Guest Post: Stop Networking and Go Build a Community

September 13, 2013

Manya Cherabuddi, Class of 2013

One of the many perks of being an OpenGrounds intern last year was being a part of awesome happenings including Flash Seminars, a screenprinting workshop as part of Arts Madness week, S.H.H.O’s art show, countless late night Creative Team meetings for my advertising class, and the thesis presentations of my graduating Arts Administration class. What I loved about these times in the Corner Studio, apart from the exciting new ideas (and accompanying finger food) was the coming together of people united by common interests.

Despite differences in age, experience, profession, and background, people from all walks of life came together for Toan Nguyen’s talk on social entrepreneurship in Charlottesville. Not surprisingly, that’s where I met some amazing folks who I interviewed later as part of my thesis research. Little did I think of attending the Flash Seminar as a ‘networking opportunity’, but it turned out to be one. Still, the word networking doesn’t resonate with me. I’m sure some of you can relate—how many times have you been told to network, and that that’s the only way to get _______ (a job, a promotion, an interview—you fill in the blank)?

This is my problem with networking (or the idea I have of it) –it makes even a genuine conversation seem like it needs to have an agenda. When you’re truly passionate about something and believe in it, you don’t need to ‘network’ with people. Rather, you will have naturally found what you have in common with them, and it will be easy for them to relate to you. Communities are built on this inherent commonality. A truly great community encourages us to rejoice in our unity despite our differences.

Communities can become networks, or portals for networks. But not all networks can be communities. Networking gives you connections, but only in a community do you feel true connection. Networking can be and often is a one-time thing, but community building takes time, effort, and genuine interest in (and of) the people involved.

During my time at Eunoia, I realized that a good community is one where you can just be yourself. But let’s define what a community is (it’s one of those vague words that’s thrown around a lot)—when I refer to a community, I’m taking about groups on Grounds like FYP, UGuides, or Econ Club where you belong just by being yourself and pursuing your interests. Luckily for us at OpenGrounds, we have a welcoming and multi-functional physical space that facilitates community building. During my last couple of months at OG, I worked with Lindsey, our Program Manager, to create a community where people felt accepted and weren’t afraid to share their ideas, however big or small.

This is why community building trumps networking: Community = a feeling of fellowship with others, as a result of sharing common attitudes, interests, and goals. Network = a group or system of interconnected people or things. My vision for OpenGrounds is for it to be a hub for community building. Not a mere network or even a network of networks, but a community hub where people feel ownership and connectedness.

OpenGrounds is and will be much more than an information hub—it is where people and their ideas come to truly connect, collaborate, and create something meaningful.

OpenGrounds asked Manya to answer a few questions about her time at UVA and her experiences with OpenGround:

1. What has been most valuable or important about your experience at OpenGrounds? 

I understood the importance of having a centrally located space accessible to all stakeholders involved in the community. I also got a sense of how to create and manage programs to keep students engaged, and to give them the freedom and space to start creating.

2. Through your experience with OpenGrounds, have you met new people or made connections that have been or will be useful in your work at the University? As a result of your participation in programs at OpenGrounds, have you developed new ideas or pursued new research directions?

Absolutely! My OpenGrounds experiences got me thinking even more about the serendipitous nature of creativity, and inspired me to study the topic more, and connect it with innovation. Lindsey played a huge role in helping me connect the dots between imagination, creativity, and innovation, especially in the context of my thesis research.

Also, as I mentioned earlier, I met a lot of folks in the social entrepreneurship field through a Flash Seminar by Toan Nguyen, and interviewed them later. They were interested in using OG as a resource to reach out to the University population, so I was glad to do my bit to help them in return.

3. How would you like to see OpenGrounds develop in the future? Please suggest programs, resources, types of space, activities, external partnerships and collaborations that you think would make a difference at UVA and beyond.  Are there any programs you would like to personally engage in or sponsor (Open Table Discussion; boundary-crossing exhibition or performance; collaborative workshop; etc…)?

I would really love to see more outreach to the Charlottesville community. I think OpenGrounds can play a crucial role in bridging the (unfortunate) gap between students and ‘townies’. For instance, people like Toan Nguyen, Wendy Brown, and directors of other Cville organizations should know and help spread awareness about OG.

This past year our efforts were focused on engaging students, and that’s worked well. Going forward, I think the real need to be filled in connecting those with ideas and energy (students) to those with real needs and problems (C’ville community).


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