Hugh Weber helps community builders spark #possibility & spotlight the people, places and ideas that make our communities unique.
Building Community Is Challenging, but You're Not Alone.
Community can come in many forms. Communities of geography are determined by where we live. Communities of affinity are framed by what we like. And, communities of identity are defined by who we are. In all forms of community, the critical components are people, story, shared experience, and connection.
Being a community builder - whether it's a community of geography, affinity or identity - 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 travelled through over 30 states studying, working beside, and falling in love with communities of all sizes. I have spent countless hours poring over thousands of pages of questionnaires for communities of small town citizens, college freshmen, compassionate donors, elite bartenders, Montessori instructors, banking customers, first-time political candidates, committed believers, obsessive 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 a process to discover a community's stories and design shared experiences to share them for impact. 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 believe my experiences can help you and your community.
Who Is Hugh?
How Can He Help Me & My Community?
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." This passion for smaller communities continues to drive his work.
For over a decade, Hugh has assisted leaders from the Mayor’s Office to the Oval Office, including a Presidential appointment to USDA's Office of the Under Secretary for Rural Development and service as a Regional Representative for the Governor's Office of Economic Development in his home state. Through this work, 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.
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 partnerships with Microsoft, Nintendo, Carnival Cruise Lines, Nokia, and Ford. You can learn more about Hugh's work here.
Hugh shares his insights in a brief guide called "#possibility."
But his work building community is where his passion lies. The knowledge he gained among massive corporations is now being brought to Main Streets across the country. And, he understands community builders because he is one. In 2009, he founded OTA, an organization that connects & celebrates the creatives who build community in North Dakota, South Dakota, and Minnesota.
Community Building In Action.
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."
"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."
From The Icarus Deception by Seth Godin.
Let's Bring A Spotlight & A Spark To Your Community!
This work, which began a decade ago on the White House lawn, 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?