Corporate Citizenship, Community … it is time to throw the toys out of the cot

Ramblings which I just have to get off my shoulder …

Recently a dear colleague, Willie Roberts, posted a notice on his blog that he is withdrawing from the public face of the South-African communities, from events such as TechEd and focusing on himself and his family for the time being. It came as a shock, I gulped and took some time to digest the bad news.image

Willie was probably one of the most engaged information technology community leads in South-Africa, being a lead in both SA Architect and SA Developer, taking full ownership of the community lounge at TechEd South-Africa and making a roaring success of it, presenting at TechEd and DevDays, and engaging with his local communities in Kwa-Zulu-Natal.

However, I actually understand his decision, because to be a lead in the community space in South-Africa can be a thankless task for a number of reasons:

  • One usually gets no recognition or more importantly support from the communities or represented vendors … it is very much a one-way street.
  • One usually has to beg on one’s knees for vendors to support a community event, even though their product and profile is advocated by the community leads.
  • One seldom manages to explain the benefit of communities and the long-term benefit to potential sponsors, even when the sponsors are suppliers of products and services advocated during these sessions. Hardly any of the companies realise that perception and reputation are powerful allies in today’s competitive and especially in bruised economy … I tried to explain this concept to stakeholders and executives of a South-African company for years … to no avail.
  • One often ends up investing countless hours preparing for an event, begging for sponsorship and arranging an event, only to be faced with a handful of attendees, with a huge number of no-shows.

While tenacity keeps a community lead treading the treadmill, hoping for sunnier days and reinforcements, it soon becomes apparent that P7060036burning a candle from multiple ends and sides at the same time is not an option. Keeping a full-time career and a community lead role accelerating through the years with little to no support from others, typically results in a personal meltdown and unfortunately also has a huge negative impact at home.

Fortunately Willie has pulled the ejection seat in time, but at what cost to him and more importantly to the communities?

Blue Man Walking a Dog That is Pulling on a Leash to Sniff a Shadow of a Dollar Sign on the Ground Clipart IllustrationI recently attended an Academy Live Online session at Microsoft, titled “What is Corporate Citizenship @ Microsoft”. During the session, delivered by Dan Bross, I realised that one of my reasons for being so excited about working for this company, is the commitment to corporate citizenship and the non-profit communities at large.

With the company’s commitment it will be possible to make a difference and realize social and economic changes most of us have only dreamt of in the past. The various initiatives such as DreamSpark granting academia access to technology tools and resources, Microsoft Most Valued Professionals (MVP) program bringing product groups and technology leaders closer, Gates Foundation, the VSTS Rangers community initiatives, and many other initiatives are making it possible to use technology to make this world a better place, rather than only focusing on the Rands (sorry, Dollars) and Cents all the time.

I have seen the light, which I am convinced is not a glow worm in a long tunnel or the head lights of an on-coming train. I hope that other will too, before we loose more of the likes of Willie in communities that actually need and benefit immensely from these unselfish and knowledgeable champions.

Thanks for listening …

Comments (5)

  1. Diago says:

    Thanks again for the kind words and support. I am currently overwhelmed by the message I am receiving, and more specifically where it is coming from. I will admit I have never been able to accept the way others see me, but there is a perception that I have made an impact. I hope that I can continue to serve in my own different way going forward. I will always support communities as I do believe there is value in these initiatives.

  2. says:

    Overwhelmed, Medical Leave and Pregnant Pets

  3. Eben de Wit says:

    I agree.  Running a community is a thankless job that takes massive energy and time.  Hence, I salute the effort and commitment Willie has shown in running the developer community.

    But, I think the blog gives the impression that he had no support, which is simply not true:

    1. In his farewell message, Willie lists quite a few people that supported him –

    2. I had frequent calls with Willie, discussing his ideas, ways to support him and decisions he had to make on both personal and professional life.

    3. Even after he "resigned", I and a colleague of mine spent some time in conversation with him to assist him in deciding his way forward.

    We also did learn some through this process.  Community work drains huge amounts of energy, and it is easy to take on too much and end up burt out.

    Hence, the warning to all community leads.  Take it slow!

  4. The post was intended to highlight my frustration with Willie throwing in the towel and to highlight the challenges that the communities are battling with, especially in the current economic crisis.

    Everyone is aware of the support he received and the post by no means gives the impression that he had no support. Willies blog, which is referenced, outlines the immense support he has received from the community.

    The "What is Corporate Citizenship @ Microsoft" session gives me hope and makes me excited, because it emphasizes the importance of community work and will hopefully pave the road to better collaboration and understanding of all stakeholders of communities.

    Communities, especially the leads, are about energy, passion, collaboration and making things happen. They seldom have the luxury to take it slow as their community efforts in addition to the normal 40-60h working week and they often do not have the personality to take it slow … we therefore have to find a way to support the passionate and active community leads, giving them support and cover continuously, not just when they are on the verge of imploding.

    That’s just my 2 cents worth …

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