Networks for impact, not networking

 

Zibran Choudhury

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Ahead of the PEXForum 2020 we asked readers which conference sessions they would be most interested in reading about to share the topics and themes from the conference with those who are unable to attend. The winning session was the launch of the new WINGS report ‘Philanthropy Networks: Creating Value, Voice and Collective Impact’.

At the start of PEXForum 2020, Tatiana Glad of ImpactHub stated ‘we need to fund and connect the glue of networks’ to truly collaborate. It is a perfectly logical mandate so I was intrigued to enter the latter stages with how this could be done in Europe through ‘networks’ and by tapping into the collective wisdom of WINGS.

The report ‘Philanthropy Networks: Creating Value, Voice and Collective Impact’ was introduced by Filiz Bikmen (Constellations for Change and Esas Sosyal) who made clear that ‘networks are key components to the ecosystem’ and should be ‘central to the practice of philanthropists’. The report asks and answers ‘How can philanthropy support networks go beyond focusing solely on organizational impact to creating more collective impact across the sector?’.

According to WINGs, it was written using ‘the expertise of WINGS members and the philanthropy field, this guide combines thoughtful concepts, frameworks and practical approaches that all philanthropy networks can use to prepare their organisations for the next decade.’ This made me ponder a key distinction – the difference between an ecosystem and a network. I’ve always had a mind’s eye view of an ecosystem as a vibrant, living and breathing ‘thing’ but after this session I realised its impact could be dispersed due the autonomous nature of its activity and growth. Thus, making a network (in my head) more shaped, with structure and channels for access and information.

The distinction was made more sense when Filiz described some the current gaps in the philanthropy ecosystem, and creating networks that are interconnected with the Global South in particular. It was striking to read that 80 per cent of the expenditure on philanthropy support organisations is in North America, whilst the highest number of philanthropy networks established in the past decade have been in Sub-Saharan Africa. Although, restrictive legal frameworks have curtailed this activity in this region, Filiz Bikmen pointed this out as a big opportunity for funders in the room to help grow resources and organise to close this gap.

Filiz also spoke of the importance to think about the value added by those outside the philanthropic ecosystem, including private actors and technology. On first hearing, it was surprising to hear technology is still being embraced, but the resistance was made clear in the report. According to the study, technology-driven solutions needs to be balanced with ‘a sustained focus on promoting belonging and sense of community among members’. In the past, I probably would have scoffed at this, however over the two days at PEX Forum 2020, it was clear that there was a craving to create a sense of community among European networks and a hunger for more spaces to reflect together and share learnings. The WINGS report says ‘Funders are looking to networks and platforms for shared learning and collective action, and not just for information and networking’ and this was reflected in the hands-on dynamic of PEXForum 2020. As co-emcee Max von Abendroth of DAFNE asserted at the start, ‘This forum is about taking a step back and creating space for thinking and not having to tell your peers what you do every day!’

Collaboration, networks and ecosystems might be devalued when used as marketing jargon, but this report and the PEXForum 2020 have made a meaningful case for how networks could strengthen your practice.

Zibran Choudhury is Communications, Partnerships & Membership Manager at Alliance magazine

Read and download the the full report ‘Philanthropy Networks: Creating Value, Voice and Collective Impact’ here: wings.issuelab.org


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