“Technology and social software have the potential to bring people closer together and bring large numbers of people into close knit groups in new and interesting ways,” says Gina Bianchini, founder and CEO of Mightybell, an online platform that tries to create and support networks around specific areas of interest.
Growing up in a tight-knit community in Cupertino, California, in the 1970s and 1980s, Bianchini witnessed how those groups could impact individual lives as well as society. Not only did the genesis of the personal computer come out of research in this area but also out of a club whose members shared an interest in this new technology. Bianchini’s father, a teacher and Model T Ford aficionado, gathered most Sundays with the Model T Ford club of Santa Clara County. Her mother pooled resources with fellow mothers to form a babysitting co-op. And when tragedy struck, the community rallied around her family as they grappled with the loss of her father after he was killed by a drunk driver.
Today with the help of software, people everywhere can experience on a smaller scale the shared community of Bianchini’s Cupertino. Communities are sprouting online that can link the person living in a small town to new people with shared interests, passions or goals in different areas. “We are stronger together in communities and in smaller groups,” Bianchini says. “When you can call someone and get great feedback and great input, thoughtful perspective and support, we’re all better off for that.”
After learning through the Silicon Valley grapevineAfter hearing from her friend, Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, that she was writing Lean In, Bianchini suggested creating a Lean In community to help women achieve their goals. As a co-founder of Lean In with Sandberg and an advisor to Levo League, a mentoring community for Gen Y women, Bianchini is devoted to helping the next generation of women in tech and other industries reach new levels.
“Empowering women with practical skills and a network of support just makes sense,” Bianchini says. “Our opportunity in terms of driving innovation in the world today comes from pooling the potential of the full population, not just 50% of it.”
Since leaving her last company, Ning, a social network building service, Bianchini has focused on creating a platform that allows people to organize in groups that can learn and share together. Both Sandberg and Bianchini have tapped into their networks–from Stanford’s Women’s Institute for Gender Research for educational resources to Young President’s Organization for organizational guidance–to create this online community that empowers individuals to reach their full potential.
“The power is in the fact that they are learning practical skills as well supporting each other through different decisions, encouragement for the meetings that they are going into, for the things that they want to achieve,” Bianchini says.
Since its launch this past March, the Lean In community has grown to include over 250,000 members and over 7,000 registered Lean In circles in all 50 states and over 50 countries.
Everything Bianchini does fits into this larger desire to bring people together around their interests, their passions, and their goals. She wants to encourage people to meet beyond 140 characters.
“I find that helping people gives me energy,” Bianchini says. “It’s not about what I’m doing for somebody else, it’s about what we’re doing together. The fact that I can help someone else who is navigating entrepreneurship and specifically technology entrepreneurship is an incredibly rewarding feeling.”
Each connection is an opportunity for learning on both sides. Bianchini tries to learn from everything she does and every conversation she has. This is another extension of her role as a member of an interconnected community.
“This is what you do when you’re a member of a community and so I always think about it less as the individual being generous but it’s more about membership in a community,” Bianchini says. “I think of this all as a very humble price of membership in a community that I’m inspired and honored to be a part of it.”