Have You Found Your Community?

We all require a community in which we feel stimulated, welcome, supported, and where we can deepen knowledge and grow. Have we all found ours? In this context, we are not necessarily referring to our family and circle of friends. We may perhaps need to look elsewhere for a series of reasons, and if we can’t find it, create it.

Indeed, if you are a nurse, and meet your colleagues for coffee regularly, raising issues around health care and the profession of nursing, in a way you are giving birth to a community of practice. The same can apply if you are a trainer, a practitioner of change, an IT professional, an expatriate learning to acclimatize in a country, and for so many other professions or common interests.

Etienne Wenger defines Communities of Practices as “groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.”

What community do you need to belong to, to live your passion? 

An Expression of Being Human

As humans we seek to belong, and to be part of a collective, and we have been doing so since time immemorial. Indeed, as Etienne and Beverly Wenger-Trayner put it:

 ‘Communities of practice have been around for as long as human beings have learned together. At home, at work, at school, in our hobbies, we all belong to communities of practice, a number of them usually. In some we are core members. In many we are merely peripheral. And we travel through numerous communities over the course of our lives. In fact, communities of practice are everywhere.

They are a familiar experience, so familiar perhaps that it often escapes our attention. Yet when it is given a name and brought into focus, it becomes a perspective that can help us understand our world better. In particular, it allows us to see past more obvious formal structures such as organizations, classrooms, or nations, and perceive the structures defined by engagement in practice and the informal learning that comes with it.’

Had I personally not been part of a Communities of Practice these past decades, I would have perhaps felt incomplete, less energized, and I would have had fewer opportunities to develop and inspired by some phenomenal colleagues.

Exploring, Practicing, Deepening our Leadership Together

I dearly recollect the experience with the Addis Ababa Five Inner Skills Community of Practice, created with colleagues in facilitation, training, human resource development and education in the year 2010. It happened purposefully, but also organically. 

As a group of some ten friends and colleagues, we crafted the purposes of deepening our exploration of the topic of leadership, especially the inner dimension, turning knowledge into actionable skill through practice and application, and creating a community with which to practice, share and learn together.

We also envisioned this community to be a support system so that we could develop each other, personally and professionally, since we saw our meetings as a breathing space where we can reflect and access our wisdom. Through our gatherings that happened, for five years, every three months, we had wonderful opportunities to examine the self and explore the interior dimension of our leadership, as well as acquire depth and move to new frontiers of learning. Through laughter and a friendship that was developing we felt that spending time together recharged our spirit. And what an excellent opportunity for practicing leadership it was, since we took it in turn to coordinate the events in each other’s homes and offices, each member leading elements of the learning at different times.

As time went by we also experience dynamism as new members joined us and brought in their qualities and experience.

Knowing and Learning

Prior to this experience with the Five Inner Skills Community of Practice, I had the honour of being part of a similar one, called the ‘Leadership Conversation Group – Ethiopia’ (which has now evolved into an online community. The purpose here was to learn about indigenous leadership, and engage in dialogue with individuals who are inspiring leaders of sector in our country. Again, here, the collective learning was phenomenal, as we felt we acquired new insights on leadership, thus having the opportunity to practice it with more energy and self-confidence.  These were complemented by the learning of new theories and tools on leadership. The learning and interaction happened during our sessions, but also in between sessions, as we met for coffee and benefitted from the networking, coaching, advice and sustained interaction.

I enjoyed the experience prior to this too, with the ‘Committed to Transformation – Comfort’ Community of Practice, in which, as newly trained leadership development coaches and facilitators, we came together for our living curriculum to deepen knowledge of some tools and frameworks, take it in turn to lead meetings, facilitate sessions, and give each other feedback for our improvement.

The learning network that emerged from such a community is informally still alive today, with its members having a similar interest and coming from different sectors.

One learning that has emerged from such experiences is that such communities evolve: since they are dynamic, embedded in light and loose structures, and driven by the presence and commitment of their members. They are not required to last forever. If we take the analogy of the sun rising and setting, they may be born, may grow, and may then cease existence when the members feel they have learned, grown, and fulfilled their purpose of being part of such a community of practice. They may evolve into something else, or have the members take on the idea and approach and create new ones in other contexts and for other reasons. 

Emerging Communities of Practice at AWiB?

I am wondering whether such communities are emerging at AWiB, especially through the regular workshops, sessions and Round Table Discussions being offered to its members? Different members turn up at the various events, and yet, there are a few who show up regularly, who perhaps are developing a close relationship and a common passion for personal development? It is perhaps these individuals who can play a key role to span boundaries in our communities, growing in competence and showing up as bold, inquisitive, all-rounded role models who solve problems in new, fresh ways, challenging thinking and ways of doing that no longer serve us.

This could perhaps, be a possibility for the future.

Images: i. Sonya Winner Circle – Circles Round Aqua Area; ii. Amazon – Children’s Crazy Carpet.