Harnessing the Power of Tech to Reconnect Communities

Times have changed, but the power of people to come together to improve lives and communities remains strong.

The world moves fast these days, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from the past. In fact, by combining the lessons of history with the technologies of today, we can strengthen our communities at a time when they are more divided than in years.

I grew up in northwest Indiana in the 1960s and 1970s. It was, at times, a challenging upbringing. I found reasons to stay away from home.

My community came to my rescue. When I needed a job, a family friend helped me get a union card. If it wasn’t for neighbors, I never would have thought about college – much less graduated or launched a career with United Way.

Today, our society is carving out its middle, and fewer people seem to be lending a hand. In many communities, people aren’t talking, constructively sharing ideas, or building coalitions that help people live better lives.

We must rebuild what it means to be a community. That doesn’t mean returning to the 1960s. While I benefited from the support of community leaders and counselors, many others didn’t. Today’s opportunities must be available to everyone.

Digital technology will be a vital tool in recreating community connections. Smart phones today have more power than the computers that took us to the moon. They bring information to our fingertips, and people look online for ways to create change.

We need to embrace these empowered individuals. Let’s go where they are to help them find causes they care about and multiply their impact. Let’s help them not only volunteer at a local soup kitchen, but also tell their friends about it and share ideas to increase its reach.

Combining tried-and-true community support with today’s digital technology will accelerate the future of community building.

And there’s demand for these efforts. Eighty-one percent of employees consider corporate social responsibility when deciding where to work, according to the Cone Communications Echo Global CSR study.

It’s up to non-profits, businesses and community leaders to guide people and give them the tools to make a difference.

Using technology to help individuals rebuild communities is a priority for United Way in 2018. Paired with new goals around our work in education, health and financial stability, it will bring more concrete opportunities to all people and allow them to reach their potential.

The world looks different than when I was growing up decades ago. Communities have changed – their definition expanded and shifted. But what remains the same is the immense difference people make when they come together to help each other live healthier and happier lives.

That’s a power we must harness in 2018 and beyond.