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ENGAGE: Building and Harnessing Networks for Social Impact

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“Have you heard of ‘X’ organization? They’re doing interesting work that you should know about. You might even want to work together.”

Words like these abound between individuals at conferences, at industry events, in email, and, all too often, trapped in the minds of those who see the potential in connecting the dots. Bridging individuals, organizations, or ideas is fulfilling because these connections often result in value for everyone, sometimes immediately, but often over the long term. While many of us can think of that extraordinary network connector in our personal or professional circles, if asked to identify an organization that plays a similar role at scale, across multiple sectors, we may be hard-pressed to name more than a few—let alone understand how they do it well.

Since our founding over 100 years ago, The Rockefeller Foundation has endeavored to address the root causes of global problems, examining and intervening in these complex challenges with a strategic systems approach. Underlying this approach has been a recognition that no one stakeholder holds the single solution key to any problem and that addressing root causes requires both individual action and collaboration across a variety of actors. As we continuously reflect on our past to inform our future, we have noted the incredible value of network building grants and other forms of support such as the Bellagio Center that enable this diversity of actors to share perspectives, learn and debate so as to advance knowledge and generate new and innovative solutions.

In an effort to capture and codify the growing breadth of knowledge and experience around leveraging networks for social impact, the Monitor Institute, a part of Deloitte Consulting, with support from The Rockefeller Foundation, have produced ENGAGE: How Funders Can Support and Leverage Networks for Social Impact— an online guide which offers a series of frameworks, tools, insights, and stories to help funders explore the critical questions around using networks as part of their grantmaking strategy—particularly as a means to accelerating impact.

Grantmakers and other funders are in a unique position to see the various components of systems that can and should be connected when addressing complex social problems. They are increasingly recognizing and acting on their catalytic role as conveners of both likely and unlikely conversations and collaborations. The list of successful examples to learn from continues to grow, from funders supporting the reshaping of renewable energy landscapes, to others connecting social justice leaders as a means to propel a community of organizations forward at once. Acting through a variety of financial and other roles in supporting networks, they are increasingly leveraging networks as tools for catalyzing change at scale.

ENGAGE draws on the experience and knowledge of over 40 leaders and practitioners in the field who are using networks to create change; digs into the deep pool of writing on the topic; and mines the significant experience in working with networks that is resident in both Monitor Institute and The Rockefeller Foundation. The result is an aggregation and synthesis of some of the leading thinking in both the theory and practice of engaging with networks as a grantmaker.

Compelling examples on how the Foundation leverages the power of networks can be seen in the creation of formal network institutions like the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) and the Joint Learning Network for Universal Health Coverage, but also through more targeted and time-bound network engagement activities, such as enabling greater connectivity among grantees and unleashing the power of technology to surface innovation from loosely curated crowds.

Building and harnessing networks is more an art than a science. It is our hope that ENGAGE will enable grantmakers and other network practitioners to be more deliberate and thoughtful about how and when a network can help accelerate their work.

Naturally, we’re sharing this knowledge with our own networks and hope that you’ll share it with yours. Together with you, we hope to bridge the connection between this resource and the sea of practitioners who will benefit from it, ultimately helping us all be more effective in our efforts to promote the well-being of humanity around the world.

Visit ENGAGE: How Funders Can Support and Leverage Networks for Social Impact

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