A TWI Community

January 19, 2011 //

By John Esterle

January 18, 2011

As Pia noted in her recent post, TWI starts 2011 with a recommitment to seeding our blog on at least a weekly basis. Why? Because we think it can be a way for the TWI community to stay connected with what we’re thinking, feeling, and doing; what we’re reading, observing, and hearing. Hopefully, that connection will enable our community to grow and connect with like-minded individuals, organizations, and networks.

In the past I’ve resisted publicly naming that there is a TWI “community.” Given that community is a strong, somewhat overused word,I was leery about using it in terms of TWI. I guess it felt presumptuous in a way, especially given that TWI is a foundation and money is a connecting thread in our network. Yet, at our third retreat this past October for grantees, board, staff, and friends the feeling of community was palpable – and named by many there. As I noted in our recent newsletter, this time I let what people were saying about community really sink in and I took it to heart in a way I hadn’t before.

In that context, we also heard folks express a desire to stay connected and in conversation beyond our retreats, which is why our blog will consistently feature a number of guest posters from the TWI community.

Since I’m referring to the retreat, I thought I’d share some ideas and feedback that came from our last, unplanned morning together. Building off of the weekend’s conversations, there was a spontaneous suggestion that participants contribute their ideas about how TWI might think about the roles of convening and storytelling going forward (areas we had identified as wanting to explore more in our funding portfolio).

The feedback we received was a gift, one that I’m glad to publicly acknowledge here. Here are some themes that emerged from what we heard:

In terms of the design of possible TWI convenings (including TWI’s retreat):

  • De-couple grantmaking from the building of the TWI community
  • Work at intersections, bringing together and cross-fertilizing different people and organizations
  • Bring other funders into the conversation
  • Have multi-generational participation and ethnic diversity be institutionalized as key design elements
  • Have nature be a key design element, not just in terms of setting but as a metaphor for systemic thinking
  • Creatively share the stories of what transpires when we come together

In terms of possible themes for dialogues/convening:

  • Intergenerational leadership and collaboration in the civic engagement arena, as well as in other organizational sectors – both nonprofit and profit
  • Making the case for dialogue: assessing impact, including capturing “data” that supports the importance of relationship building as a metric of success; sharing dialogue success stories that demonstrate concrete results
  • Storytelling as a catalyst for dialogue, critical thinking and citizen engagement: explore effective models and approaches (e.g. documentaries, online activity, journalism)
  • Funder and Grantee relationships: power dynamics, how to work with tensions and authentically collaborate

Aside from its link to convening, other aspects of storytelling for TWI to consider:

  • How might it help grantees to showcase their work?
  • How might it help grantees to understand and build social media channels?
  • How might it support a storytelling portal for “allies”?
  • If shifting to media based work, be conscious of building the capacity of shut-out or marginalized communities to participate (e.g. infrastructure, resources, equipment)

These bullets don’t do the input we received justice, but I hope they not only capture some of the ideas we’re thinking about as we look to the future but spark thoughts and conversations in our community as well.

I find myself inspired and grateful all over again as I reflect on these suggestions from the TWI community and look forward to seeing what may emerge as this year unfolds.