I was in a leadership retreat a few weeks ago and was asked to define the word “community.” I quickly came up with the idea that community is simply “a group of people who share an affinity to something” and as I reflect back on it now about it I really like that definition.
If you think about it, we’re all members of a multitude of communities—whether we choose to participate in them or not.
I’m in a community with everyone who lives in my neighborhood. Our shared affinity is based on proximity. I’m in a community with all the families at my kid’s school. Our shared affinity is deciding to send our kids there. I’m in a community with other Iowa State fans. Our shared affinity is a college experience and the highs and lows of sportsball.
The community that I’m most passionate about is the startup community in Des Moines and throughout Iowa. Our shared affinity is people starting new companies, creating new products, and even establishing new industries right here in our state.
I’ve been working to build and grow our startup community, in a professional capacity, since I moved back to Des Moines in 2009. In that time, I’ve found that it's not usually easy concept for someone to grasp. Whenever I get the dreaded “What do you do?” question and I answer “I’m helping build the startup community in Iowa” I get a lot of awkward looks.
Community building isn’t what you’d call a traditional career option. You won’t find it in the Federal Government’s Standard Occupational Classification system (yes, they have one) and there are only a handful of us pursuing this full-time in the Midwest.
I’m going to use this post series as a chance to explore issues related to community building over the next several weeks. I’ll tackle a few topics that are always front of mind for me, like funding a community building role, participation by the community, empire building, event organizer fatigue, etc., and hopefully check in with experts from around the region.
If you have ideas or topics that you’d like to see, leave a note in the comments or hit me up here.