Community is a word that can be an overused. It’s no longer enough for brands to have customers, now they all want customers to join their communities. 

But what does community even mean in the context of business? Is it a buzzword flaunted by companies trying to differentiate themselves from the competition? Or is a business that champions community signalling a return to fundamentals, that businesses are people and putting people firmly back at the centre is the way to ensure longevity, sustainability and success?

There’s no doubt that community has been adopted by some in business for less than genuine motivations. I do believe however in the real power of community, particularly when it’s used to put people and the value they bring first.

Retail is changing

Mary Portas, author of Work like a Woman and founder of the Portas Agency ( and somewhat a hero of mine) talks at length about community and how retailers of the future will have to shift their focus from their own products, to the needs of people, when designing their spaces. I see it on my own high street and the way it has changed over the last 15 years that I’ve lived here. The businesses that have endured and the newcomers taking over unloved and empty units, offer something more than just a place to buy stuff. 

We have ‘stuff’ coming out of our ears and it’s never been easier to get more of it, and cheaply too, when shopping online. 

But what we’re craving, particularly after the last year, is experiences. I’m so tired of the endless scrolling and clicking of online shopping. The bewildering choice that comes from having multiple tabs open on your laptop. The uneasy sense that if you just keep googling you’ll find what you want just that little bit cheaper. It’s boring and it’s soulless and rather than fulfilling me, like a McDonalds cheeseburger, it leaves me feeling empty and a little bit grubby.

I crave a more mindful way to shop. I want to wander around a lovely environment, be able to touch and feel and smell real things (yes I sniff clothes when I’m shopping). I’ll happily submit to a more curated retail experience, designed by someone who is passionate about their products and what they do. I want to feel that by shopping in my community, I’m supporting local people and helping my local area thrive as a place to live, work and relax.

Business is changing

The power of community is also being embraced by organisations who recognise that a business is nothing without people and that people are individuals with lives and interests outside of their work. 

I was curious to read about Ernst and Young, (not a company, perhaps unfairly, that springs to mind when thinking about progressive employers) and how they are embracing communities of interest as a way to connect people across their organisation. They actively encourage employees to bring their lives to work through Yammer groups dedicated to topics and movements such as family, wellness, women’s leadership and Pride. 

Bringing our whole selves to work helps us connect with others. It builds stronger more enduring communities that transcend traditional divisions of rank and superiority. Feeling that you can be yourself at work, supports collaborative working, has big benefits for mental and physical health and ultimately impacts on the bottom line.

A new approach to success and entrepreneurship

Wanting to create something that supports personal values drives many people to take the leap into entrepreneurship and start their own business. Women, particularly those that have already followed a corporate career track and taken time out to care for their families, are likely to cite the need for better work-life balance and wanting to do meaningful work with a greater sense of purpose.

Most of the women that come to Keystone for support are looking to find ways of working that sustain them personally as well as professionally and they want to do this within a community of others that feel the same. 

We think a more holistic approach to professional development is the only way to create a working life that is both sustainable and sustaining.This will look different for everyone. We are all familiar with the tired narratives around entrepreneurship and business success and Keystone was founded to challenge these. 

Success is not a one size fits all concept and figuring out what success means for you, won’t necessarily come to you in a vision. It takes time, commitment and finding the right support to work it out.

In the Keystone programme we create space and offer inspiration to women who want to make that commitment to create a better working life for themselves. Keystone was founded on community first and foremost, with its origins in Tribe Porty, our coworking and creative events space and then Tribe Women.  Continuing to build that community is a major part of what success looks like for Keystone in the future.

As Keystone founding member and coach Alex Durussel-Baker says,”It’s a powerful thing to be surrounded by dozens of people figuring out their way, their business. You can’t buy that in a business book”.

By Melissa McConnell

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