Was President Obama a “Network Weaver”?

Tactical Philanthropy is currently covering the Grantmakers for Effective Organizations conference with the help of a blog team. This is a guest post by Victoria Vrana of Venture Philanthropy Partners.

By Victoria Vrana

image I just left the fantastic session designed and moderated by the Monitor Institute and members of the Community of Practice of funders supporting networks with the not nearly exciting enough name of “The Funder’s Role in Networks”.

The session was appropriately structured to facilitate small group conversations around six different aspects of funding networks including social network mapping and measuring effectiveness of networks. My biggest frustration was not participating in all six conversations at once, but I will rely on the network to share information after the session. (Participants were encouraged to participate in an online community of practice at wiserearth.org called the Network of Network Funders and the site Working Wikily also has a lot of great resources on this topic).

I left the session with a huge desire to delve deep into some reading, research and conversation to more clearly differentiate between networks and communities, movements and alliances, community organizers and “network weavers”. My gut, and my experience with both social change movements and networks, tells me there are very clear differences, although in today’s session and in other conversations at GEO, I’m not always seeing those differences clearly defined.

And I think we do need to define the types of efforts we are catalyzing, supporting, and scaling very tightly, because each requires specific talent, tools, strategies, and success metrics.

Take scale or growth. In this morning’s plenary, we heard about two very different kinds of scale from Bill Strickland of the Manchester Bidwell Corporation and Angelica Salas of the Coalition for Human Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles. Mr. Strickland is clearly beginning to scale his centers and programs, nationally and regionally. He has traditional needs for growth capital, a business plan, and a financial model for rapid and large scale growth. Ms. Salas is engaged in both building a network, in this case, a coalition of organizations and efforts that are truly the background of a large scale social movement with very clear advocacy targets. Two kinds of “scale” or growth, but perhaps in need of different kinds of supports.

My fellow blog team member, Phil Buchanan of the Center for Effective Philanthropy, asked in his recent post, “Has Anything Really Changed in Philanthropy?” I do think a network is different from a community or movement, but I’m not sure I’m always hearing those distinctions in some of these conversations. We must be careful that “investing in networks” doesn’t become just the jargony new way to talk about investing in community building, and “network weavers” doesn’t become the sexy label for community organizers. Both kinds of efforts are ultimately needed, and are essential for supporting transformation in our communities – in real life, or our “communities of practice.”