Since shelter-in-place orders swept cities months ago, an unexpected thing happened: People started to offer up an influx of support to their communities. Whether through donating to funds, sewing masks, or delivering groceries for at-risk neighbors, people from all around the country have participated in mutual aid networks.

At its core, a mutual aid network subsists on a basic exchange—one person needs something, and the other person offers it, with the knowledge that the roles aren’t fixed. Unlike volunteer work (which is obviously also great and needed!), mutual aid is about realizing that the giver might need help sometime, too.

And while participating in community-organized networks is great, knowing what each person can offer and what they need can easily be injected into everyday life. Introducing everyone with what they can offer/need can be a great natural ice breaker, as well as encouraging people to jump right into forming useful career connections. But on an even more micro scale, it’s a great exercise to get everyone in the habit of clearly stating their needs more—especially at a time when communication is trickier and our current wellbeing so often depends on knowing when to ask for assistance.

Societally, the expected compensation for a task is usually money or, if it’s volunteer work, the knowledge that you helped make a difference. But if the concept of offer/need conversations took off on a bigger scale, things like time-banking (where people exchange services over a period of time instead of monetary payment) could potentially take off, opening up new opportunities to grow our communities and support each other.

Hopefully, the mutual aid networks formed during the pandemic will remain long after everything reopens. Community is vital for our collective wellbeing, and there’s no better way to keep it alive than by directly knowing what we want, and what we’re able to give.

To reach out to fellow freelancers, you can join our Google Group as part of our Freelance Mutual Aid Circle. We also have some virtual Get-Togethers coming up, where participants connect by sharing what they can offer and what they need.

[Photo: Unsplash/Brittani Burns]