Today, I served on a panel representing Nextdoor at the LISC Newark NJ “Growing Leadership, Building Community Resident Leadership Development Training” at Rutgers University in Newark NJ.
As I was preparing for the panel yesterday evening, I wanted offer the neighborhood leaders who would be attending, some principles to aid the important work they have chosen to take on in their neighborhoods. I wanted to put the principles in an inspiring context – and so I borrowed inspiration from one of my favorite old school house tracks titled “Brighter Days” by Cajmere and Dajae.
What I came up with I am calling “The 4 Foundational Principles of Empowering Your Neighbors.” It is based on the principals of connecting, communicating, taking action, and celebrating.
I wrote the first version of this blog post back in 2011 as a part of the interview process for a job I wanted to land.
I’ve update it as this past August marked the 10th anniversary of when I began organizing in neighborhoods. Now that I’ve joined the outstanding team at Nextdoor and dissolved Neighbors for Neighbors, I wanted to give myself the gift of taking time to look back, reflect, and bring closure to both the professional work and volunteer service I’ve done for the last 10 years under the umbrella of Neighbors For Neighbors.
This post is a chronological journey of the progression of my career as professional neighbor. As I stated earlier, it was originally written to help me land a job in 2011, so it’s heavy on accomplishments and reads like a resume. I’ve added some narration to improve its readability. I am aware it could use more narration and restructuring, but this post is for me.
If you have questions or want share your thoughts, I welcome your comments.
My mother once said to me “follow your dreams and the universe will reveal your path.” I have followed my dreams, and the universe has revealed my path. My path has not always been easy. I’ve stumbled, fallen, wept, and gotten lost more times than I care to share, but everything has worked out, and it’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood.
By staying in action and utilizing the strategies I shared below, my life and career have unfolded in ways I never imagined.
I did not come to be a professional neighbor as a result of a grand plan or promotions within organizations where I’ve worked. Rather, I came to be a professional neighbor as a result of strategies I developed and employed in support of my vision of connected and empowered neighbors collaborating amongst themselves and with those who serve them towards common objectives.
Consistently these strategies have made it possible for me not only to do what I love but also to work on progressively larger scales, expanding the impact of my work from my immediate neighbors 10 years ago in Boston to the entire nation.
Expand established professional roles to encompass more than is required or expected.
Build teams and develop organizing models supported by social platforms to empower citizens and civil servants to connect, communicate, and collaborate on their own time and around common objectives.
Engage influential individuals and leverage these relationships in support of my vision.
The following details illuminate how my career has progressed as a result of those strategies:
2011 – 2006 – On The Verge, Inc. Braintree, MA
As the Senior Associate, my role was to sell, consult, implement, train, and support work groups to leverage the ACT! contact management solution to manage relationships effectively with the goal of increasing sales and service delivery. (***This sentence feel too long and loaded with a lot of info. Maybe making two sentences would work better)
I created a robust project management system to track the various stages of project life cycles, refined client management techniques to ensure satisfaction and maximize upsell opportunities, and developed an engaging training curriculum to ensure that my clients were empowered to succeed.
The result: I built a powerful referral network of satisfied clients and partners who in turn helped me to fulfill my revenue goals.
2004 to August, 2014 – Neighbors for Neighbors, Inc., Boston, MA. Founder and Chief Executive Neighbor
As the founder and volunteer Chief Executive Neighbor, I directed a volunteer led community organizing group. Our mission was to connect and empower people who wish to do stuff with and for their neighbors, and to formulate resources to empower them to take action.
We envisioned neighborhoods where neighbors know the names of their neighbors and those who serve them, are safe and happy, have access to shared resources, and feel motivated to proactively contribute to each other’s quality of life.
August 2004 – After two neighbors were robbed at gunpoint near a subway station, I distributed 500 fliers informing the community about what was happening in our neighborhood and inviting them to a community meeting with the police to discuss what we could do about crime prevention on a neighborhood level. At that meeting sixty people came to learn what we as a community could do to protect ourselves. “Neighbors who know each other are more likely to look out for one another”, said one of the police officers who attended that meeting and whose words have continued to guide my work. At the end of the meeting I asked what neighbors felt the next step should be, and they suggested a neighborhood social where we could meet more of our neighbors. So we did. Ninety people came; thus, NFN was born.
After coordinating a few more neighborhood socials I again asked what our next step should be. They responded, “Let’s organize a meeting where we form groups that keep us together over time.” We did. Over the next two years each of our “Community Organizing Expos” was attended by over 250 neighbors.
June 2006 – I taught myself how to engage the media and Neighbors for Neighbors began to have a major presence in the press. In a Boston Globe article titled “Mighty Neighborly: Social theory comes to life as communities fight crime”, Thomas Sander, Executive Director of the Saguaro Seminar for Civic Engagement at Harvard stated, “What they’ve figured out how to do… is how to keep people together after the threat is gone.” Not only were we able to figure out how to stay connected as a community, but our network of neighbors also continued to grow. This is what eventually led to my employment with the Boston Police Department.
