What are the mindsets and tools social change leaders need to adopt to truly collaborate and leverage their networks in the pursuit of their vision? This engagement helps shape the network strategy of social change leaders and funders through deep dives into case studies and network mapping. It is designed for either individual practitioners or teams looking to develop a systems-level strategy to guide their work. Developed and taught in partnership with Heather McLeod Grant.
Designing for Organizational Growth
Given how rapidly the internal and external conditions for our work shift, most funders and social change leaders have neither time nor use for long-range strategic planning. Yet, how do you remain productive and confident that you are on the right path while continually pivoting on strategy?
Designing for Organizational Growth takes the best of what we know about what’s needed for organizational scale and marries that work with a human centered design approach to experimentation and prototyping. Typically, this is an extended engagement launched by a half-day workshop for your team.
Network Mapping as a Strategy Tool
To execute systems level change, leaders must have visibility into the ecosystem they intend to impact. In Network Mapping as a Strategy Tool workshop, your team will create a network map in the room and then bridge to a network strategy assessment to determine whether the network supports the intended social change strategy. This workshop can kickoff a participatory mapping process whereby the network map is expanded and corroborated by other stakeholders.
Activating Systems-level Leaders for Hawaii
HAWAII COMMUNITY FOUNDATION
The Hawaii Community Foundation (HCF), the state’s largest grant-maker with a 100-year legacy, sought to enhance the collaborative capacity of changemakers in the state of Hawaii. In the summer of 2015, Heather McLeod Grant and I first engaged in strategic conversations with Hawaii-based network leaders. This landscape study, along with the mapping and trainings we led, revealed serious interest in network strategy as a way to amplify social change across the state of Hawaii. I then designed and facilitated a year-long community of practice for network leaders that surfaced the commonalities and challenges facing the leadership of networks in Hawaii. That community of practice continues to meet and amplify the role of networks in Hawaii.
Transforming a City’s Future Through Networked Action and Design
IRVINE NEW LEADERSHIP NETWORK
The New Leadership Network is a project of The James Irvine Foundation whose mission is to expand economic and political opportunity for families who are working but struggling with poverty. The New Leadership Network brings together diverse emerging leaders in Stanislaus County (California’s Central Valley) to build connections, align on a community vision and innovate around a better future. As Program Director, I lead recruitment, selection, strategy and facilitation. In training sessions, I am most focused on the network’s work in systems mapping and the design of new community prototypes.
Leveraging Networks in Organizational Design
DataKind is many things to many people. It is a network for data scientists and tech leaders who see DataKind as the leading light in their efforts to wield data for social impact. It assumes the role of teacher and coach for a social sector looking to leverage data in their quest to solve society’s ills. And it plays the role of hopeful pioneer for funders looking to make their investments go further, faster. DataKind is also an early stage social venture and global network whose leadership is scrambling to capitalize on immense opportunity while overcoming barriers to achieving DataKind’s mission.
In its first three years, DataKind grew from a small team launching projects from its base in New York City to a global network led by a national team. During this time, I was deeply embedded with DataKind’s executive team, board leadership and global network. The result of my work there was a growing sophistication around network strategy; a decision frame that balanced organizational needs with network growth; and the entrenchment of strategy, staff development and donor stewardship as core organizational capacities.
Moving From Design to Strategy
STANFORD’S HASSO PLATNER SCHOOL OF DESIGN (D.SCHOOL) FELLOWS PROGRAM
For four years, the Stanford d.school has created space for social entrepreneurs , described as “restless experts” looking to go beyond what they know and innovate new solutions, platforms and initiatives in their fields. At Stanford, the fellows apply design thinking to real-world challenges and emerge with new tools and (aspirationally) with game-changing solutions to some of humanity’s messiest problems. In 2016, I spent a year embedded at the d.school working with the Fellows to translate the results of the design process into a strategy and/or organizational design that accommodated growth and continued experimentation beyond the Fellowship.
