Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Network Leap

The biggest network divide -- the one I think makes philanthropy so much less effective than it could be -- is the divide between so-called DONORS and BENEFICIARIES. I want to suggest that these terms are a little whacky.

I want to suggest that people who give money and people who have projects that need money need to rethink of themselves as a PEER NETWORK -- and that this small (but oh so difficult) step would instantly start a process of transformation.

First of all, people are doing fabulous, creative stuff out in communities. They are experimenting, working unbelievably hard, scrambling for resources to keep going. Philanthropists could learn so much from them about what works, what makes a difference - but how do they get a true picture of what is going on, because non-profits feel they have to make themselves look perfect to get money and so hide some of the most important information -- their mistakes!? How can positive community energy be identified and supported -- and be allowed to be imperfect, but held accountable for learning and making breakthroughs? What might happen if philanthropists stopped funding themes and started funding networks of high-energy groups that have or want to learn deep processes of innovation, collaboration and reflection?

But, by funding organizations rather than networks and projects, philanthropists take away the incentive to work with others, learn from others and get the kind of feedback that helps non-profits see the unproductive ruts they have slipped into.

The Viral Giving Network

An example of a Viral Giving Network was provided in two earlier posts about the Oxfam Savings for ChangeProject and Keys to Transformation and Scale. Women in the Savings for Change Circles spread their successful strategy for collecting savings and then lending to circle members to many other groups of women in their villages, thus increasing the impact of the project more than ten-fold -- at very little additional cost.

Viral Giving always includes training participants so that they can continue to spread the project. In Savings for Change, participants were given the framework of viral spreading ("You can spread this to other women in your village."), tools for spreading the project (a pictograph manual of how to run a savings circle), and basic skills and strategies to spread the project. Think about your projects: Are projects you fund something that can be spread? Or,do your projects have elements that could be spread (for example, the use of social media)? Do you suggest that spreading the project or elements of it are part of the project? Do you provide training in how these can be spread?

Video on Network Weaving

Thanks to the good folks at I-Open, especially Betsey Merkel, I'm sharing a 20 minute video on Network Weaving. This could be the first of a series, a tutorial on Network Weaving concepts and skills.

All I ask is that you provide some feedback: Is this useful? What about the length? What specific aspects of Network Weaving would you like to learn more about?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Transformative Philanthropy Network - the parts

In the next series of posts, I'll use examples to describe the 4 (maybe 5) sub-networks in a truly transformative philanthropy network. I'll offer a graphic that will show each part and then how they all fit together.

Part 1: The Viral Giving Network

Part 2: The Viral Donor Aggregation Network

Part 3: The Direct Donor to Recipient Network

Part 4: The Learning Networks

Part 5: The Engagement Across Divides Networks

You will see as each is described, the words that we use start shifting, opening up new possibilities.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Philanthropic networks

In the 2 previous posts I've been talking about philanthropists as if they were synonymous with foundations. In this post I'd like to deconstruct and reconstruct the notions of who is a philanthropist.

We have been blessed in this country (U.S.A.) to have many many foundations. However, these foundations, as was the case for businesses and government agencies as well, adopted organizational structures that were hierarchical and generally operated in isolation from other organizations. For the last decade, though, many entrepreneurial individuals and businesses have moved to an ecosystem model: they have vast relationships with other businesses of many types and sizes as well as with 'customers,' and they often operate through an ever-changing ensemble of of collaborative projects with others in their ecosystem. New product ideas, for example, are as likely to come from a customer or a microbusiness in another part of the world as from internal staff. Staff are often continually engaging with "non-staff" in a wide range of FTF and online venues. is an example of how philanthropy can operate in this new ecosystem world. The site draws in new philanthropists (who are mostly individuals who have never considered themselves as philanthropists before) mainly through friendship networks, and links people directly to individuals who need loans. It is this direct connection - knowing something about the person to whom you are lending money - that draws so many people in who never donated money to an abstract cause. How could foundations see themselves as builders of networks that create these kinds of direct connections and engage many more people in philanthropic activities? also has set up a structure to support the self-organizing of lender interest groups. More than 3000 teams help build relationships among the new philanthropists, expanding their understanding of and commitment to the larger initiative, thus setting up viral expansion pathways. In addition, offers an internship program that engages individuals in tracking success and further weaving the network.

How could foundations and other more traditionally organized philanthropists see their role as supporting the development of a complex philanthropic ecosystem?

Policy networks

How can philanthropy assist in the formation of policy networks? I think the biggest mistake foundations make is that they often convene non-profits interested in a particular policy area and have them talk (often for months or even years), struggling to consense on a specific policy agenda which they then push forward as a group. For many intractable problems, though, this approach is premature, and often doesn't result in long term system change.

