Our founder and ‘Chief of Awesome’, Emily Teng, was selected in 2018 to be one of just 115 global leaders as part of Facebook’s Community Leadership Program. One of her fellows, Roy Munin, shares about the program and what it means to Community Leaders, like Emily, around the world . He shares:
“In June of 2017, Facebook updated its core mission to: “give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together”. In February 2018, it announced its Community Leadership Program (FCLP), a program to provide grants, training and support to people with a track record of using Facebook for good.
6000 community leaders from around the world submitted ideas for a chance to gain Facebook mentorship and support. They went through a selection process which included video interviews, background checks, and written surveys. Over 30 senior VPs, hundreds of Facebook staff members, and external advisors, were involved.
This September, winners were announced, and in October — 115 fellows from over 46 countries came together, at Facebook’s HQ in Menlo Park. As someone who has had the immense privilege of being one of those 115, I feel an obligation to share a bit about who was there, what we did, and what we learned. And while a lot can be discussed about the outstanding visions of each of the other 114 fellows, I want to take a moment to talk about Facebook’s FCLP itself.
I was surprised to learn that Facebook has bigger plans for this program than I had expected going into it. This post is a summary of what I learned during first meetup of the program, of what I think Facebook has in mind for the future of FCLP, and why I think it matters.
The Future of Leadership In An “Open And Connected” Society
Before social media, if you ran into a problem and wanted to bring people together to solve it, you had to either be quite wealthy, or be close to the elite who had access to media and advertising. For most of human history, very few people had a voice, and it is why most of us, to this day, think of ourselves as small and insignificant, unable to drive change.
The democratization of media means that a powerful message, well crafted, by anyone — can now reach and mobilize millions. And like any technology, that power, in the wrong hands, can be abused. But in the right hands, it can be leveraged to solve social problems at an unprecedented pace.
Since the rise of Social Media, around the world, leaders are popping up and using tools like Facebook to bring people together and make a difference.
These initiatives usually start with a personal problem. Leaders connect a few people who have that problem and want to do something about it, and then people invite friends and it gets pretty big. Sometimes, very big. (In the early days of Facebook Groups, one of the first and most popular groups formed exactly around such a problem. It was “students against Facebook News Feed”). Groups of people have the power not only to “engage” about issues or “create content”, but also solve problems and create real life change.
Groups often manage to solve issues never solved before, faster and at a fraction of resources than former attempts.
What is the cost of becoming a Group Leader?
To run groups, leaders make personal sacrifices. Many work 7 days a week, full-hour days. They handle inboxes with hundreds of messages an hour, and thousands of notifications a day. Many of them end up managing teams of dozens of volunteers to help them keep things running. They are mostly individuals, not organized as an entities such as NGOs. Their families and friends don’t understand why they’re putting so much time into their hobbies “instead of work”, and while their impact sometimes lends them an audience, and a desk, with the most powerful people on the planet, they are more often than not volunteers, doing their work for free — without a business model, and without official support from philanthropists, governments or other establishments responsible for the problem spaces they are solving.
There is comedic contrast in the world of community leadership today between the the influence you have and the resources you don’t.
The experience of meeting a president in the morning and working a night shift at McDonald’s in the evening is not foreign to any of us.
… Enter Facebook
With FCLP, Facebook is among the first in the world to officially recognize community builders as leaders worth supporting.
The main message behind FCLP is a statement that the impact we as community and group leaders achieve has more value than most appreciate.
FCLP is an invitation for community leaders to consider the question if their “side roles” could become their full time careers. It’s a question to those with resources for impact about why they aren’t more involved in this space— and a statement that Facebook is going in head first, and inviting others to join.
$10M in grants in the first year of this program alone, together with company resources, and a staff the size of a fast-growing startup, is what Facebook is investing in getting this message out. 5 Residents will get grants up to $1,000,000 and 110 fellows will receive support of up to $50,000.
To understand why Facebook wants to invest millions into a community leadership program, we first need to ask: what does Community Leadership mean to Facebook?
