A helping hand Featured

8:00pm EDT July 26, 2009

Every business can benefit from getting involved in the community and by collaborating with other businesses in the community.

In his position as president of Delaware Valley College, Dr. Joseph Brosnan was no different. He saw the effects that the economic downturn was having on his community and decided to do something about it by collaborating with regional business leaders to create several new initiatives aiming to spur economic recovery.

But before any business can do this, its leaders first have to figure out what is needed within their communities.

“Just ask people what their needs are, then build your model around meeting those needs,” Brosnan says. “It’s very simple, but a lot of people don’t do it. They assume they know, then they build the model from there, but it winds up missing the mark.”

Smart Business spoke with Brosnan about how to strengthen the bonds in your community and help those affected by the downturn.

How can higher education institutions help promote economic recovery?

Many colleges are starting to realize that there is a whole range of opportunities to partner with various people in the communities they serve. They need to be serious about how they can help with this economic recovery. It’s not going away anytime soon.

It’s important for everyone to make a commitment to providing the resources to help people get through this.

A good first step is to reach out to your local chamber of commerce. For example, we partnered with the chamber of commerce on an economic summit for small businesses, with a regional panel and a local panel, designed to give practical tips on how to get through the economic downturn.

The tips were from banks, from a legal perspective, from specific business perspectives — a whole range of people from all different parts of the economy. It was a very practical way for people to get a chance to talk to each other and listen to some experts about specific strategies.

In addition, the university’s economic recovery center has sparked a lot of interest. That is more specifically focused on helping individuals, particularly professionals who find themselves unemployed. Firms in this area are laying off Ph.D.s who find themselves without a career. They’re stunned.

How can institutions help individuals affected by the recession?

One way is to have a seminar on ‘How can you reinvent yourself?’ Bring in speakers who can tell the stories of how they’ve reinvented their own lives.

Set up practical workshops, as well, because it’s important to give people a chance to network, but be sure to include a practical element.

For example, we introduced individuals at the seminar to a new portal on our Web site that has everything from a guide to avoiding foreclosure to how to find counseling services to a resume writing guide to connections to job search links.

For any business, a seminar is a way to start a conversation with folks to bring them together so they know they aren’t alone. Getting laid off is a very isolating experience for a lot of people. So you need to draw people together with something that they find stimulating and positive, not just bleak. You want to think positive.

How can you develop ideas for seminars?

Survey the folks present to find out how you can help them, and ask what type of future programs they would want and what their needs may be.

The best way to serve the community — the individuals as well as the businesses — is to go out in the community and find out what their needs are. Don’t assume that you already know that. Then go out and do things to meet those needs.

When we hosted the chamber of commerce’s annual business expo, two staffs went around the room and surveyed the hundreds of people in attendance. The program was then built around the ideas they gathered.

What are the keys to building strong relationships with the community?

One thing the college has not done well over the years is foster strong relationships with the community. During my first year here, I met with many members of the business community. What I heard was that the college was considered a hidden gem.

They knew it was a good place, but they didn’t know much about it.

Part of that was because we didn’t reach out to the community. Historically, that just hadn’t been part of the college’s role. There were no negative feelings about the institutions, but I didn’t like the idea of being a hidden gem.

Any business needs to get out there and be a part of the community and the best way to do that is to be a good neighbor. The best way to do that is to partner with the business communities, service communities and the not-for-profit agencies.

Dr. Joseph Brosnan is the president of Delaware Valley College. Reach him at (215) 489-4978 or joseph.brosnan@delval.edu.