There are moments 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’ (2007-2009) that I initiated and implemented in my role as a Volunteer Director 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 local businesses and community services available to them online.
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."
Melissa and I 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.
Based on our analysis we presented a proposal to start with Pelham as a microcosm to demonstrate the economic development potential. We 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.
In true entrepreneurial spirit, Melissa and I came to the conclusion that if the portal was to come to a reality it would be up to the community to lead it from the grassroots. We redeveloped our 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 ourr 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.
This seed money was instrumental in the start-up of our Community Platform as it helped solidify our confidence to move forward. We encourage all budding social entrepreneurs to reach out to Venture Niagara as part of their development journey.
Stories from the Grassroots - is a series of articles reflecting on the development history of the myNiagara Online Community Platform.
Where Life & Community Connect! myNiagara Online integrates web publishing and social media to empower residents, Local Businesses and Community Organizations to work together as a community building collaborative. Our local community newsletters are distributed weekly: myPelham.com (Mondays), myNiagara Weekly (Wednesdays), myWelland.com (Thursdays).
Get Involved and Participate: Have a story, event or photo to share? Simply e-mail your submissions to info@myNiagaraonlne.com
This article is part of our series of community-based economic development articles published by Cathy Berkhout-Bosse on my NiagaraOnline.com.
As the proud Co-Founder of the myNiagara Online Community Platform Cathy has a passion for empowering local collaboration through partnership building.
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