I have 3 answers for this question in mind:
Community leaders are the best ambassadors for Facebook tools — an investment in them is an investment in Facebook’s image.
Community leaders are engines for growth and engagement on Facebook platforms — an investment in them is an investment’s in Facebook’s growth.
FCLP sees Community Leaders as a new brand of leaders. An investment in them is an investment in impact on society.
The New Leadership?
A big part of how Facebook explains FCLP has to do with the discovery of a new kind of leadership in the form of Community Leaders. Facebook explains that apart from being underfunded, this leadership type is also under-studied. There isn’t an MBA for community leadership. So leaders don’t yet have the toolbox and resourced to succeed like other, more traditional types of leaders, and need to “make it up as they go”.
A significant portion of the first meetup was focused on defining what this type of leadership looks like, and how it’s different from existing forms of leadership, and I think it’s interesting to discuss. (If you just want to keep hearing about FCLP, feel free to skip ahead to the next section.)
Community leaders solve problems by bringing people together, and building community. They are an overlooked part of “hacker culture” — but where startups use code and design to solve problems, community leaders use social networks. While community and tribe leaders have always existed, these new leaders leverage fairly recent technological revolutions like the internet, and mobile devices, to create impact at an unprecedented scale.
Facebook has partnered with external experts to study this new kind of leadership and define its characteristics. They describe a leadership style based on collaboration and empowerment, instead of authority and hierarchy. Community leaders prefer non-zero-sum games and seek out mutual growth over competition and dominance. It is estimated more than 70% of the world’s leaders are not defined by this “flexible” leadership style. Meaning the leaders in most positions of power today do not have the skills to build communities, and often misunderstand those who do.
The impact of community leaders, like startups, is exponential, because community leaders create networks, which have network effects. Like in startups, “investors”, founders and early team members who join the ride and support these initiatives at the right time, stand to benefit significantly more from this growth, than counterparts who missed the boat and joined much later.
So like investors, impact seekers could have much to gain from seeking out the best community leaders and supporting them in building out communities. But in order to do that at scale, they will need something both the startup ecosystem and the traditional leadership ecosystem already have, which is industry knowlesge. Startups, for example, have developed over the past years a wealth of available role models, success stories, and best practices based on real world data on what works and what doesn’t.
So, in order to grow more community leaders and solve more problems at scale, there is a strong need to develop guidelines, training, a strong support network, and better tools in order to grow a new generation of leaders. There is also need for better business models to allow community leaders to keep doing what they do, and maybe even ways to capture value, and capitalize on growth.
And like in the startup world, organizations that do this first and best (like YCombinator and Andreessen Horowitz at the time), have potential to capture the most value, and have the most impact.
More Than Money
Through its 6000 applications, Facebook has gained some insight into what kind of help community leaders could use, that they can offer. And it chose to focus on 3 areas:
First, to help community leaders be seen. Although community leaders have all reached outstanding achievements within their communities, these stories too often do not break through to mainstream news or get widely recognized. Even communities of millions are small bubbles compared to the media’s and Facebook’s reach to billions. Most community leaders, while having some level of natural talent (to have brought them this far), have not had any formal background or training with media. Facebook plans to help, with a curriculum of storytelling skills and techniques, media teams available to support leaders in every speaking opportunity, and Facebook’s brand and reach to create new media opportunities.
Facebook has mutual interest in having FCLP stories heard both within the company and out — At a time when people are questioning whether the tools Facebook is building have a good impact on humanity, FCLP fellows (and applicants) are an obvious answer, that yes — Facebook can be used to change lives for the better, and give people the power to do wonderful things. These are the kinds of stories we all need to get better at telling.
Second, to build better tools for community leaders. As some of Facebook’s top power users, leaders will be in touch with some of Facebook’s product staff and have priority access to features and product improvements — so Facebook can hear feedback and what matters to their communities, and build better tools to aid their missions.
