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Who and What is the “The Network”, Really?

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who-and-what-is-the-201cthe-network201d-really.jpg** This post originally appeared on Beth Kanter’s blog as a guest post about the GeoFunders National Conference that took place last week in Seattle.  Missed the conference?  Catch the highlights from Beth’s team of bloggers!

A few years ago, I changed my title to “Executive Connector,” mostly for the heck of it. It stuck, largely because it really describes well what I do and SVP does. Over the last few years, we are more and more about the network (yah, I know pretty much everyone is). All of this Collective Impact / Action work is right up our alley. SVP IS a network so that kind of work should be “tailor-made” for us to do and be effective at. I think there is real potential for significant positive change in our communities in next couple decades, primarily because everyone is getting it – i.e. no one org. can do this on their own, we gotta get out of our silos, we have no choice but to work way more collaboratively, connectedly, etc.

So much of the conference reinforced and extended my ideas about all that, BUT it also mixed things up for me in one significant, and very good, way. I will walk away thinking a lot harder about WHO AND WHAT IS “THE NETWORK” REALLY? For example, I sat in on the excellent breakout on Beneficiary Feedback with CEP’s Youth Truth and the Hogg Foundation (Hook ‘em Horns, my MBA alma mater). In SVP’s work, we get very engaged with and close to our grantees for long-term, capacity-focused relationships. We get lots of feedback from them, real-time, via independent / anonymous surveys, etc. BUT we do not get beneficiary feedback directly. Should we? In concept, it seems like a no-brainer, but in practice, is it really optimal for us to do so? IDK yet. But it also reinforced big-time that “the network” is not just us funders and non-profits. It’s the community itself, it’s the beneficiaries, it’s the other organizations and people on-the-ground in our communities. Yes, I knew some of this already. But the conference gave me that gestalt-type view of it all (that’s what conferences are for).

This collective, network (whatever you call it) work is right, powerful, and it’s gonna get harder and harder as we go along. We darn well better have a big tent view of who the network is or we’re gonna fail. We can’t all decide the whole world is our network, we have to draw and define some version of the network that fits our own core competencies and enables us to be effective. But we better draw the lines around our “network” pretty widely and make sure that everyone is engaged and involved, especially the people that we are all trying to “benefit.” Thanks, GEO.

Paul Shoe

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