Building spaces that inspire: Four lessons from the first 2 years of The Village by Tim Mahlberg

Two years ago, I was lucky enough to be a part of a bold experiment inside one of Australia's big banks. On the 25th November 2013, The Village at National Australia Bank opened to it's customers and the public in the new 700 Bourke Street building in Docklands. What unfolded over the years is truly remarkable and something that I am still so proud to have been involved with.

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Reflections on 2014 by Tim Mahlberg

Wow, what a year. It started with a small number of members who had signed up to our experiment of The Village. We honestly didn't know how the year would turn out. I mean, what would make people want to come into a bank to work, meet others, learn and be a part of a community. Reflecting back, it really was a bold and courageous gamble. And what a result to date. 

1st Birthday celebrations in The Village.  Photo credit: Damian White

1st Birthday celebrations in The Village. Photo credit: Damian White

Thinking about how we've approached the experiment, and what has made it work, I think about where we and I continue to draw the inspiration and motivation, which is from each one of our members, the customers that the bank is here to serve. I've never met a group of people who are so passionate, so driven in their endeavours, be that running a small business or a social enterprise, working in nonprofit, or creative and innovative industries. Each of our members has such an inspiring story behind them, which we just love hearing and supporting in any small way. I've had the true privilege of watching many of our members grow and share their successes with us over the year, and it's an honour to host you in The Village. 

I often think about what the most important or most powerful part of The Village experience, which seems to make the most difference for our members and guests, and what brings the most joy for me, which I believe is The Invitation. It starts with what The Village is. On the surface, it is a place to work, learn and connect in a community. Over the year, it has become clear to me that it is so much more, and many of you might recall me saying this to you. It is a place to experiment in, celebrate success and failure in, play on the edge of your business or organisation. It is a place to be inspired and inspire others with what you are passionate about. A place to bring your whole self, not just your work. It is an invitation to imagine more for yourself and your organisation. 

I've realised that this is not something we are invited to do in many places, if at all over a lifetime, and so is very powerful. For me personally, there is no more amazing moment than when you invite people this way and you witness a light switching on on their eyes; a creative spark perhaps, where they envision more. I just love it. Clearly!

The amazing thing is that we've been able to share this invitation with more than just our members. Their guests, our own employees, school children, and many more in our growing network. I estimate that approximately 25,000 people have experienced this over the year in some way which is just awesome.

Something very special also seems to happen when you bring a whole community of people together under this invitation; it seems to magnify. You might have heard me talk about Accelerated Serendipity; when the right person or solution presents themselves to you and just the right time. It might all sound a bit esoteric, especially for a bank, but I've witnessed it all too many times for it to be simply coincidental. Maybe its something about setting the higher intention of our community that not just anything is possible, but actually more probable here together. 

So, with the close of the year, we now have well over 1200 members representing over 1000 businesses and organisations. I'm excited about what 2015 has in store for each of our members, and The Village as a whole. My focus will be on preparing us for greater growth in members and exploring other sites across Australia. We've started conversations for The Village in Geelong and Sydney, so stay tuned for opportunities to be involved as our sandpit gets bigger! I'm always imagining more for our community and exploring a vision of The Village where one day we have 10,000 members, or even 100,000! What kind of impact could it have in bringing more small business and big business together to innovate and create together? How might The Village help to bridge our regional, metropolitan and suburban centres together? How can we hold transformative conversations for our non-profit and welfare organisations? How could The Village role model the way that we will all work together in the future? They are just some of the questions that I feel we are starting to answer, and I'm excited to continue to share all the important conversations with you into 2015.