Monica Kumar and Jayme Brandt are co-founders at Kinship, a socially driven design firm in Bentonville that offers products, projects and workshops to ignite community change. Jayme is an artist and illustrator who works to make social and cultural issues feel authentic and relevant. Monica is a human rights/commercial lawyer who now works in community development. Kumar drives change in organizations through engaging training and creative workshops to help people become transformative change-makers.
1. What was the catalyst for starting Kinship?
Jayme and I have spent the last three years cultivating a friendship, which is based on shared values and respect for human dignity. We were drawn to start Kinship in part because we wanted to share the connection our families have developed with our community and also explore ways of replicating it with more humans. The other motivation was born out of a belief that every single person has the capacity to do good and be good and we wanted to utilize our business to give people a way to work together to make our world better.
2. Why is cultivating a sense of community important to the value of a city?
The derivative of 'community’; is 'public spirit' and 'shared in common' so I would argue that it is impossible to even think about building a vibrant and relevant city without deeply engaging a sense of community into the roots of the work. As we think about what makes a place of value or what makes a city unique and successful, we cannot separate individuals working together for a common purpose from the notion of a thriving city. The two do not just go together they are inextricably entwined.
3.What are some best practices in a relevant community engagement strategy?
I think best practices vary from city to city but I also believe there are some fundamental truths in building community engagement.
· Intentionally engage multiple stakeholders, especially those doing the work on the ground.
· Make sure you have diverse broad and wide individual input. Be thoughtful about giving voice to everyone in the community especially those who do not traditionally speak up. Think about language options and cultural significance.
· Don’t forget young people and find ways to reach out that feel relevant to their interests.
· Make participation simple and offer multiple ways to engage. Not everyone can come to community meetings - how can you reach those who cannot reach you?
· Give those who challenge or are skeptical of your engagement efforts a seat at the table. Invite them to share their perspectives and give them opportunities to engage in ways that work for them.
· As much as possible utilize local groups and community leaders who are already doing the work. Try to resist the automatic impulse to bring in experts from other regions and where they are brought in encourage them to seek advice and direction from homegrown efforts.
4.Who is doing this community engagement well and what are the results?
I think Nina Simon and her work in inclusion and building relevant spaces is outstanding. She offers multiple real-world examples of how we get it right and where we have work to do. I highly recommend her work to anyone looking to build welcoming, relevant and inclusive spaces.
5. What is the role of brand and storytelling in developing a sense of place?
Essentially your brand and your story are outward facing evidence of why you are, who you are and what you are. Of those three the ‘why’ is the most persuasive and the one best served by authentic storytelling. Every aspect of developing a community is made up of storytelling moments and so capturing the detail and nuance of those stories is imperative. Those communities that take the time to figure out which story they want to tell and how they want to tell that story can drive success into their towns and businesses in a way that ensures steady and strategic long-term growth