A National Gathering of Network Leaders to Help Advance the Field

Earlier this year we had the privilege to lead, and participate in, a convening of 14 of the top network leaders, practitioners and thought leaders from across the country. The idea was sparked two years ago while two of us (Sawyer and Ehrlichman) had dinner with Jane Wei-Skillern after we guest-lectured in her UC Berkeley Haas School of Business class on network leadership. Jane is a good friend and one of the top academics on network leadership in the world. We quickly connected over our shared belief that “there needs to be a dramatic change in the way people think about their work and act in service to the mission,” as Jane says.

The convening was a great success, and just the start of a larger effort to help move the field forward for maximum positive impact. It was particularly interesting for us to see that even with the wide range of issues and varied applications of networks represented in the room, we were all aligned around shared core principals for what makes networks really work – trust for impact, deep relationship, shared values, and authentic conversations. These are the network principals we hope to collectively spread far and wide.

Below is a repost of Jane’s recap of the convening, first published on the Haas Social Impact Blog.

Practicing What I Preach: Creating a network to study and advance networks for impact
By Jane Wei-Skillern

jen-weiskillernI have been doing research and teaching in the social impact field for fifteen years and have met countless social sector leaders over the course of my career. While I am always impressed by the good intentions and the drive of these leaders, only on rare occasions will I find a ‘needle in a haystack’. A leader that works tirelessly with a single-minded focus on advancing the mission rather than their organization, a leader who is better at being humble than at self promotion, works well with trusted peers and routinely advances the field ahead of their own interests.

These are some of the most accomplished leaders that you likely have never heard of. They have helped to generate social impact efficiently, effectively, and sustainably in fields as wide ranging as environmental conservation/climate change, housing, education, international development, economic development, animal welfare, and health, among others. These leaders have achieved tremendous leverage on their own resources by catalyzing networks directly with the communities that they serve and supporting the development of local capacity to serve these needs on an ongoing basis. Continue reading

Building Networks To Engage Complex Problems

Network diagram

Complex social and environmental problems – like reducing poverty, stewarding large landscapes, or providing high quality health care and education – cannot be solved by any one action or any one organization. These “wicked problems” are constantly changing and involve many different groups of stakeholders – each with their own perspectives, goals, and proposed solutions.

We believe that lasting change on these systemic issues requires building networks – people and organizations aligned around a shared purpose, connected through strong relationships, and sustained over time. Effective networks transcend silos, sectors, race, class, and other barriers to collaboration and progress. They find common ground, coordinate strategies, and collaborate generously.

Organizations often find they can have greater impact and access to larger pools of funding when they work together across networks in a meaningful way.

There are many forms a network can take based its context, the problem it’s trying to address, and the set of people and institutions involved. Networks are usually characterized by their purpose. Different forms of networks include but are not limited to:

  • Social networks: Connect with others to develop personal relationships. Example: Facebook, LinkedIn.
  • Learning networks: Share information over time to disseminate best practices. Example: Palliative Care Quality Network.
  • Movement networks: Engage others to change mindsets, public opinion and policy. Example: Joy of Giving.
  • Innovation networks: Develop and test a new model or a set of prototypes for greater impact across a system. Example: UCSF Health Continuity of Care Network.
  • Impact networks: Identify the major leverage points in a system and act on those leverage points in a coordinated, strategic way over a sustained period of time. Example: Santa Cruz Mountains Stewardship NetworkRE-AMP.

In networks, form follows function – the size, boundary, process and convening design of a given network is adapted to suit its purpose. Organizations can also take a network approach to achieving their mission, without forming a formal network. For example, Interise and Catalyst Kitchens have used a network approach to service delivery to drastically increase the scale of their impact.

For more details and examples of effective impact networks, see our Networks FAQ.

Making Networks Work

The single most important asset of any network is the quality of relationships between leaders and organizations. Leaders must learn to “go slow to go fast”, taking the time up-front to develop enough trust to work together even when disagreements or miscommunications arise. As Otto Scharmer writes, “The most important ingredient is always the same: a few fully committed people who would give everything to make it work.”

Read The Tactics of Trust for specific examples of how participants in a large, complex collaboration can build a capacity for finding common ground.

Networks involving multiple organizations are rarely successful without a dedicated individual or team of network entrepreneurs. This role has also called a network manager, coordinator, or backbone staff, but we prefer the term “entrepreneur” because networks are constantly evolving.

The network entrepreneur’s role is to organize network convenings, facilitate the meetings, help form connections, and track and share information about ongoing collaborations while providing support when barriers arise. Over time, if funding is available, a single on-the-ground person working directly for the network can perform the entrepreneur role.

To learn about network entrepreneurs who are ensuring that systems-level, collaborative efforts thrive, read The Most Impactful Leaders You’ve Never Heard Of.

Network Evolution

The connections across networks evolve through four stages, drawing from Valdis Krebs’ and June Holley’s publication Building Smart Communities Through Network Weaving:

Network Evolution

Read The Five Steps to Building an Effective Impact Network for details on what it takes to catalyze networks across all sectors and issues.

Ending Child Marriage in Malawi: A Roadmap to Sustainable Change

MEMORY BANDA

Guest post by Emily Teistworth, Director of Programs, Let Girls Lead. This article originally appeared on February 17, 2015 in The Huffington Post.

This piece is the first installment of our “Converging For Impact” series, indented to lift up the voices across our network of partners and highlight their amazing change efforts for a better world. David Sawyer, our Strategy Director, has been partnering closely with Let Girls Lead over the past six months to help clarify their “Core DNA,” strengthen & create an intentional organizational culture, and define and execute on strategic priorities for 2015.

Malawi outlawed child marriage last week. Following more than five years of undaunted advocacy by Malawian girls, their allies and civil society leaders, the country’s Parliament tabled and passed the “Marriage, Divorce, and Family Relations Bill,” increasing the legal age of marriage from 15 to 18 years. This legal victory is a huge step forward for girls’ and women’s rights globally. The fact that it has been a painfully slow step merely serves to underscore its vital importance.

In December 2012, I published a blog on The Huffington Post called “The Beginning of the End for Child Marriage,” when it looked like the Parliament of Malawi would finally vote to raise the national legal age of marriage. Now, three years later, the bill has finally passed and the hard work of implementation begins, in a country where more than half of teenage girls drop out of school and are married before Continue reading