I love my work as an independent consultant working with non-profits and for-impacts … however, as a solo entrepreneur, it can be isolating at times. Working at a coworking space like the Two Twenty provides some regular “water coooler” social interaction, and coffee meetings with other consultants and people in the non-profit field keep me connected and grounded (not to mention slightly over-caffeinated, but that’s a blog post for another day). These conversations are great, but one thing I have missed is the opportunity to sit down with like-minded folk and talk about big-picture issues. Not quite on the “What is the meaning of life” level, but somewhere between that and “What’s keeping you busy these days?”

To the rescue came Sheena Greer, another Saskatoon-based freelancer working for social good through her company, Colludo. With the idea that play paves the way for change, last week she brought together six awesome people who work in the non-profit sphere here in Saskatoon (including yours truly) for a day of creative exploration. We explored pain points around working in the sector, personified through yarn pom poms (though mine ended up looking more like a purple puli), shared our strengths, and talked about what we could do individually and collectively to make things better for the sector.

Party Favours

Besides some crafts to adorn my home office, I left the “playdate” with three main takeaways.

Monitor and desk not included.
Not pictured: purple puli, Neil Diamond.

Building deep connections is not just a “nice to have when we have time” perk, but crucial to sustaining ourselves, our organizations, our sector, and ultimately our communities. Our group identified the need to nurture meaningful relationships through events and spaces that would allow participants to share not just successes, but also uncertainties and failures. In a context where resources are increasingly scarce, the temptation is all too great to hide weaknesses or stick to the “safe” options of grousing about shrinking funds and increasing demands. This approach, while understandable given that we may be talking with competitors for grant funds and government contracts, prevents us from exploring common pain points and discussing how we can use our individual skills and resources to support each other. I’m hopeful that opportunities like these playdates (and the open Salon Colludo networking event afterwards), Social Innovation YXE, and other initatives in town will allow people in the nonprofit sphere to connect in a space uncoupled from specific projects and issues.

The second takeaway for me was around leadership. As Sheena noted in her wrapup of the event, “We talked about the need for strong, active leadership : ensuring that this remains a verb, and not a passive noun. The best way we could think of was to be active leaders ourselves – in our organisations, and in the broader community.” Last year, during the open retreat for the Leadership Saskatoon program, I had to ask myself what I was doing there as an independent consultant with no subordinates. I came to realize that I can play a leadership role both with the clients I work with and more broadly in the community, whether that’s locally in Saskatoon, in the professional evaluation sphere, or worldwide through this blog: the conversations that arose in the playdate helped to re-affirm those insights and provided encouragement for me to keep moving forward.

Finally, I came away with gratitude for spending time with awesome people doing amazing work here in Saskatoon. There’s a great sense of possibility in town right now, and those I met at the playdate and the networking event afterwards exemplified that energy. As an example, I met the manager and a member of the board for the Saskatoon Children’s Discovery Museum, which is using a small space in a mall right now but is planning for a flagship space in 2016.

Thanks again to Sheena for organizing and hosting the event – I look forward to continuing these conversations! If you’re interested in building community for those working for social good in Saskatoon, drop me a line and let’s see what we can accomplish together.