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Everyday Community Leaders on the Rise

Do you sometimes wonder: “What does a community leader actually do?” That’s a good start, but don’t expect to find an answer to your question here. You can, however, read about our quest to learn, experience and network, which started on 19 July, the day both of us arrived in Portland, OR: AP from Las Vegas, USA and Lars from Santiago, Chile. We would soon find out that Lars’s 20-hour journey was nothing compared to that of other participants, who came from places as far as Kenya or Australia exclusively for this event, but that’s a different story.

We had agreed to spend Friday night preparing for what was coming but instead we chatted about life and work, and recollected funny and crazy moments from the past. Looking back, there wasn’t much that we could have prepared for that evening – apart from reviewing the list of attendees with an eye on networking. The next morning we were to experience a conference of a very different kind.

At 9am on Saturday the Community Leadership Summit (CLS) 2013 started, and it became clear why there was not much information to gather from the schedule apart from the word “Sessions” that was repeated several times: It was designed as an unconference where the participants themselves take control of the contents and give life to the many “Sessions.” In no time, more than 450 participants representing diverse communities – the youth club around the corner, local movements like ActivateHUB, global education projects like edX, or open source projects like Mozilla Project, Drupal and co. – signed up to run sessions, to share their ideas in lightning talks, or to add their experience in the many discussion sessions that others had suggested.

Over the next two days, we would meet amazing people who stood for great projects, engage in discussions about controversial issues such as the “career glass ceiling” experienced by women in the tech world, imbibe nutritious know-how from experienced practitioners and community leaders, dive into good practices to empower community ambassadors, elaborate on strategies to keep volunteers engaged, learn about the set-up of global open source communities, look behind the scene of Slow Burns Communities, exchange tips and tricks for community nurture programs, and taste of the magic sauce of movements that last.

We came away with new perspectives and ways to grow and empower communities. And because the summit was not just unconference-style but also open-source, many of the session notes are publicly available on the Community Leadership Summit Wiki.

But let’s return to the question of why we should care about community leadership or support. The answer is strikingly simple. ”Community” – says Jono Bacon, author of The Art of Community and founding father of the Community Leadership Summit – “brings out the best of us human beings: to achieve something bigger together.” And as everything else on this planet, also communities require grooming, nourishment and dedication.

This year many sessions dealt with topics related to online communities and open source projects. However, with the summit’s unique format to co-constructing contents from its participants, the emphasis may be very different next time. And we highly recommend participating in the CLS 2014 – it’s free of charge but will enrich you for life.