“So, let me get this straight, we’re inviting people over for a BBQ and the purpose is…just to…talk to each other?”
I had to laugh at my partner’s confusion when I recently hosted a gathering with the goal of fostering social connections and building community. Our BBQ was part of The Genwell Project, a campaign whose mission is to make the world a happier and healthier place by reminding people about the importance of face to face social connection and inspiring them to take action.
The basic premise is radically simple. Recognizing the value of strong relationships to improve wellbeing, The Genwell Project encourages people to jump off the treadmill and step away from technology to reconnect with one another. And they make it easy to do so, by offering inspiration, incentives and tools for educators, businesses and individuals to run their own “Genwell events”.
All of this made me think of Tamarack’s Cities Deepening Community (CDC) network, which I’ve been learning about as I build my understanding of how to grow a sense of belonging in neighbourhoods. CDC is dedicated to developing our collective understanding about the power of citizens and supporting programs, policies and practices that strengthen communities and mobilize citizen leadership to enhance social capital.
Members of the CDC learning community collaborate in one or more of four key focus areas:
- Neighbourhood Strategy Leaders (NSL): a network of municipal leaders working together to implement strategies that build dynamic neighbourhoods.
- Local Deepening Community Initiatives (LDCI): part of Tamarack’s commitment to build a national movement of community developers interested in deepening a collective understanding of the power and possibility of community.
- Citizens & Emergency Preparedness Community of Practice: a group of peers learning from one another about the role of citizens and communities in preparing for emergencies.
- Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) Community of Practice: a group of peers learning together about how best to apply ABCD to their community development work.
The common thread in all of this? The belief that strong relationships equal strong communities, which have the assets, skills and connections to help the most vulnerable, build on what’s already strong and ward off some of the most wicked problems.
It’s easy to think one conversation can’t make a difference, but as Genwell founder, Pete Bombaci, shares in his campaign motto, “together we will make the world a happier and healthier place one face-to-face conversation at a time”. (Sidebar: Pete’s the guy that elevated Movember to great heights a few years back; The Genwell Project is his current passion).
At our BBQ, people were hungry for more than just veggie burgers. Our guests lapped it up, this idea of getting to know your neighbours in order to strengthen community together. Just listen to the connections I heard simmering:
- A neighbour who’s creating a “skills bartering” system to trade skills while building friendships;
- Another who’s organizing a New Year’s blood drive to tap into people’s resolutions to be more charitable;
- A friendly street competition to display sports-themed “pumpkin people” in front yards leading up to Halloween
On Genwell’s simplicity, Pete tells me, “our whole lives we were taught to go to the gym and eat well, but no one told us how important staying connected is for your health. Back in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s we had...a slower pace of life. It was easy to stay connected. All [the Genwell Project is] here for is to be a catalyst and a reminder to keep this in your life.”
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