My friend Vanessa, in one of her mails, strongly recommended that I read The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer. A little Google home work and I decided to add it to my long list of `to read’ books. After all Vanessa had used many superlatives while talking about the book. Online results too were positive and what really clinched it for me was a TED talk by the author herself. A bit of trivia like, spouse name – Neil Gaiman also helped.
A former street performer, then Dresden Dolls front woman, now solo artist, singer-songwriter-blogger-provocateur – the lady commanded attention. Interested and fascinated, I lingered on longer than I had planned to, reading more about Amanda, her past and present. My college mate who was visiting me from New York after almost a decade decided to gift the book to me – a gesture to mark the re-union and to affirm that I am part of her inner circle of friends whose likes and dislikes mattered to her.
So among the many things that Amanda talks about in her book on how to stop worrying and let people help, here’s what served as food for thought for both me and her – The Art of Asking was a great reminder that asking anyone, for anything is really an exercise in community building. When you don’t cultivate that community continuously, asking is more difficult.
I brooded over this for a while and figured that even though my current job at Akshara Foundation does involve `the art of asking’ – asking for volunteers, donor funds, evaluation and impact results and the more routine asks, I have seldom seen it as an art. In terms of using it as an exercise in community building, I have not even ventured anywhere close to it.
Working for a non-profit – a sector where we are constantly talking about community development, relationships between different stakeholders, we are under such great pressure to set things right in the moment, that we often overlook what the cause means to us and others at a personal level and how we can all come together on shared meanings..
It is then that the desire to connect and engage with the community at a much personal level took shape. I decided to begin with each member of our donor community at Target India and Pace Technologies. I asked them – what does education mean to you?
A fairly simple question, which each of them could answer in one word if not many. After all, they have been supporting the cause of every child in school and learning well with us. The support from the CSR teams at Pace Technologies and Target India, to take it to each member of the organisation provided the much needed impetus to create this community of people who care about the cause.
So up went the flex board and as the day progressed, people milled around the flex board, sharing their thoughts and beliefs. I saw the shift happen. Those present were no longer alone. There was coffee, conversation and connection. Came in some stories too, questions, inquiries and signing up for volunteering followed. By the end of the day, I had built a personal connection with a community of nearly 3000. Not only were we talking of a common cause but also of collective ideas.
Here was a community I was able to engage with easily. Going a step further the same community also offered their creative interpretations of what they had shared.
I am going to keep you posted on how I am building our community further, Amanda Palmer way – “by reclaiming the art of asking from the insecure grip of shame and celebrate it instead as the sublime surge of mutuality that it is.”
Would they have told if I hadn’t asked? Would they have shared if I hadn’t reached out? What did it take to enable that surge of mutuality? A call, an ask, an announcement…a bridge never too far….
N.B. – Amanda Palmer besides being an extraordinarily talented musician, is also a fellow champion of open culture and believer in making good work freely available, trusting that those who find value in it will support it accordingly. Something, we at Akshara Foundation too believe in and are part of Creative Commons.
Authored by writer@educationjams