“Creating a culture of trust in a network can have a big payoff. Why is this so? First, when trust is well-developed in a network, people are willing to get involved in high-risk projects where their reputation and resources are at stake. These kinds of projects usually have a lot of impact. Next, high levels of trust usually make decision making easier and less time consuming. Finally, a culture of trust enables people to accept and work with people who are quite different from them, which increases the number of people working on network activities.”
- June Holley, Network Weaver Handbook
The importance and power of trust in networks for social change cannot be overstated. Time and again, and despite what might show up as initial resistance, being intentional about getting to know one another beyond titles, official positions, and transactional exchanges reaps tremendous benefit, for all the reasons June Holley mentions above and more. Taking time and making space to build trust helps people to do the important work of social change and is in many cases an embodiment of the change we are trying to make in the world – when we expand our circles of compassion and inclusion; when we create new patterns of opportunity, exchange and resource flows; when we see and validate previously unrecognized or undervalued assets.
At IISC, we find it important to recognize that developing networks for change has both a breadth dimension and a depth dimension. Certainly there are important “small world reach” and “rapid diffusion” elements to effective networks. And the depth dimension is what helps us to have difficult and essential conversations, fail forward together, and make bigger bets. Many of the so-called “new tools” are key to tapping the breadth dimension of networks – social media, network mapping, collaborative virtual platforms, etc. And we find that many tried and true old fashioned techniques are key to accessing the depth dimension:
- Breaking bread together, and giving people ample time to digest not only food but good conversation.
- Storytelling. I have a particular favorite way of inviting people to get to know one another through an exercise called “Seven Minute Life Stories.”
- “Drive time.” I have been struck by how much carpooling to meetings can generate trust and valuable reflections. Recently we took a regional “network team” on a walking tour of a local fishery which generated a lot of great learning and informal connection among participants as they organically moved in and out of small group conversations.
- Sharing gifts. I like to propose a practice of “making offerings” in many network convenings where people are invited to share something that is meaningful to them – a poem, an artifact of some kind, a story, etc.
- Making requests. The other side of making an offering is to make a request, to ask for help. Creating intentional space to say, “I’m struggling with __________,” or, “I need help with __________,” invites both vulnerability and deeper connection when people understand they can count on one another.
And so I would like to make a request and an additional offering. My request is for readers to share other ways that they have cultivated trust in their networks for change and stories about what this has enabled. And my offering is to pass along the poem below, by Naomi Shihab Nye, shared at a recent network team gathering:
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The Red Brocade
The Arabs used to say,
When a stranger appears at your door,
feed him for three days
before asking who he is,
where he’s come from,
where he’s headed.
That way, he’ll have strength enough to answer.
Or, by then you’ll be
such good friends
you don’t care.
Let’s go back to that.
Rice? Pine nuts?
Here, take the red brocade pillow.
My child will serve water
to your horse.
No, I was not busy when you came!
I was not preparing to be busy.
That’s the armor everyone put on
to pretend they had a purpose
in the world.
I refuse to be claimed.
Your plate is waiting.
We will snip fresh mint
into your tea.
-From 19 Varieties of Gazelle