7 Ways to Help Young Professionals Engage in Richmond

For more of my commentary on life in Richmond, Indiana check out RichmondMatters.com.
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IMG_2224.JPGThere's a new group in town - H.Y.P.E. Richmond - that is working to "connect and mobilize young professionals to make the Richmond area an even greater place to live, work, and play."  If you're interested in those efforts, you might consider joining in on the brainstorming session they're having tonight at the Firehouse BBQ restaurant, 5:30 to 7 PM.

I won't be able to attend, but as an employer of some younger professionals who gets to hear some of their concerns and struggles "engaging" in life in Richmond, and as someone who has spent my own young professional life in Richmond, I want to offer a few initial ideas about how to help connect and mobilize that demographic.  (This is in addition to the ideas already being submitted and discussed at RichmondBrainstorm.com.)  My hope is that others will add to the list over time:

  1. Expand the traditional definition of a young professional.
    Sometimes efforts to engage young professionals are focused on people who work in offices and stare at computers or paperwork all day (e.g. people like me).  What about professional artists, professional carpenters, professional mechanics - how can we engage them too?  I think that by including others with different backgrounds, skills and experiences of the professional world, we bring diversity and creativity that will benefit the larger goals of a YP group.
  2. Don't tie community involvement to the ability to the attend specific events.
    Some young professionals have time to attend networking events, outings, and community service days, but some don't.  In addition to scheduling specific events, create flexible opportunities for engagement that can be done at any time of the day.
  3. Welcome newly interested YPs in a special way.
    It can be intimidating for someone to show up at "the monthly young professionals event" if you're not sure what to expect, who you'll know, etc.  When someone expresses interest in getting involved, issue a personal invitation to them and a few others for a smaller gathering - lunch, coffee, drinks - and get to know their interests and background.  Then it will be much easier to introduce them to other YPs who they can connect with, and will make their experience of their first larger gathering more personal.
  4. Promote "unknown" YPs to serve on community boards.
    Often the boards of directors for local organizations are interested in incorporating perspectives of YPs, but are only really aware of YPs who have made a name for themselves by being well-connected, long-time residents or unusually active.  This is the safe approach, but what about asking relatively "unknown" YPs to join boards or at least serve on committees, so that organizations are benefiting from fresh perspectives and new skill sets in addition to folks who are already a core part of the community?
  5. Create social gatherings that don't require everyone to be "on."
    Young professionals may be good at networking, but that doesn't mean they want to be in professional networking mode all the time.  Opportunities to visit with other YPs and build some shared social/cultural experiences (watching the game, bowling, hiking, canoeing, visiting the museum, etc.) without the pressure of presenting your best professional self can sometimes yield more meaningful and engaging encounters than events designed around traditional professional contact.
  6. Let advocacy and involvement be initiated by YPs, not organizations who want to benefit from YPs.
    Once there's a critical mass of young professionals engaged and getting together, organizations around town will start to notice and say to themselves, "hey, we should include The YP Group on X" or "we should ask The YPs to help us with Y."  Saying yes to this can be good, but it means that the issues and activities YPs engage in are driven externally instead of internally.  Poll the YP group regularly to see what kinds of issues and activities they want to participate in and spend time on, and then make contact with organizations that could help make that happen.
  7. Promote dense population centers with walkable, bike-able opportunities for entertainment.
    Cities with thriving YP populations tend to have thriving cultural centers too, where someone can either live in the heart of it or easily make their way there, surrounding themselves with other people and plenty of opportunities to wander in and out of retail stores, restaurants and entertainment venues.  By discouraging sprawl while focusing on the Center City and Depot District areas for residential and commercial use alike, we have a better chance of creating areas where YPs can feel at home.

Those are some of my ideas for helping young professionals engage in Richmond, Indiana.  What's on your list?

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