An Emergent Impact Network
By Melvin Chibole, Managing Director, TechSoup Africa
The social sector is at a critical inflection point. We are faced with many intractable issues, key among them the COVID pandemic and its attendant challenges. While we have felt and continue to feel a deep sense of urgency in these moments of crisis, taking time to build relationships and to give care to one another has continued to define the spirit of the TechSoup Global Network.
At the center of our network strategy is a premise which we hold dear: Communities are built on connections, and better connections usually provide better opportunities. But how do networks of these communities emerge? How do we strengthen them? And how are they sustained?
Any partner network, including our own, can be characterized by three central elements:
- How partners relate to one another
- How partners relate their own goals and individual motivations to the collective aspirations of the network
- How the network collectively connects and relates back to the unique cultures and broader contexts in which each partner operates
The success of a partner network can often be predicted by the extent to which the elements above exist in harmony, and the extent to which this ecosystem supports the growth and sustainability of these relationships.
However, organizational relationships, unlike some human relationships, rarely start with love at first sight. Most often, they begin with informal contacts that lead to identifying common interests and sharing information — and from there, move to joint work toward specific objectives or projects.
Below, you will find a recording of a panel titled “Changing How a Network Works: Learning from Emergent Approaches.” Here, I lead a discussion with Charles Van Dyck, the head of the Capacity Development Unit of West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI), and Chris Worman, the vice president of Program Development and Strategic Alliances at TechSoup. During the time we had to speak with one another, we dug deeper into how networks are built, their role during crises — specifically the pandemic — and how to foster sustainable relationships between like-minded civil society organizations.
To begin, I’ve included a transcription of my opening remarks to the panel, which took place online on June 28 at the TechSoup Global Network Summit 2021. Afterwards, I encourage you to take a moment to listen in on our discussion at your own pace.
I will start us off by introducing emergence as a concept. Emergence is the fundamental explanation for how local changes can materialize as global systems of influence. I love this excerpt that has been developed by Berkana Institute, which describes an anchor’s emergence in systems thinking:
“Despite current ads and slogans, the world doesn’t change one person at a time. It changes as networks of relationships from among people who discover they share common cause and vision of what’s possible. When separate, local efforts connect with each other as networks then strengthen as communities of practice. Suddenly, and surprisingly, a new system emerges at a greater level of scale. And the system that emerges always possesses greater power and influence that is possible through plant incremental change. This system of influence possess qualities and capacities that were unknown in the individuals. It isn’t that they were hidden, they simply don’t exist until the system emerges.” — Margaret Wheatley
That’s the TechSoup Global Network. We are brought together by a common thread to improve the general well-being of communities we serve. And we do this by supporting change agents within nonprofits, social enterprises, activists, and advocacy groups. The sum total of all our identities, interventions, skill sets, and interests make the global network unique unlike no other. Through these relationships, we develop new knowledge, practices, courage, and commitment that leads to broad-based change in the spaces we occupy.
By applying these lessons of living systems, and working intentionally with emergence and its life cycle, we seek to demonstrate how local social innovations can be taken to scale and provide solutions to many of the world’s most intractable issues, such as economic resilience, climate change, food security, and many others. But like any living entity, networks also go through ascensions, plateaus, and descensions, juxtaposed by emerging trends, mostly shocks, or changes to its business environment.
To learn more about the TechSoup Global Network, you can follow the links below: