This article was originally published in the December 2012 issue of Alliance magazine. The original article can be found here. For more information about subscribing to Alliance, please visit www.alliancemagazine.org/subscribe.
Networks have been the buzzword of the last decade. But what do networks really mean for philanthropic work and what can philanthropists do for networks? Where does their promise lie?
What sort of investment is required to utilize the ‘power of networks’?
Network scientists in the fields of sociology, computer science, physics, biology and ecology have gained deep insights into the nature of networks in the last 20 years. In this special feature, some of the most illustrious representatives from the worlds of science, management and philanthropy share their insights. The guest editors themselves combine these different worlds.
So what are networks? Simply put, everything that is made up of relationships can be called a network. People work together or not, exchange information or not, are friends, enemies or indifferent to each other, trust each other or not – all those relations form what can be described as a network. There are an infinite number of such positive, negative or neutral transactions and relationships in both the human and the non-human world.
Why should philanthropists care about this complex web of interaction? First, networks are probably the most important factor in human economic survival and happiness. Human beings are literally not capable of living without social networks and we as philanthropists should care about those who are deprived of the social capital they provide. But there is a more functional reason why we should be interested in understanding networks: in order to reach our philanthropic goals, we invest resources, but those resources depend for their effectiveness on a network of people setting the right goals, defining the right tasks, identifying and responding to opportunities, working together even in difficult environments. How many projects fail because people do not cooperate due to status rivalry, a do-it-alone mentality or mistrust? How many projects get stuck because of lack of openness and innovation? How many resources are wasted because projects never reach critical mass?
Guest editors for Alliance special feature: Harald Katzmair, Executive director of FAS.research – Understanding Networks; Chet Tchozewski, Founder of Global Greengrants Fund and member of the boards of the Council on Foundations and the Environmental Grantmakers Association.