Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach.
—CLARISSA PINKOLA ESTÉS, “Letter to a Young Activist During Troubled Times”
Developing our collective ability to navigate complexity and create meaningful change is the defining challenge of our time. Most people agree that we must work together to address our greatest challenges. But how can we make widespread collaboration a reality, not just an aspiration?
I believe that impact networks are the key. When developed with care, these networks can be catalysts for life-affirming, systemic change. Fortunately, the mindset and skill sets of network leadership can be learned.
The journey of network leadership begins when you’re faced with a complex challenge and recognize the need for greater levels of connection, coordination, and collaboration to address the issue at hand. It includes a realization that our old ways of working—such as top-down leadership, linear work plans, and predictable outcomes—are not adequate to the task. In this moment you become a catalyst, inviting a diverse group of people into co-creation to cultivate a new network.
After an initial convening, you may step into the role of facilitator to help the group cycle through each of the Five Cs, leading with humility and creating deep experiences that spark connection. Through this process, participants discover a common purpose that inspires contribution, and they sense into the core principles that will guide their work.
Next, you and others become network weavers, fostering relationships of trust that will sustain far into the future. People become much more willing to share information, discuss failures, and extend help when support is needed. A culture of reciprocity is born.
As the network grows, a critical task of network leadership is to provide coordination to integrate the network’s many moving parts into a unified whole. With an enabling infrastructure in place, the network is able to respond quickly when crisis hits, distributing resources to where they’re needed most. Participants self-organize into teams to implement strategies for change, with more leadership opportunities available to serve as team leads. Gradually, the entire network connects with others working on similar issues to catalyze transformation at larger scales.
This is how change happens: one step at a time. At first, progress may seem small, resembling new connections, new conversations, or moments of service that provide help in a time of need. Yet, these are the building blocks of collaboration. Without these, we cannot effectively advance the larger-scale transformation needed to create systemic change.
If there’s one thing I hope you take away from this book, it is this: trust-based relationships enable everything else that a network aims to achieve. When people begin to connect and co-create in new ways—bound together by the strength of their relationships—magic happens. Conversations that were previously impossible become possible. Alliances form between groups that used to consider each other competitors. Audacious goals become attainable, and impact emerges at the system level. If at any point you feel unsure about how to proceed, invest in relationships. To be a network leader is first and foremost to weave the threads that tie us together. This is how a fragmented system can become a creative, adaptive, interconnected whole.
Throughout your journey as a network leader, you will inevitably face difficulties along with joy and satisfaction. The process of cultivating impact networks can never be fully understood or complete. There are many ways to go about this work, and our opportunity is to practice and learn in community with one another.
If you haven’t already, I invite you to visit converge.net to access additional tools and resources in the Converge Network Toolkit. There you can dive deeper into network concepts that didn’t make their way into this book and receive invitations to network leadership learning experiences. You will also find opportunities to connect and share directly with other network leaders.
The need has never been greater for many more of us to learn how to catalyze, cultivate, and lead in networks. Let us answer the call of our time: to honor our interdependence; to invest in our capacity to work across difference; to cultivate resilient networks that foster more just, equitable, and vibrant systems. Together, let’s collaborate in service of a world that works for all.