Let’s get connected

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Most of us can name Clark County’s official leaders — mayors, company presidents, ministers, nonprofit directors. But if you really want to get something done, how often are these the folks you seek out?

According to best-selling book “The Tipping Point,” the most effective agents of change may not have positions of authority at all. Instead, these “connectors” are people who can turn to their social networks to bring the right people together and make things happen. They see opportunities that the rest of us overlook, and they know who to talk to when they have a big idea.

A project launched last week is trying to identify these connectors in Clark County and across the Portland-Vancouver metro area, to see what happens when they come together.

You can participate by going online to http://connectorprojectportland.com and clicking “survey,” then filling out the form. Though the Web address says Portland, organizers of the survey say they very much want to include Clark County. They’re reaching out to local nonprofits and business groups to drum up survey responses, and they ultimately hope to offer a translated version for this community’s Russian and Ukrainian immigrant groups.

The goal: see what happens when the people who energize others all come together in one room.

Matthew Reed of Portland, one of the people involved in launching this area’s Connector Project, hopes these connectors choose to tackle a project of major regional significance. Perhaps poverty, economic development or the Interstate 5 bridge.

Following a similar survey in Pennsylvania, Philadelphia connectors spent nine months working with local students and high school dropouts, helping young people develop deeper community relationships and life strategies.

People identified as Philadelphia’s connectors have gone on to become leaders of many civic groups, have been invited to join nonprofit boards. One became the city’s mayor.

Although six of the 100 Philadelphia connectors were chief executive officers in business, most were not in positions of authority. The majority were surprised to be singled out as community leaders.

“They don’t even realize what kind of contribution they’re making until you make them sit still and tell you what they’ve done,” said Liz Dow, president of Leadership Philadelphia, who wrote a book about the project.

Karen Stephenson, a technologist who has developed algorithms to identify the top connectors out of thousands of survey results, is donating her time to the Portland Connector Project. After working with Philadelphia and two other U.S. cities already, she’s a true believer in the benefits of bringing unsung leaders together.

“They lift any project they’re involved in,” Stephenson said. “There’s an exponential lift effect when you get these people together in one room. It’s incredible.”

It will be many months before Stephenson’s computer algorithm identifies the top 100 connectors in Clark County and greater Portland. I’ll be interested to see what happens next.

Courtney Sherwood is The Columbian’s business and features editor. Reach her at 360-735-4561 or courtney.sherwood@columbian.com.