually beneficial relationships with other businesses. We’re fostering an exchange of services that support organic local economy growth.”

Which pleases Nicole Chaland, Program Director for Simon Fraser University’s Certificate Program for Community Economic Development (Calgary, January 2014) to no end. “We need to be confident in our own abilities to create goods and services that our friends and neighbors will value. We know economies, which are composed of mostly locally-owned companies, fair better on most indicators: jobs, output, income inequality, number of newspapers, health outcomes, voter turnout and measures of resiliency.”

Chaland says the SFU program is about connecting leaders at the local level who can effect change. “The social venture movement and the local economy movement together have the power to build sustainable places for people to live. We have massive wicked persistent social problems: we need to experiment boldly to find solutions.”

Networks that mobilize social capital and interlink economies are part of those solutions. Take Gena Rotstein’s philanthropic advisory service and Place2Give charity search engine. As the largest source of charity data in North America, the platform plays matchmaker between givers and community organizations.

“Place2Give helps donors and advisors ask the right questions. It also allows charities to showcase the operational efficiencies that make them attractive to gifters,” says Rotstein.

Speaking of networking, Rotstein recently returned from demonstrating her platform at the FinovateFall conference in New York. “Our Advisor Toolbox is the only software in North America built for the financial and legal sectors that integrates with CRM systems to facilitate, manage and direct social capital conversations. FinovateFall was a great opportunity for us to showcase and demo our product to and audience that could really benefit from our innovative software,” said Rotstein.

On the quest for weak ties, (a.k.a. stellar new connections) social entrepreneurs like Rotstein are expanding on their networked boardrooms, local markets and kitchen tables to converge in Calgary Oct. 2-4. SEWF organizers have even taken steps to encourage pre-event conversations. A social campaign was teed up by Bob McInnis in his article, Disappointed and Disconnected.

“SEWFchat has engaged dozens of participants in pre-forum discussions where unusual questions allowed for rephrasing and re-framing of positions,” shares McInnis.

As a veteran coach, consultant and self-proclaimed provocateur, McInnis has been supporting community projects large and small for longer than some of us have been out of diapers. He leaves us with a parting thought on our efforts to connect and collectively effect change;

Engagement requires the right environment, seeding of ideas, nurturing, challenges, more nurturing, some time to mature and a process to harvest the bounty… Ideas become better when they are faced with objections and are strengthened by many voices reflecting on difficult questions. After a time of growth and patience we see the fruition of hard work, collaboration and some process. This generally looks like some new action, excitement and commitment. The process seems to be both evolutionary and revolutionary.

- Bob McInnis

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Elisha Kittson's picture

Elisha Kittson is a communications consultant to mission-driven projects and community groups, she lives in the recreationally abundant Okanagan Valley with her family.

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