Creating a Culture that Solves Community Problems

By Kruse Scholar Shelby Crespi

It’s the word at the heart of so many conversations today especially as they pertain to the rising discussion surrounding health and social well-being. We ask: how do we promote it? We ask: which one? We ask: where? It holds different meanings for different people. I often find myself saying, when speaking about community, that it’s the solution--the solution to so many problems we’re facing today. But sometimes we forget to ask: what exactly is community? Is it who? Is it where? The truth is that sometimes I find myself speaking about the idea of a “community” without really defining what that is at times.

In these times, I step back to when I learned what that word meant for the first time. I think back to when I was a teen and volunteered at a community center located in a gang hotspot. It changed my understanding of community as a group of people in one place to a frame of thought. I didn’t replace my more geographic understanding of community, but rather I nuanced it. I began to understand community as a way of thinking in which community was a word that described the ways we react to and experience the human condition together. When I discuss community as a solution to many issues, health issues especially, I tend toward the idea of fostering a culture in which solutions to issues that affect certain groups blossom out of these communities themselves. I also envision collaboration of various sectors with the goal of cultivating these community-based solutions.

In order to create a culture that strives to create lasting impact at the community level, it’s necessary to re-orient values toward engaging in the kind of collaboration that puts the desires of the community at the center and supports those goals rather than sets them. Too often, we see hollow collaboration which usually involves one large organization absorbing a community “in need” and hurling what they consider solutions at them. Even in trying to benefit others, we can do harm with this mentality. When we begin to re-think the idea of community as something human-centered, we also begin relinquish ideas of “them” and “us” and more toward embracing “we.” Here is where the trust that is so incredibly necessary for productive collaboration begins to take root. After this, an exchange of ideas takes place and the roles of all entities at the table become more defined. Ideas for how different sectors can contribute to this solution begin to grow organically. This type of thinking in combination with the integration of frameworks for excellence, such as the Baldrige Framework, allows us to come together to build something sustainable and meaningful--something excellent.

As I move forward as a Kruse Scholar and continue to learn different ways in which we can begin to bridge gaps between sectors, I always hold tight to the ideology that a community is so much more than where and who. It’s experiencing the human condition together and acknowledging the humanity of another person before all else. It’s forming frameworks that create human-centered and efficient processes that benefit people, the planet, and can generate profit. I believe that only with this kind of thinking will we truly create a culture that is invested in promoting the health and vitality of communities in positive and meaningful ways especially in the face of adversity.

“If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together” - Lilla Watson

Read more about Shelby Crespi here

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