Changing everything.

As I wrote in my last two posts, I’m exploring this journey of engagement I’ve been on during my five-plus years at Vancity. My role, as I see it, is to illuminate the network of staff members, personal members, business members and not for profit, social enterprise and co-operative members that make up Vancity.

Reimagining ChangeEverything.

A big advancement we’ve recently made is a total reimagining of ChangeEverything.ca. This social network – that we launched way back in 2006 when Facebook required a .edu email address and Twitter didn’t yet exist – had one big problem: Vancity, a major contributor to social change in our area, was at complete arms length from the activity on the site. Back in 2006 this made perfect sense, very few people in any given organization could comfortably and confidently engage via social media. Most people just weren’t there. For the last couple of years Kate and I have been struggling with what to do about that, how to bring the site closer to what Vancity does.

The HubA couple of weeks back, we relaunched ChangeEverything as The Hub. It’s a brand new community, and is in the early stages of growing (so forgive it for being a little sparse as we soft launch).

Why call it The Hub? A hub has something at its core, a focal point around which activity revolves, and in our case that centre is Vancity. There is an illustration on the focus page of the site that explains the concept, and what we’re trying to achieve.

The Hub is where Vancity can illuminate the network of staff members, individual members, business members and not for profit members that make up what Vancity is. We need to break down the silos and walls, and get real honest conversation going about our well-being. Financial well-being, social well-being and environmental well-being. That’s what Vancity is all about – that’s our vision and our brand.

Where ChangeEverything came from.

The concept of ChangeEverything sprang from a Vancity marketing campaign from 2006 (you can change everything if you change where you bank). It isn’t language we use internally or externally anymore, and as a result the concept of the site doesn’t connect to anything else we’re doing. Despite all its success, staff and members have found the purpose of the site confusing, and engagement among staff on ChangeEverything has been very low.

Perhaps most importantly, the very notion of ChangeEverything is not our MO – we’re not about changing everything. We’re pretty committed to some key areas of focus where we believe change is required, and we feel we can provide authentic leadership as an organization.

One feature of the site that I’m most proud of is the impact map. This is one of the key places where we can answer the question many of our members have: I know Vancity does amazing things to support community, but what are you doing in my community? The impact map showcases grants we’ve given, and will expand to other success stories, like our impact lending and community investments. It’s a way of bringing what we do to life, and I’m pretty excited about it.

Where The Hub is going.

The goal (and the site is nascent so this isn’t obvious yet) is to have employees from different areas of Vancity (different branches, the Community Investment division, our Community Foundation, etc…) all becoming organizations on The Hub to represent what they do in a natural, human way. These employees, under the Vancity umbrella, can interact and engage with our individual members and the public around what Vancity is doing in community and what we do with our members’ precious assets. Business members and individual members can interact – perhaps businesses can offer exclusive deals to their fellow members to encourage shopping local, which is good for the regional economy. Not for profit members can reach out to the network to share stories of the brave work they’re doing and their outcomes and impacts in our communities. Perhaps they can find willing donors and volunteers from among our staff and membership. It’s a powerful network that I believe, with connections and stories, can be transformative. Vancity is a catalyst for this kind of activity – this is why a local credit union invests so much back into communities, for the holistic well-being of our membership.

The original ChangeEverything, from a marketing perspective, was a brand play. It extended our brand in a way that reflected our differentiation. The aim is that The Hub will be about the business. As we move forward with key impact areas where we lend and invest to create community impact in a profitable way (such as local, organic food and energy efficiency) this site can help make us the place to come to for these kinds of deals. It will increase word of mouth among businesses and organizations looking for financing in these growth areas that we’ve identified as good for the community and good for the company, as well as individuals interested in supporting community impact directly through their investments and credit.

This is the reason why our approach to social media – and especially Twitter – is so important. We need to accelerate the emerging culture among employees who are ready to jump onto social media on behalf of Vancity. If The Hub is to come to life, we need a cross-section of our staff out there and engaging, just like they do in real life, attending events and getting involved with the community.

So check out The Hub. I hope, over time, it can help people experience what Vancity is, rather than just being told what it is, and ultimately illuminate the network that exists between and among our staff and our members.

My final ChangeEverything.ca guest column.

