What the Nonprofit Sector Could Learn from Belfast

I am one lucky gal! I recently had a chance to spend a week in Ireland, and I travelled all over the country. My favorite spot? Belfast.

It wasn’t too long ago that Belfast was considered one of the four “B’s” to avoid, on a list that included Beirut, Baghdad and Bosnia. And yet today, it is a revitalized city that has an incredibly positive vibe. I spent a day and a half walking across the entire city and I always felt safe. In fact, I loved exploring the various city centers, and the people-watching wasn’t too bad either!

I met up with a friend of a friend and she marveled at how the city has changed over the years. At one point, she had to endure three checkpoints (which included guards with guns) just to get to her office. Now, there are hardly any guards. At one point, a guard hopped onto my bus just to “take a look around,” but it felt as though it was more for show than anything else.

I was fascinated by Belfast’s history, and am still in awe of the fact that Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland voted for peace via the Good Friday agreement – even though it meant that some of the perpetrators would never be brought to justice.

It made me wonder how often those of us in the social good sector are willing to do the same? There’s so much buzz around “collective impact” and there’s a verbal commitment to “sharing credit” – but do we really mean it? Are we continuing to do what we’ve always done, or are we truly figuring out how to revitalize our communities? Are we willing to stop being “territorialists” for the greater good of our community? There might be a few lessons we could learn from Belfast. Road trip, anyone?

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