Every month, the NetSquared Community comes together offline at NetSquared Local events around the world to mix, swap stories and ideas, build new relationships, and collaborate to help the local community. Our local organizers are volunteers dedicated to helping create local opportunities for learning, sharing and using technology to make a difference. In this Organizer Spotlight series we bring you interviews with organizers from around the world.
What inspired you to organize local NetSquared Local events in your community?
I have always had an interest in interacting online, and had done some work for an online provider while in graduate school. When I moved back to Chicago from St. Louis in 2007, I had attended the initial Net Tuesday meetings in order to network and meet people, and one year later, became a co-organizer. I enjoy bringing people together around a common cause, and really like building communities online and offline, so Net Tuesday has allowed me to keep my hand in social change while working a more corporate job.
What's the hardest part of the job?
It's sometimes easy to lose site of the fact that ultimately, it's about a larger mission or cause - online social media channels, open source software, and other technological advantages are great ways to communicate and drive awareness and change...but without a clear mission, can mean the difference between a small group of individuals...and a strong, thriving community.
How do you measure the success of your events?
We usually get a sense of not only how many people attend an event, but are people engaged - do we have people who are volunteering? Do people who come get a sense of not only learning something, but connecting as well? We have a lively, extremely consistent audience from month to month - the challenge is usually finding great uses of tech for social change (which there are so many to choose from), as well as a venue.
But ultimately, the fact that the group is three years' strong? With many of the same organizers since day one? Ultimately, that is the best indicator of success.
Tell us about the best NetSquared Local event. What did you learn from that experience?
What did we learn? That tech is used for social change in so many excellent and unique ways...and that the best way to move towards social change is to build communities through collaboration and communication.
What's the local social-web-tech scene like in Chicago?
There is actually a pretty good mix, ranging from the usual marketing/social media set (which tends to dominate) to smaller, more focused groups that are driving particular interests (such as Open Government). From high-end networking events to grassroots organizations, the Chicago tech scene tends to be diverse and very wide-ranging. What makes Chicago a lively, exciting social/web/tech town is there are great opportunities to engage - from SocialDevCamp in August to my co-organizer Heidi's IT/non-profit conference in September - that are outside the usual social media "networking" events.
In short, don't believe the hype - Chicago really is a center of vast technological expertise and advancement. You just have to dig a little to find where the action is.
How do you envision NetSquared Local events evolving over time?
Given the preponderance of one social/web tool (social networking channels) with one particular field (marketing/public relations), I think that there will need to be a greater emphasis placed on discussing these are more communication/collaboration channels, and less on selling/recruiting. Overall, though, I think Chicago NetTuesday is developing a niche that focuses on unique local tech/non-profit/social change efforts, whether it’s creating unique open source tools to process information like mapping data, unique integration of video/podcasts/other media into causes, or building the digital capacity of underserved communities.
In short, seeing innovation in both online social interaction and community-based tech development continually happen on a grassroots level.
What's your change-the-world philosophy?
I believe the only way that social change happens is when you are willing to collaborate to others, whether it’s finding like-minded people or recruiting potential advocates. It means being willing to support others, finding ways to engage, and more importantly, to never take your mission for granted. Without a strong sense of mission or purpose, there is no tool (online or offline) or person that can make a strong impact.
Changes happen in small ways, but soon speed up and begin happening in quick succession. Technology is increasing the speed of both collaboration and overall change....but it still takes work, commitment, and drive. It means figuring out which factors you cannot change, bravely facing the factors you can, and being smart enough to know the difference. (Or as I like to think of it, Serenity Prayer 2.0)
What music are you listening to now-a-days?
Right now, I'm listening to a lot of jazz like Billie Holiday and Duke Ellington (thanks, Andy!), and am rediscovering some classic albums like Astral Weeks. Plus, enjoying some great free audiobooks via Librivox.
What is your favorite quite?
Here are two of my favorite quotes - one from a Sherlock Holmes story, the other from the liner notes of Husker Du's Warehouse: Songs & Stories.
"The work is its own reward"
"Revolution begins at home, preferably in the bathroom mirror"