My final Guest Column on ChangeEverything.ca has been published. It’s called Reflections on Bologna – It’s all about the Social, and attempts to sum up my main takeaways from my amazingly inspiring adventure in Bologna. (check out parts 1 and 2 of my journey, or all my blog posts about it).

It also gives me a chance to explore the term social. Something I’ve been wanting to do for a while.

What I know is, it was all about the social. The connections we developed among the group of participants are strong and deep, and will serve a great purpose as we all struggle to make full sense of, and take action on, what we learned. The personal social connections made the greatest impact on me; but I also come back with a greater sense of the social fabric of our society and how it can be both fragile and incredibly enduring and forceful.

So, it’s led me to think a lot about what social is.

So check it out, and please leave me a comment there with your thoughts.

The last thing I want to do is upload a boatload of photos from the trip. All in good time…

Cooperation on The Drive.

I have a blog post on ChangeEverything.ca about something I’ve been thinking about on this trip I call Independent Collectivism. Take a read.

There is one area in Vancouver that I think comes closest to this model. After several years of living in the Commercial Drive neighbourhood, it strikes me that the attitude of that area, the number of coops, both retail and housing, the defiance but focus on equity, and the Italian roots is perhaps something we should be looking closer at for inspiration.

Those funky areas in your town where the coop bookstore is and the indie bands play may be that same kind of neighbourhood in your town. Maybe there is something we can learn from those neighbourhoods and how they operate.

Thoughts on cooperation.

First of all, let me just say that, wow, it’s been a long time since I’ve been in school.

We had two half day sessions today. The first was with Cooperative Economics professor Stefano Zamagni, who lectured on economic theory from Adam Smith to today. The second was with Pier Luigi Sacco, from the IUAV University in Venice. Yesterday we heard from Professor Zamagni’s wife, Vera, who is also an economics professor here.

Professor Zamagni is a world renowned expert on economics, who discussed the distinction between the political economy, which is composed of the exchange of equivalence of value and redistribution, and the civil economy which layers in reciprocity.

What does that mean? It means that beyond the negotiated cost of a product or service, in the civil economy there is the concept of reciprocity. Families often work this way, in that they will give each other money or their time knowing that they might need to call in a favour at another time, but the deal of that exchange is organic and isn’t set out ahead of time. I wouldn’t sell my car where the agreement was that I gave over my car but we’d negotiate the price later. With social capital in place, the value of the exchange can be negotiated informally over a longer period.

Lots of interesting concepts here, but what strikes me is that the history of the region created tight communities who cared about individualism. Social capital is extremely strong. People don’t care about growing singular large companies, but in creating smaller companies, often as coops, which partner and work together to create the goods or services they wish to produce. Because social capital is so strong, deals are done on a handshake, and contracts are avoided most of the time. Seventy percent of companies in Italy have less than 100 employees, and only 10% are large companies, defined as having more than 500 employees. Companies with 500 employees at home would not even be considered large companies, and here they are in the top 10%.

A lot of what seems to work here is not necessarily directly exportable to North America, which is a less trusting and more litigious society. Having said that, I think the search for partnerships and the building of reciprocity has some lessons for us back home. Imagine if, instead of starting a new division in your company, you partnered with another company to achieve what you wanted. What if these partnerships were tight and based on trust, so not everything had to have an SLA and a legal contract? Would that fly?

Another concept I find interesting is the two models of competition. As an employee of a cooperative, we discuss coopetition when I get together with my credit union peers, and that’s what they have here. Traditional companies have positional competition, where companies compete to take the top position, and only one can win. Here they have cooperative competition, where competition helps companies focus and hone their edge to make themselves better, but not to drive their competitors out of business. They need each other to stay lean and innovative. This seems to me like the way credit unions compete back home.

It strikes me that we actually have a lot of cooperative competition at home, but with one key difference. I share lots of ideas with my peers at the banks and credit unions, but only once I meet them and develop some trust. It isn’t the default. Because companies here are very small, they are often family run, and the default is to trust because families know each other. The trust is inherent as opposed to built.

Tomorrow we’re out of the classroom to visit Imola and meet with a couple of cooperatives. Will write more in the next two days.

Also, my first of three guest columns on ChangeEverything.ca was published today.