Facebook is enabling This Mum Runs to bring the world’s Mums closer in 2019

2018 has been an incredible year for This Mum Runs and I wanted to take a moment to pause and reflect on the most game changing of events that happened this year – winning a place on Facebook’s year long Community Leadership Programme, which kicked off in San Fransisco in October. It’s safe to say that being recognised as one of the top 100 most influential communities in the world can unlock huge potential for This Mum Runs in 2019 and will accelerate our vision to empower the world’s Mums to be healthier and happier.  Here I share my (somewhat intense) experience of the programme so far.

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Last year, Facebook announced a return to it’s founding strategy to: “give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together”. In February 2018, I attended the invite only Communities Summit where Facebook’s Chief Product Officer, Chris Cox, showed just what they were prepared to commit to when it comes to bringing the world closer. He revealed  plans for the Facebook Community Leadership programme (FCLP) – a global programme to provide grants, training and support to enable great community leaders to make an even more positive impact in the world.

When he revealed the plans, I have to confess, I cried. It sounds a bit dramatic, but here’s why.

Leaders of successful communities usually fall into the role by accident – and certainly don’t set out planning to build a massive movement that changes thousands of lives. Often, they start with one individual experiencing hardship, crisis or a personal challenge reaching out for help, or with a desire to help others. The most incredible of communities start out in this simplest of ways.  A few people connecting around an issue, who tell their friends, who tell theirs and so it grows. Such groups quickly gain traction around a common purpose and an altruistic desire to to connect or help others; sometimes they find themselves in the slightly unexpected position of being able to drive real social change through their efforts.

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This too has been my experience with This Mum Runs.

As a new Mum, recovering from back surgery, struggling with mild post natal depression and feeling lonely, I had lost myself. A single (slightly desperate), post on Facebook looking for a running buddy led to 75 women turning up for a run; this led to hundreds of women joining the Facebook group I set up to organise run meet ups within weeks; 6 months later, growth was so fast and overwhelming I had quit my job to manage it; and within 4 years we have grown to a global community of 50,000 women delivering hundreds of free runs every single week.

The First ever post

Growth like this comes with huge personal sacrifice. In the beginning – for the first couple of years in fact – I was drowning. Locked to my phone every hour of the day and night, desperately trying to respond to every message I received and terrified I would miss something from someone who needed help. I’d had no training – there’s no Community Leadership MBA – and was not equipped to deal with some of the things I was told. But I wanted to help. I quickly tried to recruit volunteers to launch more runs and help meet the needs of women who clearly wanted to make a change in their lives.

Growth like this comes with tension at home too – nagging from families (“get off that bloody phone!”), and sacrificing friends who get tired of you cancelling events.  Perhaps they think we’re wasting time on social media and don’t see what we’re doing as meaningful work.

It’s deeply ironic that the majority of meaningful community building work like this, whilst seemingly very ‘public’, is mostly unseen and solitary. It’s driven by individuals with passion and commitment and purpose, but lacking funding, experience or the organisational framework to sustain such a pace of growth. It comes with so much influence and potential to change people’s lives – but without the money, training and resources to truly sustain it. It’s the slightly surreal experience of winning awards, media interest and meeting royalty, while secretly worrying about how to replace the kids outgrown school clothes.

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So hearing from Chris that Facebook were going to step up, that through FCLP they would recognise community owners as leaders worth investing in, well… it was an emotional moment for me.

Of course, cynics may say that community leaders are the best ambassadors for Facebook tools, will act as a powerful sales engine for engagement hungry advertisers and that this programme is an investment by Facebook in their image which has recently taken such a public beating.

Well, maybe this is partly true.

But what has always been clear to me through everyone I have ever met at the organisation, is that Facebook people stand behind their vision and purpose with almost altruistic vigour. As individuals they are passionate about connecting people and improving lives. As teams they commit hard to the work they are doing. And they believe Community Leaders are a new brand of leader that can help them move tangibly closer to their vision of bringing the world closer.

This is not just big corporation rhetoric either. The programme comes with a total of $10M in grants in the first year of this programme alone, together with a a year long programme of training delivered by a newly formed and super talented team, hand picked for their global community building credentials.

In short, this is game changing. And it’s a no brainer that I would apply – along with more than 6000 community leaders from around the world.

We went through a rigorous 6 month long selection process. Every application was evaluated in a multi-phase consideration process (written applications, screening, interviews, video production…). A diverse selection committee of Facebook-ers and external advisors was assembled to make final selections. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall for those discussions!

When the winners were finally announced, I was in a tent in deepest France and had been on tenterhooks for weeks waiting for a decision. I had almost given up hope, so ‘excited’ doesn’t really cover it – hyped, ecstatic, proud, amazed, stunned, relieved, happy…and more than anything absolutely certain that this moment would unlock the most incredible things for me as a leader, and for the This Mum Runs community. I celebrated by lying in a hammock with a glass of wine to try and calm down my racing thoughts!

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In October  I (somewhat nervously) boarded a plane to join  114 other ‘Fellows’ from over 46 countries at Facebook’s HQ near San Fransisco for the first of four meet ups.

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The experience over the 5 days that followed was so intense that its taken me a couple of months to find enough headspace to process it.

Arriving severely jet lagged and meeting some of the other Fellows, I realised straight away that I had found my tribe.

