When I was first introduced to the Social Venture Institute (SVI) community, I felt like I’d uncovered a secret door that opened up to an amazing new world – a world where collaboration was queen, and the first question out of everyone’s mouth was “How can I help?” I made a wish last year that I would find my way to Hollyhock, the motherland of SVI, and last week my wish was granted.

When deciding how to make the long trek to Cortes Island, I was told The Caravan was the only way to travel. The Caravan is a group of vans full of strangers en route to SVI – people who sign up for an adventure, people who understand that the journey is as important as the destination. Several email threads later, I asked my Caravan of six how they felt about themes… and then I proposed we dress as pirates, a most unusual request for a business conference! To my delight, everyone not only agreed, they showed up ready to play. Community building starts right off the bat – it is how you show up that defines the experience. Six strangers – dressed in pirate garb, given odd looks by people on the ferry – now connected. Three ferries and seven hours later we arrived at Hollyhock, storming the castle and bringing laughter with every Arrrr.

Community can be born or it can be grown. It can grow slowly over time or it can be accelerated with the proper soil. Hollyhock is the magical fertilizer in the soil of the SVI community. It is a place with deep roots and a strong connection to the land. It is supported by people who respect and cherish what it brings to so many lives. It is also a place where reality is suspended, and that can bring challenges along with beautiful awakenings.

SVI is not really a business conference, despite it’s best intentions. It is a place where awareness is sought after, and challenges are brought to the surface. It is both personal and professional – because the majority of the people there do not see the distinction. Our work is personal. It is why we are social entrepreneurs. There is no clear division between who we are and what we do. It’s the ‘Why’ that is leading us forward.

The challenge I came with was around growth: How can a business grow while maintaining the intimacy and personal connection that defines its experience? This question around ‘Scale versus Depth’ seemed to be in the air all week. Judy Wicks, the founder of the Business Alliance for Local Living Economies (BALLE), said it best when she was discussing White Dog Cafe and her strategic decision not to replicate or expand but rather to sink in deeper in support of the local economy.

The simple act of deciding what are the roots and what are the branches can lead you to your own answer around scale versus depth. The roots represent our history, knowledge and experience. The roots are where we come from and they feed what we do. To choose depth means that we want to sink our roots in deeper, drawing more knowledge, wisdom and expertise to strengthen our position in the market. The branches represent our connections, impact and reach. They are where we are going and they bring inspiration into our vision. To choose scale means that we want our branches to reach further, impacting more people in different ways so that we can expand our position in the market.

Why do you need to choose one?

Leadership was a big focus of the SVI week. I so appreciated the public acknowledgement that leadership is about recognizing ‘the whole’ – from balancing teaching with learning to dancing with both the masculine and feminine, true leadership seeks both the branches and the roots. In an unconventional exercise, we sat with a person we did not know and asked them over and over again: “What is the next step you will take toward becoming a leader?” It is amazing what you begin to reveal around the 20th time of being asked the same question, and how you realize that becoming a leader and being a leader are two sides of the same coin.

Building a community is like building the mythology of an organization – you have to take into account all of the different voices and perspectives that come into it, as well as the different ways people experience it. I often share with people an analogy that I call The Prism Effect. A brand is made up of common experiences and connections – that is the core of the prism. Yet each person experiences it in their own way, and they share that in a unique fashion, like a prism shining and refracting light out in different directions.

When I walked into the Hollyhock store, I found this prism and I decided that it would hold my SVI experience. I was told to go down to the ocean and cleanse it, removing the prints of others. I was resetting it, and allowing it to capture new experiences. I realized in that moment that the prism was the SVI community – we all came together from various places, bringing with us our own perspectives and points of view. Together, we formed the gem that was SVI for five whole days, and then we left, reflecting our individual experiences out to the world.

My SVI prism now dangles in my office, catching the light in different ways, reminding me of the power of community and the beauty of diversity.