Network $ustainability

April 12, 2012 Leave a comment

Compared to my post from yesterday, this certainly feels like a big shift, going from the sublime to the tactical.  At a recent gathering that I facilitated, members of the steering committee of a food system change initiative, local and regional funders, and members of other organizational networks came together to discuss ideas for ensuring the long-term financial sustainability of the committee’s work around ensuring community food security.  We came at this from a few different angles, including a conversation about actual and perceived constraints and challenges to supporting this kind of net work.  Here is a taste of what came up, which resonates with what I am hearing in other networks as well:

  1. Perceptions from the community that we are taking resources away (sometimes based on past experiences of this actually happening).
  2. Network members competing for resources with one another and the collective as a whole.
  3. Perceptions of resource scarcity/limited landscape.  The feeling that all we are doing is carving up the pie in smaller and smaller pieces, rather than growing it.
  4. Timeline and funding cycles.  Are funders/investors in this for the long-term?
  5. Not going beyond traditional philanthropy and developing the shared capacity for social entrepreneurship.
  6. Funding for more systemic approaches is attractive and people don’t know how or where to direct resources (they need education).
  7. Matching resources with the intention of givers (providing multiple opportunities depending on the proclivity of donors).
  8. There are a variety of capital needs with different constraints and restrictions.  It is important to figure out how you get and where you need the most control.
  9. Making sure that funds actually get to the community and the beneficiaries who are most in need.
  10. An anti-business mentality that has us, among other things, failing to see the lost value of exchange in our current transactions.

On the flip side, we talked about ways of addressing and working with these constraints and challenges, without drawing any absolute conclusions.  Here is some of what came up:

  • Helping people to develop more systemic and network-centric perspectives that get them out of their silos and thinking about how optimizing the whole benefits everyone.
  • Really focusing on trust and relationship-building.
  • Embracing a spirit of social entrepreneurship and examining the flow and lost value of exchange in the current system.
  • Looking at un- or under-used assets.
  • Keeping the voice of those most impacted by the issues we are here to address central in decision-making and funding conversations.
  • Engaging in on-going conversation about the systemic nature of the issues and what this means in terms of “interventions”.
  • Continuing to explore existing and innovative funding models.

More to come, and eager to hear thoughts and ideas about the problem or solution side.

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  • Cynthia Silva Parker says:

    One more thought about money, to paraphrase a participant in a meeting long ago. “Money can really foul things up!” Meaning, a network that comes together to share its own visions, resources and talents can do some powerful things. Once money is introduced that is independent of the participants/is sought by the whole, a whole other set of dynamics (including the ones Curtis mentioned above) can come into play.

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