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When you have been working in relative isolation for so long, it’s quite a moment to realise that there are people just like you. People from all corners of the world, driven by the same sense of purpose, and experiencing the same stresses, challenges and roadblocks along the way. As we started the week by sharing our personal and community stories, the Facebook team were on hand with boxes of tissues to mop up our tears.

Aside from the excess of emotion, I was left with a strong feeling of hope. Yes, hope. That – despite the challenging political times , the endless fake news and click bait headlines and the relentless pace of everyday life – the sheer good-ness of the people in that room collectively has the power to quite literally change the world. Between us we represent millions of people from every single corner of the globe.

There were some – perhaps unsurprising – common themes across all our communities, despite our broad geographical spread. Parenting is a universal challenge and there are several groups supporting both Mums and Dads. Mental Health. Health. Physical Wellbeing – I was delighted to see 3 or 4 other running communities.

On the first couple of mornings, unable to sleep I went for a run at 4am. Once with a doctor from Senegal and another time with an inclusivity champion from Egypt (also a Nike athlete). We talked about our work and the common challenges that women in our respective communities face. The conversations we shared were incredibly empowering for me and these were real ‘pinch me’ moments.

Full disclosure, it wasn’t all work and there was plenty of time to get to know each other and learn more about ourselves. For example, I learned that Facebook-ers are ridiculously good at Karaoke

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And that if you put a typically reserved community leader in front of a dressing up box, we go crazy;

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Also that I am absolutely TERRIBLE at Bocce Ball (google it, I had to…) but scarily competitive.

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But aside from the fun stuff, Facebook did work us hard.

7am starts, 10pm finishes, back to back sessions of learning and networking and campus tours and dinners.  The learning curve was steep but I tried to soak it all up despite the tiredness.

A big focus for the programme is unpicking and digging deep underneath the bonnet of this new kind of leadership. There are no manuals, you can’t go to business school (yet) to learn the theories. Which explains why so many of us have felt that we are totally ‘winging it’  because quite literally we are. We’re all making it up as we go along!  And as it turns out, doing a pretty good job of it despite our lack of training.

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Facebook has partnered with external experts to try and understand this new kind of leadership and they shared some of this with us. It was pretty exciting to learn that the style of leadership we have all instinctively adopted as community leaders – based on collaboration, mutual growth and empowerment instead of the more traditional authority, hierarchy and competition, really has the power to change the world.

As they shared with us that more than 70% of the worlds business leaders struggle to understand this kind of flexible leadership and lack the skills to build communities, we all began to realise the potential in what we have created.

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The ultimate goal of the programme is to give us the profile, knowledge and tools to become self sustainable when the programme ends.  So these first few days covered:

  • Powerful Storytelling
  • Media Training
  • Product Immersion
  • Fundraising and Investment
  • Self Care

I valued the opportunity to hear from incredible leadership experts like Sarah Schonberg, to learn from the most masterful of storytellers George Gabriel and to hear from inspiring product leaders across Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp.

I’m not going to lie, some of the sessions were intensely hard work and demanded a lot of self reflection. Not something i find easy.  On the first day for example, we were asked to write down 5 words that best described us – and whilst others scribbled away furiously, I struggled to get past the word “Mum”. Finding the personal storytelling incredibly difficult too, I soon realised that there might be some work to do on re-discovering myself!

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One of the most shocking things for me was that virtually all the community leaders in the room were experiencing chronic underfunding. A handful were already spending significant chunks of their time fund raising, raising investment, or trying to generate revenue. Having spent 6 of the last 12 months raising investment (and the same 3 years ago), plus a huge amount of time and energy growing an online store to generate much needed revenue, this was certainly  something I could relate to. For most, it was so far beyond the realms of their experience they literally have no idea where to start – and many are laying their homes and families on the line to keep their work going.

We are some of the worlds most influential community leaders, impacting millions of lives around the globe between us….and yet nearly all of us are struggling to unlock the funds we need to sustain our work.

This is a clearly a big problem. Actually no, this is just plain WRONG.

And why being a part of FCLP also provides us with the potential for funding from Facebook.

Up to $50,000 is available to us if we are able to demonstrate a project plan that will both connect people in real life and moves us closer to sustainability over the 9 months.

For This Mum Runs this means a now approved project that will double our footprint. The grant will give us the funds to grow from 3 cities to 6 and to grow our volunteer team from 400 to 800; we plan to grow sustainably in those cities by recruiting paid Community Leaders and empowering them to grow their communities by providing them with central support as well as a budget to launch and activate their own communities.

I will say again. This. Is. Gamechanging.

Growing our ‘In Real Life’ community is and always will be our number one priority. It takes us closer to realising our vision of empowering the worlds Mums to be healthier and happier. But more than that too; growing our community enables us to continue to grow on so many other levels, like one big, continuous virtuous circle. We plan to use community growth as a catalyst for funding, partnerships and other revenue streams – which will ultimately make us sustainable (*fist pumps in the air Rocky style*)

As we enter our 5th year, I feel that we are only just beginning.

With this funding in place, the support of FCLP and the frankly awesome team I now have around me, we literally have the world in the palm of our hands.

We are a powerful force for good and we plan to turn the fitness industry on it’s head. We’ll use the power of community to inspire millions of women to make more time for their own wellbeing.

This moment is a once-in lifetime opportunity to show the doubters that running this community is not just a lifestyle-driven pipe dream that I do for pin money, but a long held dream to change the lives of millions of women around the world.

And I can’t wait to get started.

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`#thismumruns #facebook #fclp

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