Everyone around you knows something you don’t, right? Isn’t that why our parents and educators told us to attend every networking event, happy hour, or club meeting? It’s why presidents need cabinets and nonprofits need a diverse board.
But what makes these connections valuable and how do they work in the social sector?
A social impact network is a space for changemakers to build on traditional networking opportunities by enhancing connection and collaboration. In the highly collaborative field of social entrepreneurship, social impact networks offer a way for all players around a particular topic or issue to convene and learn from one another.
Social impact networks welcome members from both the public and private sector while pursuing a shared goal of positive change for social issues. SaraJoy Pond, co-founder of one of the most influential “convening” platforms in the world, spoke with Cory on the Social Entrepreneurship & Innovation Podcast to share why this kind of convening is so important, especially in the midst of a global pandemic.
What is a “Social Impact Network?”
- A space that encourages dialogue between members who have different perspectives on a common issue or goal.
- An opportunity to reframe your thinking around a given topic or issue.
- A community that values and leverages human and relational capital to find solutions to the world’s most pressing problems.
Why are “Social Impact Networks” Important to Affecting Change?
These networks have given members the ability to launch a social enterprise, effect social good, and tackle climate change. But how do they do it?
Social impact networks have a clear framework that includes shared goals and values. This preliminary agreement helps to guide members towards systemic solutions while fostering a supportive environment to work within. While the formation of a social impact network is very intentional and has a defined purpose, the magic really happens organically when brilliant minds are brought together.
Recent research on the power of social impact networks has found that a critical piece often missing from these networks is the inclusion of the private sector. As our friends at the Stanford Social Innovation Review put it, “Wicked problems defy single-point solutions, and no single organization or sector working in isolation can solve them.” Putting this understanding into practice: Imagine the issue at hand is healthcare accessibility in the rural areas of the United States—let’s say, in Kentucky. Convening naturally supports a bottom-up approach to changemaking, so in this scenario, we would identify local health care entities in the private and public sectors, local nonprofits, healthcare entrepreneurs, and maybe some impact investors as well.
Each participant in the group has a unique, individual experience and perspective on the issue that varies from their neighbor’s, and that is the power of networks. In other words, social innovation isn’t limited to just the work of social entrepreneurs, it needs complete community support to examine the issue from every angle, find solutions that promote wellbeing in the space, and leverage resources to put those solutions into action.
Now that 42% of the United States workforce is working from home, it’s more important than ever to recognize the power of forging connections through new, available channels. The pandemic has exposed entire sectors to the power of convening virtually. SaraJoy of Conveners.org anticipates that even after the pandemic, we’ll see big conferences that used to require flights, time away from home, and intense planning, going online. With rising concerns for the impact of climate change, changemakers in social innovation are becoming increasingly aware of their carbon footprints, and SaraJoy predicts it will take increasingly strong arguments to convince people that it’s necessary to expend the excess carbon with an in-person event that may otherwise by hosting online.
The Conveners: A Community of Mission-Driven Accelerators
Conveners.org is a space for network members to experience the power of collective impact by joining together to share lessons learned and have a greater effect on positive social change through their collaboration. Nonprofits, venture funds, and individual entrepreneurs have found value in utilizing the services offered by Coveners.org, which is as simple as being a platform that facilitates important conversations.
Social impact conferences are fantastic, but they can’t be everything to everyone in the field of social impact. The detailed curiosities and needs of the attendees require a more precise engagement. That’s why Conveners.org is geared towards creating programs and tools to accelerate change and inform decision-making for members who are connecting to change the world. Since 2013, Conveners.org has been adapting to their clients’ needs and creating groups around specific topics or issues that yield high-impact results for policy or even just a shifted mindset.
SaraJoy Pond, Co-Founder
SaraJoy has been harnessing her entrepreneurial nature since her sheltered bubble broke while growing up in rural Colorado. She’s used empathy and her desire to be a lifelong learner to fuel all of her ventures, one of which was an original crowdfunding site called Tipping Bucket. Tipping Bucket secured funding for dozens of impactful projects around the globe. SaraJoy has a track record of using her unique skill set to connect resources and support social innovation.
In addition to being a co-founder and Executive Director for Conveners.org, SaraJoy is an expert in research, communications, and experience design. She has taught at many universities across the nation and enjoys facilitating meaningful conversations that lead to insightful discoveries in everything she does.
“Convening well—getting the right people in the right room to have the right conversations—truly changes the world.”
How to Get Started Building an Effective Social Impact Network
- Begin gathering a group around a topic of interest. But don’t just solicit people who agree with you. Find people who will challenge you and truly complete the system you’re looking to shift.
- Build trust by giving each member your undivided attention, or as SaraJoy does, start each session with a grounding stretch. Performing the same stress-relieving activity can foster a greater sense of empathy among colleagues.
- Collaborate generously means listening intently and looking for further ways to collaborate with your partners, instead of measuring success or contributing just for the sake of it. Collaboration solidifies each members’ commitment to your shared goal and reaffirms the need to talk through difficult conversations.
- Stay organized by holding each member accountable for project follow-ups. Facilitate an update or share back at the start or end of each session. This will remind everyone of their role in the collective impact.
Closing: Build Empathy and Knowledge in Your Social Impact Network
Convening can move your mission forward. New perspectives and insights can provoke a thought you never had before and boom! You’re making a difference in your community. If you’re looking to change a system, start asking around to develop a small group that can address each angle of the issue you’re investigating.
Social impact networks don’t have to look a certain way, and if you’re in multiple, it’s likely that your goals will be very different in each one. Maybe you’re wondering how to start a nonprofit or a socially conscious company. Groups for those goals will have different goals, and therefore different members, and different perspectives.
By bridging the gap and forming long-lasting relationships over a collective desire to do better, soon, you’ll see the value of human connection and what can really happen when we all pull out a chair to invite everyone to take a seat at the table.
Additional Resources & Links Mentioned from the Episode:
- SaraJoy on LinkedIn
- Conveners.org on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram
- Feeding America
- Social Venture Circle
- Influencer by Joseph Grenny
Sustainable Workplaces Manager & Writer
Jackie is the Sustainable Workplaces Manager at Urban Green Lab, a sustainability education nonprofit in Nashville, Tennessee. She’s passionate about connecting people with actionable ways to make a positive impact on the environment. She graduated from Dickinson College with a degree in Environmental Studies and a certificate in Social Innovation & Entrepreneurship. Jackie worked in the nonprofit world in Washington D.C. for Ashoka and the National Building Museum.
Jackie enjoys hiking with her rescue dog, finding craft breweries, and traveling the globe in search of plant-based eats.