I'm Salim Virani. I used to design peer learning programs, and these days I'm having fun building stuff.
Community pays off in a structured ways, if you know how to invest and what can be gained.
People have this idea that you can or should “invest” in community. But if you dig deeper, do you find anything more? A moral argument that it’s “good” or “aught to” be done? Or a rationale in hard sales - pressing the flesh and making deals? I think both of these miss the real value.
In my early teens, I volunteered to teach, then run, a computer school that was part of the local mosque. It was a good excuse to skip the religious services - a pragmatic escape for an atheist kid.
At first the work was fulfilling, we were helping Afghani refugee families find jobs and get settled in Canada, among other social causes. The problem was that the volunteer teachers were used to getting social cred in the religious community in exchange for their time teaching, but I was in no position to offer that. Support dwindled and I had to teach more and more classes myself. It got tiring, and seemed fruitless pretty fast.
But one of my students changed that. He was the Director of IT for a major corporation who wanted to learn HTML. (This was the mid-90s!) After meeting me, he brought a project plan from work so I could understand “management.” It opened my eyes to how I could translate my technical knowledge into value for an organisation.
An almost trivial exchange of knowledge for him that kicked off my career. I was 16.I've come to see this as a consistent dynamic in communities, the payoff is usually in knowledge, or in connecting to people with similar goals willing to combine their momentum with yours.
I think a lot of people think of networking as “connections” and deals. That hasn’t been my experience - selling is something totally separate from investing in the community around you. Sure, the knowledge and friends I gain from volunteering are something that can help me get deals or make money, but when I sell, I do that explicitly.
I volunteer a lot. Most of my activities don’t generate revenue for me personally, but they help me create an environment that I and others can thrive within. To make this work, I think about what I’m contributing towards in terms of concentric circles.
This allows me to consider how to investing my time, and what I can look out for as payback. I don’t put people in these categories, just my activities, and even then, things get fuzzy between them. But it still helps me work out how to get value back from my time.
###My concentric circles of community
It must be said that this just a way I’ve come to see things, in a kind of fuzzy, underlying way. It’s really non-explicit, and writing this post was the first time I’ve tried to articulate it as a whole. I also don’t think these specific circles apply to everyone. I’m sure the circles around you will be different, if you see them as circles at all, but I wonder if you’ve considered them in a similar way to me.
I sometimes wonder if I’m being too naive, but then, people I look up to are always encouraging me, telling me the future is in making this kind of community sustainable. I’d like our experiments with Leancamp will benefit other communities. I’m certainly hoping what we learn about the Leancamp model can be shared with others, and make knowledge transfer more accessible and more common.
For now, for me, I’d say this is working. In each of those 4 circles, my work seems to be paying off for me and others. I’m really happy with what I do, with the type of environment I’m helping create, and with the people around me. Oh, and I happen to have learned a useful thing or two about Lean, Agile and Design over the last 2 years!
I’m working on a communication tool for loose community groups and unconference-style interactions. It focuses on individual autonomy rather than top-down coordination.
I recently became a Kernel fellow, where I was exploring models for self-directing communities of care, the history of economic cultural norms, and the connection between mimicry, memes and our sense of belonging.
In the past, I designed peer learning programs for Oxford, UCL, Techstars, Microsoft Ventures and The Royal Academy Of Engineering. I also played a role in creating the Lean Startup methodology, and the European startup ecosystem. You can read about this here.
Choose happiness (2021)
Emotional Vocabulary (2020)
Project portfolios (2020)
The history Of Lean Startup (2016)
Entrepreneurship is craft (2014)