Changing the World, One Business Owner at a Time, Part Two: Creating Community

Community Concept by Irokez/Dreamstime.comAre you a small business owner who yearns to put your business to work as a social change agent? Earlier this month when I wrote Part One of this article, I outlined some strategies for adding a few practices into your business that would contribute to a more socially just and environmentally sustainable world. I also cautioned readers to start small and find a community of kindred spirits to support and encourage you along the way.

I realize the title of this post includes the phrase “one business owner at a time”.  Let me be clear about the choice of words. It was a reference to the fact that movements gain momentum one person at a time.  It was not a suggestion that business owners had to be rugged individualist and do all the work all by themselves.

Giving the Boot to the Myth of the Rugged Individualist and His (or Her) Bootstraps

When you think about it, the very ideology of the “rugged individualists” who “pulled themselves up by their bootstraps” is antithetical to social activism. The individualist mindset socializes us to put the needs and goals of the individual above the needs of the larger community—it promotes competition over cooperation and collaboration. It also cons us into believing that in order to be considered a success we must achieve all of our goals solely as a result of our own efforts, with no help or support along the way.

As Mark Silver points out on his Heart of Business website, the Bootstrap Myth—that you can do it all by yourself without any help—is just that; a myth. The truth of the matter is that while our media tends to zero in on one individual’s personality and their actions (usually the founder or leader) within a business or a social movement, that person had a lot of support and encouragement along the way. They wouldn’t have achieved their goals without any outside help.

Margaret Mead and the Power of Small Groups to Change the World

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”Margaret Mead .

Mohandas Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, and Rosa Parks probably started out with just a handful of supporters who were willing to stand up alongside them to speak up and take action against social injustices. Gradually, their small groups of supporters transformed into larger movements with the power to challenge unjust laws and social policies and bring about the changes they wished to see in the world.

As a business owner who wants to create positive change in the world, you don’t need a large group or movement behind you.  You just need a small group (up to a dozen)  of thoughtful, committed individuals to work (and play) with in order to bring about changes you want to see in the world. The only challenge might be figuring out where to find your group of committed citizens and kindred spirits.

Where’s Your Tribe?

When I first mentioned the idea of finding a community to encourage and support entrepreneurs with activist leanings, a friend of mine wondered how exactly she was going to find such a group in a conservative, rural region within the Midwest. Good question. How do you find or create your community when you seem to find yourself isolated—either due to geography or psychographic and demographic qualities —from other thoughtful, committed citizens? Let’s start with identifying some strategies that should apply to small towns and communities as well as more populated regions.

Ideally, it would be great if small business owners with a social conscience could find other like-minded entrepreneurs in their communities to start study-action circles or plan community engagement projects.  One place to start might be an existing business owners’ association.  It’s true that sometimes these organizations are populated by folks with somewhat traditional or conservative outlooks, but it isn’t a given. And it doesn’t mean they don’t care about social and environmental injustices. Find out if and how the group understands principles of social responsibility and what kind of community development projects they support, then decide whether there is a “good enough” fit to work with them.

A second option is to check out the website for the Business Alliance for Local, Living Economies (BALLE), and see if they have a network near you.  The organization is dedicated to empowering local, independent businesses to make a positive difference in their community through community building and raising awareness about environmental and social justice issues.  You can check out their vision and guiding principles here.  Currently, the BALLE network has 80 community networks across 30 states in the U.S. and 3 Canadian provinces.  If you do not have a regional network in your area, the website also includes detailed information about starting a network in your area.

Other options for starting an in-person group might include starting an action circle with friends and neighbours, or connecting with people through your spiritual affiliations (Unitarian churches often have a social justice committee). You might also consider approaching a local community centre and offering to organize a learning circle or action circle and tie it to a local grassroots project.  Whether or not you specifically connect with other business owners through these paths, you will, hopefully, achieve the most important goal: finding or creating a group of thoughtful and committed citizens who want to serve as social change agents and are happy to support and encourage each other along the way.

As long as you have an internet connection, you have options for finding or building communities of like-minded individuals no matter how geographically or socially isolated you are from other people in your region. If most of your business is carried out online or you’ve made numerous social connections online, you might be more likely to find your community online than in person. Are there like-minded people you’ve met through Twitter, Facebook, or the blogosphere whom you would want to collaborate with offline?  If you answered “yes” t that question, what would stop you from forming an online circle and using something like Skype to hold regular meetings? While it’s not exactly the same as all being in the same room, it’s a fabulous “next best thing” as you can at least talk to each other in real time.

Alternatively, you can do as my friend in the rural Midwest does: you can connect with like-minded individuals through the Facebook pages of various social justice and environmental organizations.  Many of these organizations have discussion groups and send out notifications about their campaigns and lists of actions you can take to help make their campaigns a success.  If you have an online presence for your business, you could provide links to these organizations on your website or Facebook page. You could also write about your social activism interests, from time to time, in your business newsletter.

I Found my People.  Now, What the Heck is an Action Circle?

Action circles have their roots in the study-action circles first developed in Sweden in the early twentieth century, and in the work of Joanna Macy, an environmental activist and creator of a system for personal and social transformation. An action circle is a group of thoughtful, committed citizens who get together to learn about social justice, environmental, community, or political problems, find solutions and, of course, take action.

