Wait – You Can Have A Career As a Community Builder? An Interview With Marianna Martinelli
What brought you to community design? Where are you based? What’s your story?
I was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas and after college I lived in La and Austin. When I landed in NYC ten years ago, I knew I was finally home. In terms of work, I’ve always considered myself a “Jack of all Trades” I’ve worked in retail, restaurants, event production and even helped to produce two very low budget independent films! My path to community work was not a straight line and looking back, I can see that what drew me to all my previous career paths was people and a deep desire to understand them and help them meet their needs.
The truth is I didn’t even realize Community Design was an option as a career path. When I landed my first community job, I was like “I love this. It’s so amazing, I feel like I’m tricking someone to get paid to work like this?!”
It’s something I’ve always done even without realizing it had a name. Like, in high school I organized the biggest blood-drive the school had ever seen. I like to rally people, organize folks, facilitate and hopefully set people up for an enjoyable experience.
What have you learned in your practice the last year?
I’ve learned that the strategies I employ to build meaningful in-person communities can carry over into fully digital, or hybrid communities. For example, people like to be called by their name! It feels good to be recognized! Also, social anxiety certainly still exists behind a computer screen. When done well, I believe the digital experience can play the role of in-person facilitator: offering prompts and guidance to give “permission” to interact, model behavior and facilitate interactions.
I’ve also learned that nothing will replace the electricity that comes from engaging with people in person! We all need it!
What work do you see ahead for the adoption of radical imagination more broadly in social change work?
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I see an urgent need for leaders and decision makers in organizations to do deep internal, emotional work to be able to responsibly build more thoughtful organizations and communities. So many of my clients talk about a desire to create belonging — if you’re working in the business of designing communities that can help play a part in the loneliness epidemic— there is major emotional labor involved and a huge responsibility for the emotional experience of your team and community members. I would love to see more leaders taking journeys into their own emotional landscape to understand themselves so they can integrate more humanity into the structures that they’re building.
What’s one thing a leader could do this week to engage in a practice of community design?
Ask your community (or team, neighbors, volunteers, etc) “What support do you need from me right now?” Take note and see if there are small things you can do to help bring that to fruition. This question can initiate powerful dialogue and uncover people’s deep needs whether you’re a leader, a community builder, an aspiring community leader or just looking to be in community with your neighbors.