“What value does your work bring to the Uptown community? How do you contribute to the unique culture of Uptown?” asked ICA Program Coordinator Samantha Sainsbury to a group of enthusiastic women crowded into the Global Guild Suite at ICA GreenRise on the morning of June 7th for the Uptown Women’s Networking Mixer.
ICA volunteered to host the mixer, coordinated by Uptown United and Uptown Business Partners, two linked organizations that have a “joint mission” to “nurture a diverse, vibrant, thriving and strong Uptown.” The quarterly women’s mixers are an effort to strengthen both businesses and a sense of community in Uptown, and migrate between venues to showcase a diversity of local assets.
Guest speaker Kenya Merritt, Chief Small Business Officer for the City of Chicago, kicked off the mixer by detailing the services offered by the City's
Business Affairs and Consumer Protection (BACP) department. Mary Shehan, CEO of event sponsor Weiss Hospital, spoke next. She explained how the hospital developed a c-suite leadership of primarily women by encouraging and supporting women to develop their careers at Weiss.
Following Shehan, our COO Lesley Showers introduced participants to ICA GreenRise, describing how the multi-use building supports 25 nonprofit and social service organizations, two residential communities, and four conference spaces and a retreat center. She also discussed the GreenRise Renovation Project, which aims to position GreenRise a destination for cutting-edge sustainability, connect communities within the building and neighborhood, and support ICA’s long-term financial stability and represent its mission, values, and spirit.
After hearing from these three diverse perspectives, participants were then invited to speak and learn from one another. To accelerate networking connections, Program Coordinator Samantha Sainsbury led participants through World Cafe, a facilitated activity meant to draw out the wisdom in the room through key questions in small group conversations. ICA’s take on the World Cafe unfolds through several rounds, each focused on a particular question. Once the question is posed, each participant takes a moment to silently draw their answer using markers on a piece of chart paper that covers the table. After drawing, each participant verbalizes their answer, adding depth and language to the visual symbol left on the table. At the end of each round, everyone gets up and moves to a new table, except for the table host, whose role is recap the previous round of conversation for the new group.
The first round asked participants to simply introduce themselves by name, organization, focus of their work, and any special skills they might have. The next round moves into reflection, asking “What excites you most about the work you do?” and “What slows you down?”, questions that allow participants to respond emotionally to their work. By the third round, the group is primed to really dig into questions of meaning and significance. This is where Samantha asked “What value does your work bring to the Uptown community?” and “How do you contribute to the unique culture of Uptown?” While that question may have yielded generated some deep insights, the conversation challenged participants to further apply those insights, asking in round four “What are your goals for 2019 or the near future?”
The World Cafe was a flurry of energy, with people moving around the room, exchanging business cards and smiles, sketching and speaking and gesturing and laughing—all activities that help generate new ideas and connections. To close the event, Samantha led a full group reflection to weave together the numerous conversations and create a sense of unity. Mirroring the small group questions, the reflection built up to making decisions about what comes next, put simply: “What will you do after leaving today?”
As if in direct response to that final question, John Blick of Uptown United shared a roster of upcoming events and opportunities sponsored by the Chamber, including the Windy City Rib Fest, Pride Parade, and Argyle Night Market.