2006 to 2008 – Boston Police Department, Neighborhood Crime Watch Unit, Boston, MA. Program Coordinator
After seeing what my neighbors and I had accomplished, I happily accepted an invitation to be compensated monetarily for what I had loved to do in my free time. I was able to empower neighbors citywide to deter crime by increasing their connection to one another and the police in a fun and social way. My day-to-day duties required me to organize, promote, and attend up to three neighborhood meetings a week. Each year I attended around 250 such meetings, built their first Contact Management Database system, e-newsletter, blog, and eventually, the first-ever law enforcement-sponsored neighborhood social-network to allow neighbors and police officers to connect and communicate without me needing to be involved.
2007-2008 – I was able to double the number of new groups the unit started each year, increased annual event fundraising from a $5,000 to $30,000, and grew event participation from ten thousand to over fifty thousand people. In the pilot neighborhood where I developed what became known as the Coalition Organizing Model, the result was a 16% decrease in Part-1 crime over 12 months.
This role was my first foray into a position that allowed me to combine my passion for community organizing, empowering the community and facilitating government-to-citizen collaboration through social platforms.
2007 – The Nametag Project: US, Canada, and the UK. Founder and Nametag Evangelist
Keeping in mind that neighbors who know each other are more likely to look out for each other, I embarked on an experiment to see if wearing a nametag would encourage just that. So I vowed to wear a nametag for all of 2007, and founded The Nametag Project.
Summer 2007 – I pitched an idea to the Superintendent of the Bureau of Field Services at Boston Police: Nametag Day at Fenway Park. We handed out 10,000 nametags at Fenway Park during a Red Sox game with the help of 150 volunteers. By December of 2007, nearly 20,000 people had joined me in wearing nametags, and we received press coverage from The Boston Globe, National and Boston CBS and FOX Affiliates, NECN, The Hallmark Channel, The Miami Herald, and Vermont Public Radio.
August 2008 to March 2009 – Be the Change Inc./ServiceNation, Cambridge, MA. Director of Online Operations and Partnerships
Emily Cherniak, Alan Khazie’s Chief of Staff, whom I had met a year prior called and said, “Joseph, we need your help now. McCain and Obama will be at our Summit in New York City in three weeks, and our online presence is in shambles. Can you help us?” I quickly triaged their needs and focused my efforts on working with their vendor to complete their website before the summit. After establishing and maintaining their online presence, I was asked to go to New York for the summit to oversee their online operations. During the summit, I managed all content-capture, publishing, blogger relations, and live-streaming of the event on their website. When I returned home from New York they officially hired me as their Director of Online Operations & Partnerships.
Over the next six months of the campaign, I directed and managed the development of ServiceNation.org through two more development iterations, including preparation for a massive surge in site traffic due to a possible Presidential “Call to Service”. I helped coordinate online service pledges between the White House, Facebook, and the Corporation for National and Community Service and coalition partners for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. I also directed online operations for our seven official Presidential Inaugural events including a live broadcast with MTV at the Youth Ball.
January 2009 – Following the Presidential Inauguration and the passage of the Edward M. Kennedy Service Act of 2009, the needs of the organization changed and my position was dissolved. I took this opportunity to reinvest in Neighbors for Neighbors.
2009 to May 2010m- Neighbors For Neighbors 2.0 Given the success of the Neighbors for Neighbors network in Jamaica Plain, I decided to take a risk and simultaneously build online social-networks and teams for every neighborhood in the City of Boston to empower a wider audience of neighbors and attempt to secure funding. Gina Bianchini, the CEO of the Ning.com (the social networking platform that powered NFN) whom I had come to know, spoke about NFN at the Personal Democracy Forum in 2009. One of the audience members, Laurel Ruma from O’Reilly Media, emailed me and encouraged me to present for the upcoming Gov 2.0 Expo.
On August 6th, 2009, I participated in the New Prosperity Initiatives community dialogue, “Building Community Online and Offline” at City Year. The transcript from my talk really capture the spirt of my work with Neighbors for Neighbors..
September 2009 – At the O’Reilly Media Gov. 2.0 Expo I demonstrated how Neighbors for Neighbors served as a powerful example of Gov 2.0 in action, how it expedites government and citizen communication and collaboration to solve problems. At the expo, I networked and brainstormed with a great group of fellow innovators including Steve Reseller from GovLoop.com with whom I continue to collaborate. *****NOT SURE IF YOU MEAN THIS TO BE IN THE PAST OR PRESENT
September 2009 – Velocity Saloon When Gina Bianchini was unable to attend CEO’s for Cities Velocity Saloon (Grand Rapids, MI), I was asked to attend on her behalf. The goal of this event was to help Envision the “Good Life” in American cities. This experience was invaluable to me. As the event unfolded, I got the distinct impression that just as thoughtful design and architecture are critical for cities to thrive, so is online social infrastructure, and the ability to communicate/collaborate with one’s local government.
