Today is the 10th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York (9/11). I remember that day well. My boyfriend at the time called me and simply said “The world just ended,” which was typically dramatic of him. Although the world did not literally end that day, for many people (especially Americans) the world as they knew it did.
Many changes have occurred since that day – wars have broken out, civil liberties have been crushed, national defence has thrown nations into economic turmoil. Yet not all the changes have been negative.
This morning I received an email from Scott Heiferman, CEO and co-founder of Meetup, an international website that encourages the formation of local community groups who meetup in person for a multitude of reasons. Today, Meetup has 9.5 million members organising 280,000 meetups each month in 45,000 cities around the world. Here is what Scott says in his email about how the 9/11 attacks inspired him and others to start Meetup:
I was living a couple of miles from the Twin Towers, and I was the kind of person who thought local community doesn’t matter much if we’ve got the internet and tv. The only time I thought about my neighbors was when I hoped they wouldn’t bother me.
When the towers fell, I found myself talking to more neighbors in the days after 9/11 than ever before. People said hello to neighbors (next-door and across the city) who they’d normally ignore. People were looking after each other, helping each other, and meeting up with each other. You know, being neighborly.
A lot of people were thinking that maybe 9/11 could bring people together in a lasting way. So the idea for Meetup was born: Could we use the internet to get off the internet — and grow local communities?
We didn’t know if it would work. Most people thought it was a crazy idea — especially because terrorism is designed to make people distrust one another. A small team came together, and we launched Meetup 9 months after 9/11.
Today, almost 10 years and 10 million Meetuppers later, it’s working. Every day, thousands of Meetups happen. Every Meetup starts with people simply saying hello to neighbors. And what often happens next is still amazing to me. They grow businesses and bands together, they teach and motivate each other, they babysit each other’s kids and find other ways to work together. They have fun and find solace together. They make friends and form community. It’s powerful stuff.
It’s a wonderful revolution in local community, and it’s thanks to everyone who shows up. Meetups aren’t about 9/11, but they may not be happening if it weren’t for 9/11. 9/11 didn’t make us too scared to go outside or talk to strangers. 9/11 didn’t rip us apart. No, we’re building new community together!!!! The towers fell, but we rise up. And we’re just getting started.
Scott is a lifetime entrepreneur who has spent the last 10 years dedicating himself to enabling community, real-world friendship, and social revolution. I listened to an interview Scott gave on the Business Insider and he offered the following advice to aspiring entrepreneurs:
1. Don’t try to go it alone: “The only reason I’ve had success is because I’ve hooked up with amazing people through the years and seen them shine.”
2. Be useful: “Stay tuned to what actually helps people, improves their lives, and is really needed. Ask yourself how you can be useful. There are too many smart people doing pointless stuff.”
Scott’s story of how a great tragedy inspired him to take positive action in his community is encouraging. Life will inevitably bring set-backs, hurts, and tragedies, yet the success of Meetup is a real example of the resilience of the human spirit. In the face of great fear and suffering, we can rise up, unite, and move forward together.