Reflections from the GEO conference: who and what is ‘the network’ really?

Paul Shoemaker

A few years ago, I changed my title to ‘executive connector’, mostly for wthe heck of it. It stuck, largely because it really describes well what I do and Social Venture Partners (SVP) does. Over the last few years, we are more and more about the network (yeah, I know pretty much everyone is). All of this collective impact/action work is right up our alley. SVP IS a network, so that kind of work should be sort of ‘tailor-made’ for us to do and be effective at. I think there is real potential for significant positive change in our communities in the next couple of decades, primarily because everyone is getting it – ie no one organization can do this on their own, we gotta get out of our silos, we have no choice but to work way more collaboratively, connectedly, etc.

So much of the Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO) conference (Seattle, 12-14 March) reinforced and extended my ideas about all that, but it also mixed things up for me in one significant, and very good, way. I will walk away thinking a lot harder about WHO AND WHAT IS ‘THE NETWORK’ REALLY? For example, I sat in on the excellent breakout on beneficiary feedback with CEP’s Youth Truth and the Hogg Foundation (Hook ‘em Horns, my MBA alma mater). In SVP’s work, we get very engaged with and close to our grantees for long-term, capacity-focused relationships. We get lots of feedback from them, real-time, via independent/anonymous surveys, etc. but we do not get beneficiary feedback directly. Should we? In concept, it seems like a no-brainer, but in practice, is it really optimal for us to do so? I don’t know yet. But it also reinforced big-time that ‘the network’ is not just us funders and non-profits. It’s the community itself, it’s the beneficiaries, it’s the other organizations and people on the ground in our communities. Yes, I knew some of this already. But the conference gave me that gestalt-type view of it all – and that’s what conferences are for.

This collective, network (whatever you call it) work is powerful, and it’s going to get harder and harder as we go along. We darn well better have a big-tent view of who the network is or we’re gonna fail. We can’t all decide the whole world is our network, we have to draw and define some version of the network that fits our own core competencies and enables us to be effective. But we’d better draw the lines around our ‘network’ pretty widely and make sure that everyone is engaged and involved, especially the people that we are all trying to ‘benefit’. Thanks, GEO.

Paul Shoemaker is Executive Connector at Social Venture Partners Seattle.

Next Conference Report to read

EVPA conference creates roadmap for societal change through venture philanthropy

Chris Page