Connecting with Changemakers: Building Stronger Communities Through Genuine Connections

by admin April 17, 2024

“Movements are born of critical connections, not critical mass.” 
– Grace Lee Boggs

“Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all.”
– Harriet Van Horne


Browning waffle edges spilled out from the sides of a battered Krups. The mid-morning sun poured past a window ledge of well-tended Peace Lilies and Pothos.

The light illuminated a wild and joyful scene: nearly a hundred changemakers, local leaders, and social entrepreneurs stood shoulder-to-shoulder, conversing, collaborating, and connecting.

Our wonderful cacophony spilled past open kitchen doors and reverberated across the entire building. It mingled with the sounds of children’s laughter, cafe orders, humming printers, and the general din of community in motion.

It was a Wednesday.

240410-0015.jpgStanding off to the side and soaking it all in, Kendra Luta and I mused together about the nature of connection. For a term used so frequently as to almost be frivolous, we rarely talk about what connection is and what it means. To paraphrase Justice Stewart–and albeit he was referring to a very different concept– "We know connection when we see it."

And even more importantly, we all notice genuine connection’s absence. Especially (and ironically) in rooms where its prominence is touted, i.e. the dreaded "networking" event.
Kendra and I tried to put our finger on why events like the one we were watching unfold, Rotary Charities’ recurring Connecting with Changemakers, differed from conventional network-y events. 

What we saw certainly lacked the shallow, transactional, all-to-common yuck factor experienced elsewhere:
"Yes, hello there. I sell jet ski insurance. Oh, you also sell jet ski insurance? Wonderful! Let us exchange tiny, easily lost pieces of cardboard and never speak again."

Kendra and I briefly posited that perhaps what we were witnessing was just a nonprofit thing. Maybe deep connections are just the domain of the virtuous few who pursue charity work. 
But we quickly acknowledged that that was too simple an answer. And patently untrue. 

On a weekly, often daily, basis at Commonplace we see social entrepreneurs and small business owners forming lasting bonds. They come together to discuss shared challenges and build joint futures. And in doing so they find peers who understand their struggle and appreciate their triumphs. They find partners, collaborators, and confidants. They find friends.

Eventually, Kenda and I realized it's not about the types of organizations people represent. It’s not even about what they do per se. It's about the passion they bring to work they know matters.
As we listened to conversations around us, it's true we heard some light talk about family updates, local gossip, and summer plans. But in most cases, this was just a pleasant and perfunctory appetizer to the entree of deeper discussion.

Mostly what we heard was people talking openly and excitedly about their meaningful work. Passionate voices and gesticulating arms. Stories of recent victories, unexpected setbacks, and exciting new240410-0014.jpg opportunities. It was hard to tell who was meeting for the first time, who hadn’t seen each other in months, and who had carpooled over together.

People wanted to talk about their work. They were sharing deeply and listening attentively as others did the same. Genuine curiosity. Honest excitement. Problem solving. Productive “what if-ing.” Relationship building and relationship renewing. 

The difference between networking and connecting isn’t just semantics. The former is direct and calculating. It’s based on a transactional mentality: “Let’s move some units!” It has narrowly defined goals and prescriptive outcomes. The watchword of networking often becomes quantity over quality. 

Now of course many would protest this as an unfair characterization. But despite the emergence of nouveau networking platitudes, this mentality still dominates. Networking events can be gussied up in shiny, playful trappings. But the fact remains that at the end of the night, you’re still just left with a back pocket crammed with bent business cards and a nagging desire to shower.

By contrast, connecting is about creating an open and honest bond with another human being. Forming connections can sometimes feel asymmetrical in the short term but equitable in the long. It’s about engaging in a shared experience. Often, it’s about bonding over the question, spoken or implied, “What do we want to see, to create, to build together?”

Connecting requires genuine vulnerability. Armor off, arms outstretched. It’s scary. 
It’s much easier to keep it all at a polite surface level. Golf. Weather. Weekend plans. Safe. And pointless.

240410-0025.jpgThankfully, changemakers and social entrepreneurs often eschew this nonsense. They’re wired for connection. They want to get into the real talk. The good, the bad, and ugly. Kendra and I could feel it in the room. It wasn’t just the breakfast carbs or the Higher Grounds coffee. The buzz was there. It was real. It was tangible. And it was beautiful.

The whole event also served as a good reminder that forging mutually and financially beneficial partnerships isn't just a “business thing.” And coming together around work that matters isn't just a “nonprofit thing.” Both are part of the same continuum of community development. We need both to grow and prosper together. Marrying the two is what takes us from just promoting progress, which can easily be rolled back, to really investing in lasting impacts.

And lasting impacts rarely start in the boardroom or behind large desks. They usually come from low-stakes environments in safe and pleasant surroundings. 
Lasting impacts rarely happen when people are expected to network, advance interests, or blindly produce. They happen when good humans doing important and encouraged to come in quietly and connect.

And sometimes, they happen on a Wednesday over waffles. 


About the Author

Nick Waffle Headshot.pngNick Beadleston is Commonplace Community Coworking's first full-time executive director. He is a multiple-deployment Army veteran of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom. Previously, he wrote for multiple Colorado and Michigan news publications before entering the field of international community development. There, he was introduced to the power of mission-driven businesses with a desire to create more ethical, transparent supply chains. He also loves waffles. 

Connect with Commonplace: Website | Facebook | Instagram | LinkedIn


Photo Credits: Thanks so much to our friend Michael Kent of Allen Kent Photo for capturing the fun at Connecting with Changemakers x Waffle Wednesday on April 10, 2024.

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