In the face of complex social and ecological issues, such as systemic oppression, climate change, and poverty, single actors are hard pressed to have much impact. This is why at IISC, we agree with futurist Andrew Zolli when he says the unit of action in the 21st century is the network not the organization.
Working through networks calls on a specific set of skills and sensibilities that may or may not be present in organizations and communities. This includes leading with building relationships and trust across boundaries (geographic, cultural, disciplines), understanding existing patterns of connection and what these facilitate in terms of outcomes and possibilities, creating space for open conversation and emergent thinking, valuing contributions over formal credentials, and embracing diversity and divergence.
In order to build a diverse, distributed, and resilient network capable of tackling complex change, we must attend to creating greater connectivity (trust building, information sharing, learning), alignment (shared identity and value proposition), and collective action (advocacy, education, leveraging new markets and resources, launching new initiatives). Evidence from our experience at IISC, is that as people feel more connected and aligned, the thought of collective action becomes that much more inviting and its potential impact that much greater and longer lasting.
Furthermore social change work is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s not simply about creating campaigns to change policy, but rather developing “movement networks” where long-term trusting relationships are created which continuously generate new energy though contributions and exchange of ideas amongst the network’s elements.