Community psychology used to build efficient networks for social change

By CHARLOTTE PRONG PARKHILL, Chronicle Staff

Natalie Brown’s business is finding out who is throwing babies into the river.

It’s an analogy she learned from one of her professors in the Wilfrid Laurier community psychology program, and the recent graduate uses it to describe her consulting firm, Common Thread Consulting.

“Imagine a river with all these babies in it, and we’re all down river frantically pulling babies out of the river,” Brown said.

CHARLOTTE PRONG PARKHILL PHOTO

CHARLOTTE PRONG PARKHILL PHOTO

“But none of us has time to walk to the other end of the river and say, “Who is throwing the babies in the river?’ “I like to think that I’m that person.” Brown specializes in facilitation, research and action that helps non-profits, government agencies and businesses to become more efficient as a community. It’s the service providers who are spending all their energy pulling babies out of the river.

“Sometimes people are just on their roadrunner legs, going into the community and doing the great work that they do.

Sometimes we just need to step back and ask, ‘Are we doing this as efficiently as we can? Is there a way we can improve overall community efficiency by working together?’” she said.

Because she is not a service provider, Brown can step back and look at the root causes of an issue, and the most efficient way to deal with it.

Celebrating the one-year anniversary of Common Thread today, she is already developing a roster of clients.

She worked with Kitchener-Waterloo Collegiate Institute to help them decide how to build an awareness campaign around intergenerational relationship building. She also helped to plan and run an event called One Small Act.

“I was with them through every step of the process,” Brown said.

For Peace Ranch in Caledon, which provides housing for people with mental health issues, she came in to evaluate their fundraising program.

“My slogan is facilitate, research, act. I take those three processes and I link them together.”

Brown moved from Owen Sound to Waterloo in 2003 for an undergraduate degree in psychology and then earned her master’s in community psychology, which looks at systemic issues, social justice and collaboration at a community level. She’s also a certified professional facilitator.

During grad school, Brown worked with a professor to create the Centre for Community Research, Learning and Action.

“Laurier has the only English-speaking community psychology program. We tend to stay local, so a lot of the graduates are floating around in the community and understand where I’m coming from,” she said.

“We’ve been very lucky. A lot of our executive directors are community psych graduates . . . and they’ve been influencing their organizations from that view point — collaboration, inclusiveness and diversity.” After graduating in 2009, Brown started contacting some of the people and organizations she had worked with during her student years. Many of them had projects they wanted her to undertake.

So she went to the Waterloo Small Business Centre and got started, registering as a business.

“The common thread of everything I do, and why I named my business that, is this relationship-building piece and allowing myself to work with the clients, and not for the clients,” Brown said.

In addition to her work at Common Thread, Brown is temporarily working fulltime at the Alliance for Children and Youth.

She also sits on a number of boards and committees, including the CCRLA at Laurier, the Volunteer Action Centre business council, and the Community-University Expo.

“I’m kind of a workaholic,” she admits.

But the community networking isn’t just about earning new clients.

“The thing I love about the business is that it’s a place where I really get to let all my passion out. I’ve found that place where you can be yourself, and really do what you love,” she said.

“Waterloo Region is a community rich with change and positive momentum. It’s a fabulous place to be.”
Common Thread Consulting
519-577-8408
natalie@commonthreadconsulting.ca

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Testimonials

“I have had the pleasure of working with Natalie on two community development projects in the K-W area beginning in 2007. Her ability to understand and mobilize community resources and networks is unprecedented. Natalie’s passion and compassion for this field makes her an asset and “spark” to any project.”
by Sherry Elizabeth McGee