Jenn McRae built and piloted the RADIUS Fellowships in Radical Doing program, which wrapped up its second annual cohort this summer under the leadership of RADIUS Lead Educator Tamara Connell. Here, Jenn tells the origin story behind the Fellows program, and shares some of what we’ve learned so far. Feature image above and last three images by Fellow and pro photographer Jackie Dives.
It was a Friday night. I was at home, lying on the couch watching an episode of who knows what through barely open eyes. I was exhausted. Around 3am that morning, I’d gotten in a cab and taken myself to the Emergency Room. I was, the ER doctor told me, having a gallbladder attack (nice ring to it, eh?). Everything turned out just fine but I had to cancel some meetings on Friday and get some rest.
The knock on my front door startled me from my barely conscious state on the couch. When I peaked through the window before answering, I saw Charles, my (then) boss and friend standing there with something in his hands. When our eyes met through the window, he gave me a big grin and a little wave. I opened the door, and he said “I just wanted to make sure you are ok. And I made you some chicken soup so you feel better.”
I think I just stood and stared at him. I could feel a whole complex gaggle of emotions welling up in my throat. On the verge of tears, I stammered out some underwhelming version of “thanks” and invited him in. He gave me another hug and said he could not stay and told me to call if I needed anything.
Paul Born’s Deepening Community, our “Chicken Soup Friends”
Many months later, when I had moved on to work at RADIUS, Charles gifted me with a book by Paul Born called Deepening Community. Born posits that deep communities — the kind where you trust one another and share stories, spend time together regularly, commit mutual acts of caring that lead to strong bonds and greater collective resiliency — are the kinds of communities that enable us to do the difficult work of building a better world together. Charles and I came to call the kinds of friendships and connections Born describes “Chicken Soup Friends.”
At that time, I was building RADIUS’ first leadership program for young changemakers. Born’s framework became central to my thinking in this endeavour. I’d even go so far as to say my ultimate goal was to build a network of Chicken Soup Friends. Now, you can’t really tell a funder “I want to build you a cohort of chicken soup friends!” and leave it at that. So we went deep on the research on social isolation, network theory, the livelihoods and career trajectories of impact-oriented young people, and gaps in the higher education system. We framed the program like this:
The RADIUS Fellowship program will bring together the next generation of untamed social entrepreneurs and innovators from SFU and the Lower Mainland who have demonstrated remarkable accomplishment in their pursuits and a relentless dedication to creating impact in all they do. Intended to identify, profile, support and catalyze these emerging Radical Doers, the Fellowships will provide the community, mentorship and tools needed to create deep social impact and pursue work with purpose.
What’s this got to do with Social Impact?
What we were really up to though was an experiment in deep community building, in ‘networking networks’. But why? Why are Chicken Soup Friends so valuable and what do they have to do with social impact?
I could write you a long listicle about the dozens of reasons why these kinds of deep social bonds are crucial to doing social change work, why they are so important that I would frame an entire program around the generation of deep community, but it really comes down to one big reason: connections like these make us resilient. Read More