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Future Boston Alliance at first year shows building community matters

Posted by Chad O'Connor  May 22, 2013 11:00 AM

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In an age where social media trumps face to face conversations and where innovation is too-often associated with technology only, establishing a community of like-minded individuals was paramount to Future Boston Alliance’s success. As if starting a new nonprofit did not present its own set of barriers, launching one that prodded at hot button issues such as Boston’s post-collegiate brain drain, extending the MBTA’s service, archaic laws and affordable housing naturally established some early road blocks.

Despite all the above, Greg Selkoe, 37, owner of Karmaloop and founder of Future Boston Alliance, knew the first step to revolutionizing Boston’s creative economy was hiring the right Executive Director to spearhead the mission. First brought on as a consultant, Malia Lazu took over as Executive Director in November of 2011. Her ability to build community kicked the project into gear in three core areas:

1. Building the Right Community
Before its launch, Future Boston held a series of small House Parties with local influencers to introduce the concept and get constructive feedback from a variety of sources. Future Boston’s platform centered around the importance of working within existing networks. From there, Future Boston would have the introductions into organizations that shared similar values. Had it not been for these initial relationships, Future Boston would not have been able to successfully move forward in the development stage.

2. Creating Space
Future Boston Alliance listened to the comments and sentiments that were already being discussed. The importance of cross-collaboration within Boston’s creative and entrepreneurial sectors was always, and will continue to be, at the forefront of all outreach initiatives.

Programming emerged organically from conversations with Bostonians eager to see their city evolve. It was clear that all of the pieces were already there, but that a space needed to be carved out in order for them to flourish.

Future Boston’s first official program, ASSEMBLE!, responded directly to young professionals who were interested in creative culture and looking to meet other, like-minded individuals. It showcased arts and culture, and brought people together by reducing silos. Simultaneously it satisfied the needs of emerging artists and designers seeking to build brand awareness and get their work out to a diverse network.

Future Boston’s second program, ACCELERATE, unlike many of the business accelerator programs in the area, catered specifically to entrepreneurs looking to start companies within the creative industries. It strategically paired participants with mentors in similar fields, and held business classes that were taught through the first-hand experiences of successful entrepreneurs.

The third program, ACTIVATE, launching this summer, is primarily in response to the drastic shifts within City Hall and the fast-approaching mayoral election this fall.

3. Having a Fluid Agenda
"The agenda was to build the agenda,” Lazu says. “Building out the early months of programing is about finding what works, dropping what doesn’t, and always moving forward. Collaboration is not a one-off conversation. It is something that is always evolving, never stagnant.”

Having a fluid agenda allowed Future Boston’s programming to be open to suggestions and partnerships. Had we not been willing to work with different organizations and not proactively sought collaboration, we could have potentially found ourselves like oil in water, seemingly “in the space,” but not “mixing together.”

With the passing of our one year anniversary, the largest take away we reflect on is the importance of building community. It permits a variety of feedback and a chance to source different ideas. By listening to your community, you can understand what needs are being served and which are not, allowing you to create your own space. Lastly, building community allows for partnerships and collaboration to happen, and in turn, this helps to shape an effective agenda.

Future Boston Alliance continues to evolve as our community widens. We look forward to supporting Boston’s creative class through strategic partnerships with like-minded individuals and organizations sharing the desire to be greater than the sum of its parts.

Emily Catalano is Program Manager for Future Boston Alliance, a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the cultural and entrepreneurial environment of Boston.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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