3 Things Every Social Impact Leader Should Know


Three years ago, a group of faith leaders in Durham asked a bold question: what would it look like if the whole community came together as a community to solve it’s toughest challenges? The attempt to answer that question led to what is now ReCity--a social impact hub that houses a network of over 40 nonprofits, businesses, and faith communities--all committed to building a more just city, together. As I reflect on the first 3 years of this journey, 3 things in particular stand out as lessons that have profoundly shaped the community we’re striving to build here: 

1. There is power in getting proximate. 

A wise man once said that change happens at the speed of trust. We can’t move faster than the trust we’ve built with one another, and trust takes time, a lot of time. That’s why we’ve invested so much in space. Shared spaces help people get proximate, which is a critical step in accelerating the changes we want to see in our communities. I’ve seen this play out every day over the past 3 years as organizations serving our city are able to move the needle addressing complex social issues further and faster within the context of community. Proximity is a step you simply cannot skip on the path to community transformation.

2. Proximity alone isn’t enough.

There is power in getting proximate to each other, but if you want to build authentic community, proximity alone isn’t enough. You also have to be intentional. Neighbors live in very close proximity, but it doesn’t make them friends (or even mean they know each other’s names!) Real community is the result of proximity plus intentionality. Sharing space, services, and values are a great way to accelerate partnerships, but you still have to put in the hard work to develop relationships built on trust. Here at ReCity, we do everything we can to set our partners up for success, but ultimately it’s up to them to show up, listen and build trust with each other. 

3. More social impact leaders should try to work themselves out of a job

Many nonprofits start with a bold vision to change the world and meet tangible needs in their community, but often, self-preservation can begin to take priority over transformation. Leadership starts to prioritize survival ahead of the needs of their constituents, with devastating results. Our communities need more servant-leaders who prioritize impact over their own self-preservation. For many, that means the goal should be to work yourself out of a job--to succeed in your mission so much that there is no longer a need for your services. Our communities need more leaders who have this radical vision as their end game. I get to serve alongside many of these kind of leaders here at ReCity. Having this goal as their end game shapes the way they lead and, in turn, magnifies their impact. 

I’m inspired by this incredible group of leaders who are reimagining what is possible for their community, and locking arms to do the hard work, together. We’re three years in, but we’re just getting started. 

Rob Shields is the Executive Director of ReCity Network, the Triangle’s hub for social impact. Based in downtown Durham, ReCity is home to a rapidly growing network of over 40 organizations, all committed to pursuing a shared vision of building thriving communities that are rooted in justice.

Subscribe to the ReCity Blog!

* indicates required