Network Leadership Training
The Omidyar Fellows program is a leadership development program that looks to build stronger leaders, more effective organizations, and the cross-sector connections that are necessary to collectively work towards Hawaii’s future. In early 2016, the Omidyar Fellows hired Heather Mcleod Grant and me to run a full day workshop to consider how adding a network mindset to their training might foster greater levels of collaboration among their network members.
Creating the Container for Expanded Giving for a Family Fund
The Peleh Fund has long supported artists, leaders and organizations from its base in Berkeley, CA. The Fund is dedicated to amplifying creativity and innovation in the fields of education and the arts. In the last four years, I have worked with the Fund’s trustees in their quest to,evolve the mission of the fund; expand its investments; and launch a family-oriented artist residency program.
It has never been easy to be a nonprofit leader—and it certainly isn’t easy now. Even before the 2016 US election, forces like globalization, the rise of technology, new forms of online organizing, and growing inequality have been disrupting the work of social change. In the United States, we’re seeing the current political administration and Congress undermine decades of the social sector’s work. Recent federal government spending cuts, paired with a tax bill that de-incentivizes individual giving, are adding further uncertainty to the mix. Social change just got harder—and more urgent.
If there is good news, it’s that the old model has been broken, and we now have a chance to invent a new one. We think this begins with social sector leaders adopting a “both/and” mindset — embracing the fact that navigating the following tensions aren’t temporary problems, but rather a condition of the “new normal.”
Based on everything we learned in our brief, and admittedly broad, research, it appears that this crisis may not be just a moment in time but a prolonged restructuring of the social sector in response to other economic and political disruptions. As a result, we must contend with the “new normal” of building capacity for social change. We would argue that this new normal requires social-change actors—leaders and funders—to embrace a “both/and” mindset. They must simultaneously juggle building internal organizational and external system capacities; being responsive and strategic; planning for the short term and the long term; and thinking systemically while being proximate to their constituents. These leaders must play a version of 3-D chess, navigating a series of tensions around time, place, altitude, and scale. If this sounds daunting, it is.
Many of the social-change leaders we spoke with shared that they don’t feel well supported by their funders. Among their concerns is that funders seem insulated from the disruptions nonprofits are facing, and institutional philanthropy seems calibrated for an era that no longer exists. Indeed, there’s large variance in how philanthropists have responded to the current climate.
We believe that funders must intentionally build a different set of mindsets and behaviors — what we’re calling “systems philanthropy” — in order to shift entrenched structures and norms that reinforce the rigidity that no longer serves us. If we are ever to achieve social change at the scale of the problems we are seeking to address, it must become our new normal.
Much has been written about the virtues of thinking and acting collectively to solve seemingly intractable challenges. Nonprofit leaders are being implored to put mission above brand, build networks not just programs, and prioritize collaboration over individual interests. And yet, these strategies are often in direct contradiction to the conventional wisdom of organization-building: differentiating your brand, developing unique expertise, and growing a loyal donor base.
A similar tension is emerging among network and movement leaders. These leaders spend their days steering the messy process required to connect, align, and channel the collective efforts of diverse stakeholders. It’s not always easy. Increasingly, network leaders are looking at how to adapt the process, structure, and operational expertise more traditionally associated with organizations to their needs—but without co-opting or diminishing the energy and momentum of their self-organizing networks.
In our consulting and advising work over the past few years, we have seen this pattern time and again: organizations that are adapting to become more like networks and harness the “wisdom of the crowds;” and decentralized networks or movements that are creating more centralized “backbone” structures to support their activities.
As the social sector considers the enormous potential of data analysis, it is important to remember that the technologies that realize this potential are new not only to the social sector, but to nearly everyone. Corporations and government spend valuable time and resources collecting data, but still struggle to extract value. As a society, we are at the humble beginnings of leveraging our data — whether for better shopping or for the greater good.
To truly accelerate the potential of data, we need to get beyond the focus on nonprofit performance and look to the potential of addressing sector-level challenges with creative data analysis. Funders are uniquely positioned to accelerate the social sector’s effectiveness in leveraging data. To do this, funders must shift the focus of data inquiry beyond nonprofit performance, lead collective efforts to leverage new data sources, and play an active role in the essential debates around data ethics and transparency.