This post originally appeared on the Ning Blog.
Business Fights Poverty was established in March of 2008 to pioneer new ways of fighting poverty utilizing economic and business opportunities by groups and individuals. Founder and Director, Zahid Torres-Rahman discovered and implemented the perfect platform for his idea through a chance conversation and a day’s worth of work. “A technology guru friend of mine first told me about Ning over breakfast, and by dinner I had set up the community." Since its creation, the community has continued to evolve and expand its public profile. Business Fights Poverty has bloomed from 1,000 members after one year to more than 10,000 members today.
Openness, community, professionalism, respect, and integrity are the five core values that drive this vibrant network of business professionals, academics, philanthropists, and non-government organizations – all of whom share a passion for fighting poverty through business. Business Fights Poverty utilizes inspiring blogs from members, face-to-face events, and a powerful resource hub to captivate potential members and engage current ones. Their community also serves as the central station for public outreach via social outlets like Twitter, Facebook, and Linkedin. All these components have come together to make it the largest organization of its kind and a vital resource in the fight against poverty.
We reached out to Zahid Torres-Rahman to get the inside scoop on how his community has grown and helped created a brand with public impact:
What made you start your Ning community?
All around the world exceptional people are finding new ways to fight poverty – by creating new jobs and economic opportunities in low-income communities. The challenge we set ourselves back in 2008 was to help turn these individual acts of inspiration into a broader movement for change. We wanted to build a sense of community by connecting these intense, but often dispersed pockets of energy. We wanted people to be able to find, engage with, learn from and be inspired by like-minded peers. Ning made this all possible for us – by offering an affordable and easy way to build an online community.
Have you achieved this original objective? How else has your community helped you and your business, brand or mission?
I think we have come a long way. We’re now the largest community of our kind, with a brand that is steadily growing in profile. We publish a great story every day, and pretty much all of these come from community members. We are increasingly active in the real world too, with face-to-face events and publications. At the same time, I feel that we are only at the beginning of an exciting journey. We are constantly trying to learn and improve. We recently hired FeverBee, following a Ning webinar (which you can watch again here), and they have been giving us some great advice on enhancing our member engagement.
If you had to pick one measure of the success or impact of your community, what would it be?
We track all the usual metrics about visits and member engagement, but for me nothing beats the personal stories that I hear from members about howthe community has helped them – whether to find a new job; connect with potential project partners; or just to be inspired by what others are doing. I enjoy reading what our Members of the Week say they hope to get out of being part of the community.
How long did it take your community to reach critical mass?
It took us a year to reach 1,000 and four more to reach 10,000. But one thing we have come to appreciate is that it’s the number of actively engaged members that matters, and that’s where our energy is now focused. The great thing about Ning is that by massively bringing down the costs of organizing online, it has made it possible to create successful, small, specialist communities.
What tactics drove the most growth and activity in your community?
We have focused our energy on three areas. The first has been on building the community brand. We worked with professional graphic designers to develop a strong look and feel for the site, and we invest in great photography to illustrate stories on the site. The second area is around content. We have put a lot of energy into our editorial calendar – to build up a strong flow of timely, high quality and interesting content, primarily from our own members. We drive traffic to this content through our weekly broadcast messages, and we are also very active on Twitter (@FightPoverty) and other social media sites. The third area is around member engagement. Every year, we have an active programme of face-to-face and online events, such as webinars. Through our “Member of Week” and “Star Member” initiatives, we profile our most active members. We have high hopes for our new member’s Forum, and have other ideas in the pipeline to encourage member interaction.
What feature(s) are most important to your members?
Right now, our blog is the most popular feature on our site, followed by our events. Over the next few months, we are looking to grow our forum as a way to generate more member-to-member engagement. We’ll also be more closely integrating our offline and online activities – so for example, we’ll be running online discussions linked to our face-to-face events. Following member feedback, we’ll also be launching a jobs board.
Do you have any advice for other people building online communities?
We recognized early on that community management is a full-time and professional activity! Continuous investment of time and effort is needed to encourage member activity and network growth. On top of that, listening and responding to what your members want is critical. Recognizing when things are not working is important too! For us, we have been on a continuous learning journey, and are constantly looking to improve the site. I am a fan of the Ning Creators Network – and have picked up many great tips there.
What’s the craziest story you have about your community?
The craziest story is from our first day. A technology guru friend of mine first told me about Ning over breakfast, and by dinner I had set up the community. I was the first member and my wife was the second. I remember telling the third member – a colleague of mine who was working for a charity at the time, “I know you are only member number 3, but I promise that one day there will be many more of us!”
There is an African proverb that has been an inspiration to me: if you want to travel fast, travel alone. If you want to travel far, travel together. For me that is at the heart of what the global Business Fights Poverty community is about, and I am excited about what the future holds. I believe that for all the amazing things we are doing individually, if we can do more together – as part of a movement for change, the possibilities are limitless.