In the model I’m most familiar with (developed through Be the Change Earth Alliance Vancouver), one person convenes a circle on a specific topic (click here to see the list of circle topics currently available) for eight to twelve individuals.  The group members each receive a course reader and a participant’s Action Guide with an extensive list of actions to choose from that make a positive difference in both individuals’ lives and the larger world.  The group meets on a regular schedule for a set period of time to discuss the readings and report back on the actions they selected and committed to each week. Once they have completed the curriculum for the circle, members can choose to continue meeting as a group, identify a specific project they’d like to work on together, or step up as a convenor for another circle with a new group of individuals.

Action circles are just one way of creating a community of people who want to make a difference in the world. If you already have an idea for a local grassroots project and just need some help in figuring out how to organize it, you might find this handbook on community organizing will serve as a helpful resource. Although the handbook is really intended for face-to-face groups, I’m sure innovative, socially conscious entrepreneurs can figure out how to modify it to create and co-facilitate a successful virtual community group for tackling grassroots issues.

Go Forth and Influence to the Third Degree

According to Dr. Nicholas Christakis, we each have three degrees of influence in our social networks. That means our actions and attitudes influence not just our immediate friends, family and colleagues, but also our friends’ friends’ friends.  Christakis has also found that social networks tend to amplify or increase whatever seed ideas are sown within the group. Just think of the implications for creating positive social change in the world if those are the seeds we plant in our networks and that are spread three degrees of influence by every person in the group.

You’ve found your community. Collectively you know what you want to achieve. So what are you waiting for? Go and use your influence to empower others to create positive change in the world!

I’d love to hear your stories about a time in your life when you found or created a community of people that worked together to create positive social change. How and where have you found communities of like-minded individuals who encourage each other’s social activism efforts? What strategies have worked the best for you?

Don’t forget that the comments verification code is a picky critter: You must type in the code exactly as you see it or your comment won’t get posted.

Copyright: Susan Chambers, June 2011

Image credit: “Community Concept”. copyright Irokez/

June 29, 2011 · Susan · 8 Comments
Posted in: Social Justice

8 Responses

  1. Rajiv - July 1, 2011


    Very well stated. No wo(man) is an island, and if s(he) was,s(he would not survive long. It is important to be a part of a community, not necessarily of like thinking people, but rather people who want to work together to solve a common problem that they all face.

    The point I make, is eloquently put in the image in this article A critical examination of Kevin Carson’s Mutualism (Part Six)

  2. Susan - July 1, 2011

    Hi Rajiv,

    That’s an excellent point: we do indeed want to work together to solve common problems and if we’re too much alike, then yes we do start running into the “us” versus “them” mentality in terms of people who are not in the in-group. Thanks for the link to the image in Kevin Carson’s article; it sums up your point beautifully.

    Having said that, it is also important to have a group of individuals who understand and support our values and desires to help make the world a better place and can gently keep us on track with acting in alignment with our values and purpose. I’m very grateful for a number of wonderful people in my life who encourage me and remind my to stay true to my values. Thank you for being one of those people. 🙂

  3. Kate - July 4, 2011

    I love the way you write. I wonder about this as an article for Business BC, or the Corporate Knights magazine?
    Love Kate

  4. Susan - July 4, 2011

    Hi Kate,

    Thanks for the feedback. Wow, I’ve never heard of the Corporate Knights magazine–I’ll have to check it out. Thanks for your suggestion about trying to submit the article to either of the magazines you’ve mentioned.

    Love & blessings back to you, too!

  5. Pam Sourelis - July 5, 2011

    This is an excellent article, Sue. While I am not familiar with the magazine that Kate mentioned, I agree that this article is definitely publishable. There is so much good information here.

    I am on my way to check out BALLE.


  6. Susan - July 10, 2011

    Hi Pam, Thanks for your feedback and encouragement. I did check out the Corporate Knights magazine (it’s available online) and they have some great articles. While many of the articles are about clean capitalism in Canada, there are some more general articles as well. If you want to check out their site, here’s the link: I think the U.S. parallel would probably be the B.A.L.L.E. network and David Korten’s website on the New Economy Working group.

  7. Karl Staib - Party Biz Connect - July 27, 2011

    I created this community on my blog. I had a great time meeting people who wanted to be happier at work, but didn’t know how. By helping them I helped myself.

    We can’t wait for other people to create a circle of friends we would like to socialize with. We have to do this on our own. It’s one of the major rules of being happy. By taking action, we are leading our lives instead of being lead by them.

  8. Susan - July 27, 2011

    Hi Karl,

    Thanks for stopping by. I agree that it’s good to be proactive about finding or creating networks or communities. I also think that sometimes when we find that we don’t seem to fit in with the geographical community in which we live (our values, interests, etc, just don’t seem to “mesh”) and do business, it can leave us feeling isolated and challenged as to how and where to reach out to create or find an intentional community–one that will support and encourage us in our endeavours to make a positive difference in the world. One of the great things about social media in its various forms is that we can often find and develop a community of like-minded individuals.

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