Meeting my Online Community Service Network Face-to-Face for the First Time

For those of you who know me, I have a personal blog and a professional blog and decided a long time ago to keep them both separated.  After all, do you really want to learn of my interests and ramblings that aren’t related to learning? Do you really want to know about my community service or my trials and tribulations with yarn and knitting? Do you really care about what I do for my leisure? However,  as time passes, I’m beginning to have both my worlds slowly merge into one simply because many of my interests have an online component to them that involves a social connection around a shared hobby or interest.  All of a sudden, while I try and keep my professional and personal separated, I’m finding that technology through social collaboration platforms, social media and the internet are quickly smashing my worlds together.

For example, in June this year, I wrote about a small group of us men and women who come from different professions and vocations setting up an e-club using the WordPress blog site (Buddypress plug in) to create an online space where we can connect, discuss, deliberate, post photos, videoes etc, and run our meetings.  We found that we wanted to join Rotary (a global not-for-profit service organisation with over 1.2 million members in over 27 000 clubs around the world) but we couldn’t commit to attending meetings every week because of our family and work committments – but we wanted to make a difference in the community.  You can read the post here: https://activatelearning.wordpress.com/2012/06/16/a-community-service-club-uses-social-media-to-connect-with-others-and-do-good-in-the-world/

So the idea was to create the Rotary eClub of Greater Melbourne where people who wanted to contribute their knowledge, skills and expertise of their chosen profession and vocation join this online club and together, through the use of this online social space connect to work and collaborate on joint community service projects that would assist local, national and international communities around the areas of polio eradication, health and hunger, water and education.

Yesterday, the initial 25 members (and since yesterday, 2 have joined our ranks – and growing), came together for the first time to celebrate the charter of our newest and the first eClub in Victoria Australia at the Sky High Restaurant at Mount Dandenong overlooking Melbourne and it’s beautiful surrounds.  It was a fitting place to capture what our club was about.

The kookaburras were out in force on the day and while they looked at us in the hope of getting some food, I took the liberty to take some photos while they were laughing at us!

Members from various Rotary clubs gathered for afternoon tea and President Gael welcomed everyone and opened the proceedings by explaining what the eClub is about.  To many Rotarians, the concept of an online club is completely new and there were some baffled faces in the audiences.  Questions that were asked were: “why don’t you meet face to face?”  “Don’t you need to meet in person?” “How do you enjoy socialising online?” “How do you know who your other club members are?” “I cannot do a meeting in front of a computer – what use is that?”

They are all valid questions and I had to answer them from the guests seated at my table who were intrigued.  However I explained to them that this is not exactly new – in fact, in business, it’s how we work.  We have virtual conference meetings and teleconferences with our colleagues overseas, we sit in front of our computers all day and can work with virtual project teams anywhere around the world, we are connected 24/7, we use social media to catch up with the latest news.  How can being in a community service club be any different – we certainly don’t need to meet for breakfast, lunch or dinner at any physical location like many Rotary clubs do nowadays.  As I tried to explain it, you could see that they were understanding it – however I did also say that they probably Skype with their children and grand children and once I said that, it seemed the jigsaw puzzle fell into place.

It was an interesting and fun event because it was the first time that I had met many of my fellow club members.  Sure, we had met online and I knew them only from their tiny profile photo and member biography but it was like meeting up with old friends.  We finally put faces to names and the connection was set!  Afterwards, (the day after the event), you could see the Facebook Friend Requests in my inbox as we all became friends with our social media and put this new friendship into another realm altogether.  We also had the opportunity to meet our ‘other halves’ and together we saw that there was a real spirit and excitement about being involved in something so new and innovative.

The beauty of this eClub is that the charter members are all men and women of various ages some of whom were ex-Rotarians who had resigned some time ago from their previous clubs due to work committments or people who have no Rotary connection at all.

Even though we ‘meet’ online every week on Sunday at 1900-2100 (for those who can – it’s not mandatory) for our synchronous online chat, many people simply go to the Members Only section of the social website to read posts and contribute articles, photos, or other media, or simply update and reflect on those articles – this is considered equivalent to attending a physical meeting.

Even our name badges were made out to be in theme with our e-club in the shape of a cloud because we’re “in the cloud!”

Our name badges

So if this is something that interests you to use your profession or vocational knowledge for community service and be part of this new Rotary eClub then I would encourage you to join us as we’re always on the lookout for new members – whether they are in Australia or not.

http://rotaryeclubgreatermelbourne.org.au/

So after deliberation, I did decide that this post must go on my professional blog site simply because it merges my interest in social learning around a common interest with a group of like-minded individuals and how my connection to this new club also assists in my professional development in the space of learning consultancy.

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About Activate Learning Solutions

Helen Blunden is the founder of Activate Learning Solutions and Third Place. She has over 20 years of experience within learning and development across private, public and not-for-profit organisations. With a specialty in performance consulting and networked learning, Helen believes that workplace learning is integral to business success. She has a passion for enabling people to learn beyond the classroom and believes in the power of networks and communities to drive collaboration and meaning within the organisation. From facilitator-led instruction, online and blended, Helen deploys social and informal learning such as enterprise social networking, collaboration tools and emerging technologies that have been proven successful and embedded workplace change.
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