July 29, 2011

Creating a Welcome at the Edge

I had the opportunity to reconnect with John McKnight when I was in Toronto recently at the Inclusion Network's Summer Institute and have been thinking about a comment that he made there and my work in philanthropy, trying to strengthen and connect the big thinking about small grants funders out there and grow some more.  I've known John over the years through my association with the Asset Based Community Development Institute that he and his colleague and my friend, Jody Kretzmann founded.

John was talking about "community" - the various interpretations of what we mean when we talk about community.  He mentioned one of the 100+ definitions that sociologists use for community includes the notion that you can spot a community by the innies and outies (my language, not his).  That some people belong and others don't.  That associational groups - the groups that people form out of common interest - basically include people who have that interest and don't include people who don't share that interest.  The community choirs of the world are for those who love to sing, the dalmatian lovers group is for those who love spotted dogs, and the runners clubs are for those who like to run. 

There's another type of community, however, where everyone is "in" - or should be.  These are the communities that are defined by geography, where the thing people have in common is their block, their street, their neighborhood or their small town.  The place IS the thing in common, even though everyone in that place may experience it in different ways or see it from different angles.  This tie that we share with others is the common denominator among the hodge-podge of people who find themselves living in the same place, by accident or on purpose.

I love this idea and believe in the magic that happens for a community and for the people involved when there is a place at the table for everyone.  No children's table, no one in the other room or exiled to the front porch or conveniently not invited.  Perhaps that's why I fret when I find myself living in places that don't feel hospitable or welcoming.  In John McKnight's terms, they are places that don't have a welcome at the edge. I've experienced those places - haven't you?

Having a welcome at the edge means that someone is paying attention to who is not included, who's missing.  Who are the strangers in our neighborhood or town? They may be new to town or to the neighborhood.  They may be elderly or young.  They may have health-related challenges that make it difficult to venture out.  Or they may be people who speak another language or practice another religion or think of themselves as different in some way that makes them feel that stepping out comes with the risk of rejection.  Someone with labels - self-imposed or community-imposed.

When there's a welcoming at the edge, there's someone who doesn't see the labels, someone or many someones who believe in their hearts that "all" really means "all".  Someone is thinking about how to welcome the people who are standing at the edge and bring them into the circle in a way that is welcoming and accepting.

So what does this have to do with big thinking about small grants?  The "big thinking" that I'm talking about is about small grants that support everyday people as the difference-makers in the community change equations.  And making a difference means that in any community change equation, there's a welcome at the edge.

If you're a big thinking funder, are you looking for the welcome at the edge when you're reviewing proposals?  When you're talking to people about the small grants invitation, are you reminding people to think about how small grants can be used to welcome the strangers - and asking questions that expand thinking on who might be considered a stranger? Are you talking with your grant review committee about the power of a welcome at the edge?

If you're on the other side of the grantmaker/grantee equation, have you thought about who is missing - what blocks or houses or age groups or cultural groups bring up question marks rather than names and faces for you?  Can you imagine how you can include a welcome at the edge that can bring these people are groups form the edge to the center - even if you're trying to secure funding from a grantmaker who is not on the grassroots grantmaking wavelength?  

I'd love to hear your thoughts on creating a welcome at the edge and your experience with welcoming the strangers in your community or providing funding for this purpose.  Join me on this topic by posting a reply.

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