This crisis can teach us to value community

The lessons to be learned on community during crisis

With many business and non-profit organisations who aim to continue to help and make a difference to the world facing tough times, Sarah Baumann, managing director of VaynerMedia, offers lessons on how to change hearts and minds.

Our understanding of what a community is has been assessed and stress-tested over the past few months. Huge world events have affected everyone, regardless of where they live, their health, wealth or social standing.

As Covid-19 spread across the globe, people forced into lockdown found themselves turning to their neighbours. For some this was a new and invariably positive experience while, for others, long-established local networks re-grouped and rallied around the more vulnerable. People viewed their local communities through a different lens, perhaps engaging more collectively and becoming aware of members whose profile had previously been low.

In addition, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement – catalysed by anger at unabating police brutality and murder of black US citizens – has led many people to rethink their broader communities. The connections engendered in lockdown proximity and the conversations around the BLM protests have further shifted the concept of community into a new space. History does not stand still, communities are not static, and our culture evolves.

It’s within this context that the work we at Vaynermedia have done for Unicef, in celebration of World Refugee Day, is designed to change the way refugees are discussed – by focusing on what they offer their new countries and new communities. The narrative is so often centred on refugees’ harrowing experiences, of the unimaginable journeys they are forced to make as they flee from their countries of origin.

By turning the story around and looking at what happens when we allow these children to settle and grow, we can reframe the refugee storyline. We can focus on what they add to our communities, as well as their aspirations and ambitions as human beings.

The Unicef creative was designed to treat refugees with dignity and avoid the trappings of some charity advertising, where refugees are portrayed as ‘other’. This chimes with recent conversations around BLM and social equality – we are all in this together, we are all part of the problem and can all able to help overcome it.

In all corners of our communities there are people who make amazing contributions, though we may not be aware of their personal journeys and backgrounds. This has been highlighted during the coronavirus pandemic, with those working on the NHS front line championed. Amid the praise for our hero health workers, the contribution of health professionals who have come to the UK to work for the NHS has been clear to see.

Before Covid-19, communities were increasingly discussed in an online context. Social media has created new communities, groups of people not necessarily joined by location but by interest. Through the pandemic there’s been a merging of the online and the offline, with local Facebook and WhatsApp groups allowing for community cohesion, whether in the flesh or virtual. With some people having to shield or self-isolate, this melding of the two models of community has been incredibly important for care and connection.

Let’s hope that after the trauma comes action. Acceptance and empathy replace fear. As our attention has turned inwards, our eyes have been opened to our cultural makeup. We can look at our communities with more empathy and understanding and recognise that regardless of background and life experience, everyone can contribute, and we can finally appreciate that value.

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