Why not start with the most basic system change and create a different set of relationships among all of those who care about some major problem or possibility? How can development of a policy agenda engage policy makers and policy influentials (Institutes, individuals, and media that people look to to shape discussions in a particular policy arena) from the start? Instead of immediately focusing on policy, could these key policy players become engaged with non-profits around experiments that help everyone learn what effective policy needs to look like for this area?

How could foundations and agencies see their role as creating policy networks that connect non-profits (both locally and with innovators around the world) and help them build long-term relationships with policy makers and policy influentials? Non-profits are all too often isolated from the experience of other non-profits that could inform policy recommendations.Too often they forge ahead with a massive change agenda with little or no experience from which to determine whether what they are suggesting will actually work or whether it has the flexibility needed to match the uniqueness of communities. How could they gain the skills needed for effective network building and collaboration that would support ongoing innovation?

What would policy look like that encourages collaboration and is flexible enough to allow creative adaptation to each community funded? I would love to see policy-mandated funding be based on the Innovation Fund model: the first round of policy sets up seed funds available to many collaborative projects, each made up of small groups of organizations interested in exploring a specific innovative approach through collaborative action. Well facilitated reflection sessions encourage the seed projects to explore what they learned about this policy terrain as a result of their innovative experience. Policy-designated funds are then available for new, larger collaborative projects that are thoroughly tracked to develop the key "patterns of success." Larger scale policy is then developed based on this learning and experience.

Looking forward to hearing about your experience and thoughts!

Providing support for learning/policy communities among "grantees"

My first suggestion to enhance philanthropy is for foundations or philanthropists to be trend and energy seekers. Rather than have lengthy planning/priority sessions, why not have the program staff (and board) call people they respect (and then some random names from the non-profit, grassroots community) and ask them what they think are the most exciting projects, directions, organizations and individuals working in communities? As a result of listening, the foundation will quickly find out where the energy is, so that they can support, enhance and scale that good energy.

The first step in enhancing already emerging energy is to encourage and assist those energy centers to enhance their networks. I remember one very nice foundation that decided, after much internal study, on a focus for their grantmaking. They made a request for proposals from organizations interested in that particular focus area. Then the foundation selected a dozen or so organizations and brought them together to form a "network." Unfortunately, most of these organizations felt they had little in common and the processes the foundation used in their "network" gatherings did little to help the organizations get to know each other so they never identified commonalities. Because of the structure of the proposals (everyone had to lay out a 3-year plan), all of the groups had already decided what they were going to do, so there was little room for collaborative projects to emerge from the "network."

Now, let's look at another scenario. The foundation or investors identify energy centers in the network and ask them to identify their current network and who else they would like to be connected with. The foundation then negotiates a network building initiative with the core of the network (usually 6-10 organizations), providing the core with support to map their network and then learn basic Network Weaving skills so they can expand and enhance their network relationships. A key aspect of this strategy is to use the network weaving "training" as an opportunity to support the formation of a peer Community of Practice/Action/Reflection. Part of the Network Guardian role the foundation plays involves listening to the organizations and facilitating (or paying for facilitators) who watch topics emerge and structure convenings of all sorts (phone, FTF, Ning) (Twosies, small groups) to research and/or organize learning/discussion on these emerging topics. Out of this initial learning action collaborations form (which will usually need some coaching in inter-organizational project management!) and start doing things, usually innovative actions where there is high uncertainty.

So again, the foundation can help the collaboratives process what is happening - in real time as they "rapid prototype" - and make sense of what is happening. Does what they are doing feel like its going in the right direction? What have they been surprised about? What did they notice? What do they need to learn about? Who can they learn that from? For this kind of learning to lead to breakthroughs, the foundation as network guardian will need to make sure the reflection process includes participants and observers as well as the organizational staff.

So that this peer learning network is sustainable, it's important that the initial facilitator train individuals in the network in the skills need to continue learning activities after the initial grant ends. In this way, the facilitators seed the network with new network building and learning capacities that can become positively infectious!

What are your thoughts? Would this approach work? Who has already tried something like this?

Monday, February 16, 2009

Social Network Analysis Workshop

Escape the snowy North and come learn something new in sunny San Diego!

Valdis Krebs will be presenting a 1/2 day workshop on practical applications of social network analysis [SNA] at the upcoming Sunbelt Social Network Conference sponsored by INSNA -- International Network for Social Network Analysis.

This workshop will be on the morning of March 11th at the Bahia Hotel @ Mission Beach in San Diego, California. The Sunbelt conference will run until Sunday, March 15th in the same Hotel.

The hands-on workshop will feature a quick overview of social network analysis as applied to organizations and communities. You will get a chance to use social network analysis software to explore a simple data set. Whether you are a consultant, analyst, manager, activist, student, professor, or journalist you will learn how to apply this useful methodology with clients and customers.

Valdis and Erin Kenneally will have a presentation during the regular conference on Analyzing Networks of Corruption.