Hugh Weber connects and celebrates people and ideas creating space for #possibility in our communities.
Start In The Middle
Being a community builder - whether it's a community of geography, affinity, identity or practice - can be a challenging endeavor. You pour your time and passion into a place or group of people that you believe in deeply, but often end up feeling frustrated or alone with few results and no noticeable appreciation. Late night coffees blur into early morning coffees and those around you continue to question the benefits of all your 'volunteering.' Then, just when you feel like your work is getting traction or making a difference, cue the naysayers!
- Why don't you like our community? What's wrong with it?
- Do you think you're the only one that cares about this community?
- Is there anything here that's really worth celebrating?
Sometimes it's hard not to wonder if it makes a difference, if it's all worth it or if this is really the place for you.
You are an ordinary person but you have a dream of an extraordinary community. But, I've got news for you - you're definitely not alone.
“Hugh is generous with his talents and as passionate about nurturing the possibility in all of us as anyone I've known.”
— Joe Bartmann, Vice President of Community Innovation
I know this doesn't feel easy, but you choose to dream big dreams because you love your community. And so do I.
In fact, I believe it is filled with possibility.
I have declared with absolute certainty that I was moving to Austin, Palo Alto, Fargo, and Nashville. I have studied from afar places like Marfa, Lanesboro and Birmingham. I have wept departing from cities like Albany, Bismarck and Charleston.
I have spent countless, painful all-nighters poring over thousands of pages of questionnaires for communities of college freshmen, compassionate donors, elite bartenders, Montessori instructors, banking customers, first-time political candidates, committed believers, fanatical fishermen and people from every other imaginable community built on a shared passion, purpose and possibility.
Through all of that experience and expertise, I have learned a few things about community and community building. I've created my own process of discovery, design and delivery to help communities transform from 'what is' to 'what if!' And, I've found out firsthand how much a network of support means in community building and that an outsider can provide the spotlight and spark for a community's transformation.
"I'm Just A Simple, Small Town Kid from Milbank, S.D."
Hugh Weber is a native of Milbank, South Dakota, a community with a population of 3,300 in the northeastern part of the state, who never lost his pride for the small town where he's from. When asked to introduce himself, he's always just said, "I'm just a simple, small-town kid from Milbank."
For over a decade, he lived outside the region attending school and helping build campaigns for candidates from the Mayor’s Office to the Oval Office. On this path, he learned a great deal about research and messaging, but he learned even more about the power of story and the hard work it takes to inspire communities. In 2006, Hugh returned to South Dakota.
As Curator of the Institute of Possibility, Hugh has provided thought leadership and general management for award-winning online and social media campaigns, as well as research, story discovery and strategic management for marketing in niches including colleges and universities, biofuels, technology, health care, tourism, fatherhood, community development and churches.
Hugh was designated by Ford Motor Company as a “heavy hitter” in social media storytelling and honored as their “social activism” challenge winner in 2009. He has partnered with Microsoft, Nintendo, Carnival Cruise Lines, Nokia, and Ford and has been quoted and referenced by the Washington Post, Inc. Magazine, Glamour Magazine, New Zealand National Radio, Chicago Tribune, Pregnancy Magazine, the Associated Press, Philadelphia Inquirer, Wisconsin Public Radio and the Sioux Falls Argus Leader.
But his work building community in the region is where his passion lies. And, he understands community builders because he is one.
Hugh shares his community insights in a brief guide called "#possibility."
OTA connects & celebrates the creatives who build community in North DakOTA, South DakOTA and MinnesOTA.
Connecting The Creative Class.
The Story of Hugh's work with OTA is best told by marketing expert, Seth Godin, in his book The Icarus Deception. Hugh was featured as one of "Fourteen Real Artists" in the book described as Godin's "most inspiring."
Building A Movement Out of Town
Hugh Weber understands that not all big ideas, not all important art, and not all movements start in big cities. He's the founder of OTA, a creative collective based in South Dakota that is nothing less than a catalyst for a regionwide explosion in creativity and possibility.
When he started, he thought that he'd have to single-handedly build this movement himself. What he discovered, though, was, "I've been forced to recognize that I'm not in this alone and that I can't do it alone. The people who have stepped forward to support, engage and help lead this effort have humbled me and transformed my perspective on community."
The hard work, it turns out, isn't in booking gigs or being brilliant. The hard work is in persuading others to see the same vision, to use the same can-do attitude that grew up on the farm and apply it to building an eclectic, creative community. "I think the primary difference is simply a perspective of possibility. Our region is remarkably well suited for problem solving. When there's a flood, blizzard or fire, everyone comes together, works together and survives together. But when we think about something bigger, innovative or possibility focused, we seem to believe that has to happen alone in our basement."
The connection economy amplifies the makers of change. These are people in the community, even in the flyover towns that New Yorkers sneer at, who are just waiting to be asked, just waiting to exercise their ability to be weird. The job of the community organizer is simple: not to find the right answer but to find the right audience, the right segment of the community. Connect them, amplify the positive outliers, and repeat until change happens.
A Spotlight & A Spark For Your Community
This work, which began a decade ago on the White House lawn (don't forget to have me tell you that story!), has always been an experiment. For nearly seven years, this has been in the form of OTA and these three states filled with 4 million people and hundreds of independent communities. We've raised and invested nearly $2 million in the creative class and the people of the region have thrived.
But, as we've experienced a collective success, I've also recognized the need - indeed the deep desire - for tools, tips and techniques that can be brought to the local or neighborhood level in communities around the world. Every community deserves see itself in its own context - with local language, talents, ambitions and possibility.
I've taken what I've learned in the past twenty years of community building and built a two-part "spotlight & spark" package for community visits.
Spotlight - One of the surprises we find early in our work in a community is that people forget what is unique and special about the places they live. Through an easy digital survey of current and former residences and our own on-the-ground efforts, we begin the process of helping the community remember. Simply by highlighting the assets that a community has, we can create the conditions for future successes.
Spark - I believe you have everything you need in your community. Sometimes you just need someone from the outside to get you started. Through a briefing to your community leaders and a public presentation or workshop, I'll share both what I've learned in the research and a series of principles that will inspire your community to action.
I can't wait to share what I've learned with you and your community.
The question is - Are you ready to get started?