Humans are social animals. For optimal performance, we need to be engaged, excited, and surrounded by like-minded folk. In order to thrive, we generally need consistent interaction. That’s where community comes in – it counts so much toward what we do and how we feel about it, it becomes an energy reflection, and in ideal circumstances, sometimes a feedback loop. Communities matter. They contribute to thinking, ideation and growth, comfort, compassion and support, and to synergy where one hopes that the sum is truly greater than the parts.
The root of community is ’common’. This suggests that participants have a common thread uniting them or at least aligning them. Most people are part of many communities, even if they don’t realize it. Think of personal networks—most will find they are connected in different ways, almost like a mind-map, based on demographics, interests, work, passions, hobbies and more.
Early day communities were formed based on geography and it was harder to form relationships outside close proximity as that would involve walking for hours or days or relying on letters. We still use letters and meet up at events and trade-fairs which actually date back thousands of years, but the development and evolution of the Internet gave us many new dimensions for community, especially via social media. Now we can connect globally by simply clicking boxes to self-select communities. The challenge with the Internet is that it makes it possible at the same time to self-select and isolate those with similar or opposing views and so the challenge or debate aspect (or opportunity) could be easily lost.
The natural products industry is wonderful and unique in that it not only affords the chance to belong to communities built on shared passion, value, policy or view, but it affords the opportunity to truly build a community. As Natural Products Expo West participants can attest, being a part of an identifiable community of some 90,000 people is an amazingly motivating experience. At last month’s Expo though, I did find myself thinking “Is Expo one community, or several whose gatherings happen to be co-located?” It would seem that both are true.
Identifying the opportunity and then subsequently building a community is a wonderful exercise. The first time I had the chance to do that was with NPIcenter 20 years ago. Building a community is a patient exercise, despite the instant click gratification and expectation the Internet often provides us. It is built member by member, introduction by introduction, adopter by adopter, and in my opinion, needs to adapt quickly to become inclusive of the newly added demographic – on those persons’ terms. Even having all of tools, interest and opportunity does not ensure a successful build. It can take more – a vision supported with energy and drive but then frequently a democratization as the community itself takes over.
Being part of the community at that point is extremely gratifying. We at Industry Transparency Center are working to build and connect communities all the time. We do this through our single ingredient trade associations that bring key stakeholders together. We support industry collaborative initiatives like NBJ Summit and Inside the Bottle. We enter MOUs with like-minded organizations to help better the category. And, in the Greater Chicago area, we’ve put a stake in the ground since last June to support the launch of Healthy & Natural Chicagoland (www.healthynaturalchi.org), an organization with a mission to serve as a catalyst for collaboration, innovation, education and growth among Chicagoland businesses providing products and services that cultivate better consumer health and wellness. Here’s hoping it too will reach that passion, energy and democratization.