During the first meetup at Facebook we got to meet with product leaders like Chris Cox(Chief Product Officer), Marne Levine (Instagram), Jennifer Dulski (Groups), Chris Daniels(Whatsapp), Ime Archibong(Product Partnerships), and Sheryl Sandberg (COO), as well as have dinner with the developers and product managers working on the teams of the products we love.
Third, to provide mentorship, training and support. The financial support leaders are getting will be used to start projects (of $50k or $1M budgets). Projects will run January through September, and Facebook wants to be as supportive as possible in helping leaders tailor their projects to their level of comfort and skills. Facebook realizes that many of the participants have not run projects with these kinds of budgets before. It sees the best use of funding as a way to unlock barriers to unleash a big idea that seemed impossible before, and it will help with planning and mentorship throughout the projects to make sure they are impactful, successful, sustainable and visible — and that the personal blocks for breaking personal barriers are being addresses.
There is a possibility that some Facebook staff will get involved with projects and make a time and skills “donation”, as hundreds of employees who went over applications asked to be personally involved, including senior staff.
It’s almost a given that FCLP is a community by itself as well, meaning the FCLP team is creating platforms, structures and opportunities for leaders to help each other with projects and goals, and to leverage the network of top community leaders to collaborate and come up with new ideas that may not have been possible before.
Facebook’s FCLP could have easily been exciting enough as a simple grant program. But the team behind it is thinking ahead.
To make a real difference, you have to take a look at the ecosystem — What happens the day our grant funding runs out?
In group discussions about fundraising and business models, it was astounding to see how almost none of us have had this figured out. According to Facebook, over 95% of applicants are underfunded, and mentioned funding as their top need.
95% of leaders who participated in FCLP are underfunded.
If a few smart people have a hard time finding a business model and raising funding, that’s okay. But when it turns out it’s all of them — something systematic is going on that’s probably stopping them, or making it really hard, to do this professionally. And that’s the space Facebook is going for.
Sometimes, it’s not enough to “give people fish” or “give them fishing rods”. Facebook is building the pond.
“Building The Pond”
And here it’s important to remind that this is still all new. Using social networks to solve real life problems is a new skill. Using the internet to bring people together is fairly new. And while exciting and effective, the work that community leaders do is still very much misunderstood — by parents, philanthropists, by cities and governments.
This category of social impact is so new and underfunded, that Facebook now has a team of lawyers and accountants brainstorming ways to grant money to individuals who aren’t incorporated as NGOs or freelancers across 46 countries and tax jurisdictions.
There aren’t many systems in place for this use case — because apparently almost nobody’s tried this before.
As one example, some of FCLP’s team come from a background in big philanthropy. If you build a hospital or a school, you check a box. There is no box to check for community building — or bringing people together to solve a problem. Facebook wants to create that box.
And to do that we as community leaders have to be better at showing ROI. We have to get better at creating standards for how much community building costs, and how much money it can save. We have to understand how to measure impact so it tells a compelling story for donors and investors.
And that, for me, is why FCLP’s impact is going to go far beyond those 115 people in the room, and far beyond one-time $50k investments — we are just the seed group, helping to set the stage for a much bigger change, that will bring in resources, and a lot more impact — to a new generation of leaders.
…For Leadership 2.0
Community Leadership is our generation’s kind of leadership. It is internet-native, and doesn’t differentiate between online and offline. It breaks down barriers. And it brings people together. What is happening is the start of a larger process to solve a problem for the world — to make projects like ours, leaders like us, legitimate, and well funded. It will not start and end with this workshop, and it may take years to accomplish. But Facebook is on board.
It is now my belief that Facebook’s support of group leaders is not just a grant program, but the start of a movement to turn Community Leadership from an immersive side hobby to one of the most positively influential 21st century careers.
And that big, revolutionary vision is what makes me proud to kick off this year as a fellow at FCLP, along with the 115 other fellows, inculding the 116th fellow — FCLP itself.
You can follow Emily’s Community Leadership adventures by CLICKING HERE.