We are excited to introduce our new series of articles - Stories from the Grassroots examining the development history of our myNiagara Online Community Platform. We start by sharing that moment in every Activist's life when they are driven to action by a simple compelling question: If Not You, Then Who?
In November 2009, the first myNiagara Online Community Platform, myPelham.com was launched with the Mission Statement:
“MyPelham.com is not just a website – it is the start of something completely different – a sustainable information resource that can facilitate the development of a more integrated multi-media marketing platform to support community connections, Town promotion, tourism and economic growth.”
Lofty goals indeed.
The concept of a community web portal concept evolved from a volunteer campaign called ‘Think Local- Shop Pelham’ that myNiagara Online Co-Founder, Cathy Berkhout-Bosse had coordinated from 2007-2009 on behalf of the Pelham Business Association. "It became quite apparent from our community outreach that local consumers had a deep interest in supporting their local community but found it very challenging to find on the local businesses and community services available to them online", explains Berkhout-Bosse.
As a veteran Real Estate Broker, Cathy Berkhout-Bosse had a career of experience that included promoting the vibrant Niagara lifestyle and connecting her clients to local businesses and services. With the emergence of social media she was impassioned by the possibilities for amplifying word of mouth recommendations and levelling the playing field for small local businesses to grow their profile within their local communities.
In the Spring of 2009, Web Designer, Melissa Wells of Ex Nihilo Website Designs joined the Pelham Business Association. "It turns out that Cathy was presenting her ideas regarding the potential economic benefits of a community portal and I recognized right away that my skill set was a great match to help make bring this community building initiative to reality.' says Wells. "Our partnership began that night."
The duo teamed up and began a research project that involved extensive consultation with a wide variety of business organizations and economic development support agencies, including the Pelham Business Association; Welland/Pelham Chamber of Commerce, Town of Pelham; Niagara Economic Development Corporation, Niagara Tourism, St. Catharines Small Enterprise Centre; Venture Niagara; Brock University – Niagara Observatory Project; Niagara Regional Chair and the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs
"It became apparent to us that finding common ground to develop a Niagara community coalition approach was going to be incredibly difficult. We felt dismayed by the huge waste of public funding that had recently gone into community initiatives such as ‘Niagara Original’ and ‘YourNiagara.com’ with little result to show" , says Berkhout-Bosse.
Based on their analysis the team presented a proposal to start with Pelham as a microcosm to demonstrate the economic development potential. They approached the Town of Pelham, the Pelham Business Association and the Welland/Pelham Chamber of Commerce with the idea of forming an alliance to launch and operate the portal.
"Again we were surprised by the challenges that we faced to find a collective buy-in for our vision. In retrospect, we recognize most people had not yet reached a tipping point of understanding the potential and power of online communities," explains Berkhout-Bosse.
In true entrepreneurial spirit, Wells and Berkhout-Bosse came to the realization that if the portal was to come to a reality it would be up to the community to lead it from the grassroots. They redeveloped their proposal to launch as a Private Business/Social Enterprise and successfully pitched to Venture Niagara for a $3,000.00 grant to cover 50% of their initial website start up costs. This funding was part of a special funding pool – the Southwestern Ontario Community Adjustment Fund created in 2009 to support economic development in the Niagara Region.
Article One in our Stories from the Grassroots series examining the development history of our myNiagara Online and the evolution of the #shoplocalmovement #placemaking and community-based economic development.