Community Advocates can learn from Silicon Valley

6 Things Silicon Valley Can Teach Social Entrepreneurs


Based on my work leading social innovation at Twitter, here are six essential things that Silicon Valley can teach social entrepreneurs.

If there is anyplace that knows about innovation it is Silicon Valley. Claire Diaz-Ortiz asks “Can a social enterprise have the breakthrough success of a Facebook or Twitter? Perhaps if they start emulating some of these characteristics of the most successful tech companies.” Success in the public realm is not limited only to increased revenues, it also includes increased community engagement and community impact through social entrepreneurialism. Social entrepreneurial innovations do not have to be implemented by city hall or some other form on entrenched bureaucratic institution. They can provide a medium of communication that allows for disbursed community leadership.

In fact, the 6 things provided by Ms. Diaz-Ortiz would probably work better for independent community based organizations than they would for politicians occupying city council seats. The first is TAKE RISKS. The public sector and those in the political realm are often reluctant to do this. Those seeking significant, even disruptive innovation, may need to take the bull by the horn themselves. Second, COLLABORATION IS KEY. City Hall politics as a means of seeking solutions is too often adversarially based and collaboration is only a buzzword. Third, LISTEN TO OTHERS. If a community has a city hall that does not listen then a community based group that does could find itself with a great deal of support. Fourth, BALANCE IS ESSENTIAL and this is particularly important to a community seeking new community paradigms. It does no good to merely become another voice yelling in the political melee both as individuals and as a group. Not only are new ways of what to do in governing communities needed but also new ways as to how to govern. Fifth, GET YOUR TRIBE TO EVANGELIZE FOR YOU and for your community as it wants to be known. If City Hall is not sending the right message to the outside world then a group that does is needed. Finally, sixth MARKETING IS STORYTELLING but perhaps with communities it should be the other way around, storytelling is marketing. Not everyone feels comfortable with marketing but storytelling the value of a community and its history can be a matter of pride.

Now this does not mean that city hall and city council leadership cannot use these lessons. It only means that they are not dependent upon city hall implementing them. It might be better if they originated from City Hall but only if the creative power inherent within the community is fully realized. If City Hall cannot do that then the community itself can.

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