On Tuesday June 7th, Circular Philadelphia held its spring members meeting at the Sunflower Philly garden and event space in North Philly. This event was extremely special for a few reasons. The first is that it was almost a year to the date when Circular Philadelphia launched on June 14th, 2021 at Sunflower Philly. As our Year One Progress Report outlines, we’ve accomplished so much since that wonderful night, and it was truly special to have all of those accomplishments on full display for our members.
The second reason is that Sunflower Philly has become such a valued member and partner for Circular Philadelphia. Although Sunflower Philly founder and Executive Director Melvin Powell and Circular Philadelphia Director of Policy and Engagement Nic Esposito already had a close working relationship from Nic’s time in city government, Sunflower has become much more than a preferred event space for Circular Philadelphia. They have done so much to progress the work of Circular Philadelphia’s burgeoning vacant land working group work.
Sunflower Philly is a testament to the types of relationships Circular Philadelphia strives to forge with our members. The connections move beyond general support to form deep working relationships where we are meeting our members’ needs while also making them active participants in driving the circular economy in Philadelphia.
That unique and special way Circular Philadelphia approaches its membership was on full display at the spring members meeting. As always, and especially as we continue to manage life during a pandemic, it is so important to ensure that our members can safely gather, have some drinks, eat some food, play some games and be in community with each other.
The night started with bocce, Kan Jam and horseshoe pits set up. (Nic and Danielle Ruttenberg from Bottle Underground are already planning their bocce rematch). And we enjoyed some fantastic food from our member organization, Tiffin Restaurant Group (thanks to Marianne Kelly for making that happen), as well as tasty Human Robot cocktails and beer courtesy of our event and Circular Philadelphia sponsor, Vicinity Energy.
After an hour and a half of networking, food and drinks, we got down to business in the meeting portion of the evening. CP’s Director of Programs and Operations, Sam Wittchen, and Nic gave a recap of the incredible work Circular Philadelphia has done over the past 6 months (much of which is captured in the Year One Progress Report).
Most notably, they reported that during the fall meeting, members requested that CP grow its community, create working groups and focus on vacant land. It was really impactful to report that Circular Philadelphia made good on these promises and more.
After the update presentation, the members forum portion of the evening began with two presentations on how Circular Philadelphia is moving forward for the next six months and beyond. Members heard from Circular Philadelphia partner YING, which is a platform that incorporates modern financial technology with the age-old community building pillar of skill sharing. They then heard from Circular Philadelphia member Dr. Alan Bush–a self-described “free-range professor” and recent transplant to Philadelphia–about how CP plans to engage members in a strategic planning initiative for the organization.
The YING presentation explained how Circular Philadelphia members have driven the organization through outreach events and work on the working groups. Now, members who put in those hours can join the YING platform, accept those tasks through YING and then receive “balance tokens” for each hour of work they do for Circular Philadelphia. These tokens can then get used on the platform by the Circular Philadelphia members to request skills from other people for things as diverse as website design to gardening help.
Circular Philadelphia is grateful to Dr. Bush’s partnership and experience in a process he calls “ensemble storytelling.” To help CP develop its strategic direction, he will facilitate the process for the organization later this year. At the meeting, he explained how the process works.
Although these six-month increments of strategic and tactical work keep Circular Philadelphia moving forward, the organization needs to to look to the future and ask, “What will Circular Philadelphia look like in 5 years.” Rather than taking the well-worn path of strategic planning, Dr. Bush explained that ensemble storytelling will engage CP members to ask that fundamental future-envisioning question and then build a coherent and collective story around it.
Of course, strategy will play a role in getting there, but having the membership come up with a collective vision that the organization can then collaboratively manifest over the next five years is the type of innovative and effective process that aligns with Circular Philadelphia’s mission.
The members forum ended with direct feedback from members on the presentations as well as what they want to see from Circular Philadelphia. Nic captured a lengthy list of observations and recommendations that he and Sam will work with the board and membership on pursuing between now and the fall membership meeting.
A big ticket item was equipping our members with more resources to spread the word to recruit more people and organizations to the circular economy movement. We already have the members ambassadors folder that is full of resources and guidance on how to recruit members. But other ideas surfaced on business discounts for signing up members as well as Circular Philadelphia membership discounts for signing up through an organization. However it’s implemented, we will find a way to make member recruitment mutually beneficial for our organization and our members.
Needless to say, it was an exciting evening, and the Circular Philadelphia staff and board are so excited to continue working with our membership over the next six months and beyond to make the circular economy a reality in Philadelphia. For all members, a follow up survey and all presentations will be sent in the coming week to drive the work forward. And if you’re not a member but are compelled by what you’ve just read, please consider signing up today.