October 2009 – City of Boston and Neighbors for Neighbors Announces Official Partnership On October 24, 2009, Mayor Thomas Menino, Boston Police Commissioner Edward Davis, and I announced the Official Partnership between Neighbors for Neighbors and the City of Boston.
December 2009 – Blue Print For Service Steven Rivelis, President of Campaign Consultations and former colleague from my work with Be The Change/ServiceNation, asked me to serve as Expert Facilitator for the Cities of Service Blue Print for Change Service Citizen Engagement workshops. In this role, I helped attendees to think out-of-the-box to empower citizens to create solutions for Steven’s client the Corporation for National and Community Service.
Through my work on Neighbors for Neighbors, I established enough of a reputation as an innovator in government-to-citizen engagement that the Department of Homeland Security learned of my efforts.
May 2010 to January 2011 – U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Washington, DC. Community Engagement Strategist, Contractor Reporting to the White House Liaison and the Assistant Commissioner of Public Affairs of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, I served as the department’s first Community Engagement Strategist. My role was to manage DHS’s first social network Our Border and support the integration of social media into U.S. Customs and Border Protection public engagement programs, pilots, and campaigns.
February 2011 to April 2014 – GovDelivery/GovLoop, Washington DC, Director of Engagement Services.
Upon recognizing the demand for professional services to support digital government initiatives, I stood up and directed GovDelivery’s professional services practice in partnership with Scott Burns the CEO of GovDelivery and Steve Ressler the President of GovLoop.com (GovDelivery’s sister company).
The practice focused on building communities and activating members to serve as force multipliers on behalf our clients’ mission objectives. In this role, I built, tested, and demonstrated the viability of offerings, processes, frameworks, and systems. In addition, I led strategy, directed and managed the team.
In 2013, in partnership with Account Executives, drove 120% growth in services revenue, exceeding the target by 24%. The demonstrated success of this practice has influenced and is now woven into the company’s operations.
The work that I am proud of the most was done for Ready.gov. My team and I dreamed up The National Preparedness Community (Community.FEMA.gov). The purpose of the community is to help American’s connect, collaborate, and empower each other to fulfill their shared responsibility to prepare themselves and their peers through year-round, ongoing engagement and participation in National Preparedness Month. In 2012 and 2013, we grew the community to 42,500+ members who coordinated thousands of preparedness events engaging millions of Americans. As a result of my teams success GovDelivery was awarded the contract to support America’s PrepareAthon!
SnowCrew 2010 – Present Snowcrew is a community project I started in 2010 to connect people who need help shoveling with nearby neighbors who can and want to help them dig out after snowstorms. In Feb 2014, Snowcrew.org launched a web app powered by the SeeClickFix API.
During the winter of 2013-2014 Snowcrew got a lot of media attention as the east coast got clobbered with snowstorm after snowstorm. By the end of March 2014, Snowcrew had 1,400 users of which about 300 were the ones asking for help shoveling.
To promote Snowcrew.org, I went on a #SnowCrewSade in mid-February and drove from Washington DC to the Long Branch NJ and back to dig out those who had not yet been dug out. To my surprise, I found that each of those who requested help shoveling was surrounded by multiple neighbors. It struck my that Snowcrew was not addressing the root problem of people being disconnected but only addressing one of the symptoms. I recognized this need and choose to get back into the neighboring game.
May 2014 to Present – Nextdoor.com, Washington DC, Senior City Strategist and Professional Neighbor.
Nextdoor is my dream come true.
Nextdoor’s leadership and team have made my dream of providing critical online civic infrastructure for all neighborhoods a reality.
Nextdoor.com is the free and private social network for neighborhoods that is available for the entire United States and is being used over 30% of US neighborhoods. On Nextdoor, residents can talk about everyday personal things like finding a great babysitter or locating a lost pet to more critical matters like communicating about a rash of break-ins in the area.
As a Senior City Strategist, I am responsible for helping our government partners leverage our platform to engage and partners with our members to create safer, stronger, and more resilient neighborhoods. As Nextdoor’s Professional Neighbor, I tell stories, serve as a thought leader, and think about ways we can help our members and partners get even more value out of our platform.
As a professional neighbor, I’ve spent the last ten years of my life developing online and offline models that help neighbors and those who serve them connect, communicate, and collaborate to create safer, stronger, and more resilient neighborhoods. Thanks to Nextdoor, I now get to spend all my time doing what I love most; working to re-weave the social fabric of neighborhoods at national scale.
My career as a professional neighbor has been propelled by the collective actions I’ve taken beyond the defined responsibilities of my professional roles and has been invigorated by social entrepreneurial initiatives I’ve founded and led. The wonderful network of people I developed relationships with have made critical introductions, amplified the reach of my vision, and they have brought me on to their teams where my work neighboring now has a national impact.
I believe the well-being of society depends on the diversity and the strength of bonds we have with people closest to us. My experience has shown me that our neighborhoods are strongest, and we are happiest when we are connected in communication, and in service to each other.
I envision spending the next ten years of my life expanding the ways in which neighbors may want to, and will need to, be of service to each other.