Creating community in a closed society

A few days before Christmas, I gathered a group of people at a coffee shop for a little pre-holiday chat. Informal and spontaneous, there was no agenda to follow, no cause to push, and no goal to be met. I asked nothing of them.

It was just a group of awesome, learned people meeting up and sharing interesting ideas.

How did I pull together a group of amazing and insightful people for free? That part was easy. I created a Facebook event with a funny description and sent it to people I know who enjoy the same things I do. I left the invite open for others to join, but I focused on the people who I know are an anomaly — those who enjoy forming community as much as I do.

I focused on the people who would enjoy such an event more than others. These are the people who are the first ones to show up and the last ones to leave. And they  invited friends along for the ride.

Nicaragua can sometimes feel like a lonely place. People seem closed off, and breaking into a new circle of friends can be daunting. After traveling to conferences in the U.S. so many times, I’m absolutely shocked by how many people here in Nicaragua react to my conversations about business ideas. They ask me, “Aren’t you afraid to share this stuff? What if someone steals your idea?!”

Keeping ideas behind closed doors is the opposite of what I’m about

Maybe the best way to describe the value of a true community is by describing exactly what it is not.

  •      Community is not about stealing ideas. It’s about helping ideas grow.
  •      Community is not about helping yourself. It’s about helping others.
  •      Community is not about business networking. It’s about creating relationships.
  •      Community is not about making a quick buck. It’s about investing for the future.

But can a true, honest and helpful community be formed here in Nicaragua?

I’ve been working at doing just that. Even if it’s difficult, it’s worth the effort. A great community can help you do the following:

  1. Meet new people, leading to new solutions and ideas.
  2. Gain support through encouragement and uplifting conversation when you’re feeling overwhelmed in your projects.
  3. Learn more about industries that you haven’t encountered before.

If community-building is something you are interested in, let me share with you how I did it in Managua. This might help serve as a guide to creating communities elsewhere.

Creating an awesome community — your action plan

1. Be open about it

Community is about lowering barriers to entry and keeping things supportive. We live in a very close-minded country, with tight cliques and even tighter notions of how to conduct business. Open invitations to build a supportive community doesn’t fit our society too well. But if you keep the doors open to everyone, there is little room for resentment and name-calling.

My friends and family first thought it was weird that I’d meet online friends in person, but over time they’ve come to value online friendships too. When I start spreading the word about my informal meetups out and about Managua, I never leave anyone out. They are open invitations to anyone who wants to meet awesome people with interesting ideas.

2. Contribute value to ideas

Humans are hard-wired to keep things comfortable. Telling a friend that we disagree with their business idea isn’t what I’d call comfortable. However, as Nicaraguans know, we are also very keen to criticize and pick apart anything new — as long as it’s done behind closed doors. A true community is about being constructively honest, even if it causes discomfort. Honesty in lieu of being helpful.

My closest advisors are actually the people who most often tell me I’m wrong. Some are many years my senior, while others I could almost consider peers. Either way, I value their contributions because I know that, as part of my community, they are expressing concerns with the intention of helping me do better. That’s a powerful feeling.

3. Really, truly listen to people

One thing that will kill a community is self-serving behavior. If you want to gather a group together, don’t talk about yourself — talk about them. Learn more about them. The focus is on them — always. 

At my pre-Christmas gathering of cool people, I found myself giving an intro to the event. While I was forced to do the talking for a few minutes, my focus was always this: I want to help all of you meet people who can help. I’m here to help you.

Can it be done in Nicaragua? I don’t know, but I’m trying. 

Gathering together enlightened minds always leaves me dizzy with possibility and yearning for an awesome life. I usually have good turnouts to informal meet-ups, but I’d keep doing it even if only one person showed up. That’d still be okay because exchanging thoughts and ideas with one person who cares is valuable enough. People are valuable enough.

If you can create a community of awesome people to interact with, why haven’t you started?

Marcella Chamorro (marcella@marcalabs.com )recently released a book on authenticity in marketing, titled To Be or Like to Be, and she also writes for her blog on lifestyle & marketing. She is a blogger, speaker, and consultant based in Managua, working on developing technologies to help people be more creative. Watch Marcella’s  recent TEDxManagua talk here  

  • http://www.nicaragua-guide.com Darrell Bushnell

    Interesting article and a concept that would bear fruit. My opinion is that this open community idea does occur in Granada, San Juan del Sur and possibly Leon more than in Managua. Melissa Lombardo has started a Who’s Who or Meet and Greet in Granada that seems to be successfully bringing together businesses and social groups to develop relationships and an openness to new ideas. Perhaps you should discuss more with her at melissa@nicacondos.com.

    It is really good to see the community developing in Nicaragua.

    • http://www.theperpetualvacation.com Marcella

      That’s interesting, and I hear that other cities *do* have tighter communities. I should make it down to Granada more often. :)

  • mnelson

    Good article and super ideas. My attempt at community building is through Linkedin Nicaragua. We meet every other month at 8 a.m. for a networking breakfast at Hotel Barcelo in Managua. Next breakfast is February 23 and you all are invited.

    • http://www.theperpetualvacation.com Marcella

      That sounds awesome, please invite me via LinkedIn and I’ll be there.

  • http://www.facebook.com/chatsalud NK

    Very interesting story. I’ve definitely seen that as well with ideas being shared within personal networks and relying on “who you know” rather than being shared in an open forum allowing for organic development. As I will be moving to Managua rather soon if you do decide to make these coffee shop sessions a regular event, please do let me (and I’m sure the rest of us) know.

    • http://www.theperpetualvacation.com Marcella

      Glad to have you down here soon. I usually announce my meetups via Twitter @marcinator. They’re informal but a fun chance to meet interesting folks.

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