by Linda DeWolf – Co-founder GoPhilanthropic

One of the things we know for sure at GoPhil after having worked with some forty plus partners in eight different countries over the past six years is that those closest to the problems typically know the best solutions. We may think we know the answers, but rarely is that the case as there are usually so many nuances and other factors going on, especially when one is working in a different culture. Having said that, GoPhi has a strong commitment to listening and facilitating cross- learning and collaboration with a focus on nurturing and scaling small innovative programs. And never is that commitment more evident than when we witness our NGO partner organizations actively networking with one another and replicating some of their colleagues great models of care.

Hungry to Learn and Replicate

We recently saw this play out in spades when we facilitated our third annual SE Asia Network Gathering in Laos. This meeting, one of several ways we bring these programs together, was hosted by our partner LEOT, an organization always anxious to share and gain new knowledge. Partner programs from three countries ( Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam) came together to discuss common challenges they face, to talk about their programs and to learn from one another. Despite their geographic distance we found that the issues they dealt with were very similar and included things like funding core and operational programs, communications strategies, managing staff and how to best identify new education models that work. These topics all brought about lots of questions, note taking and many hours of lively discussion.

And because of our emphasis on the exchange of ideas, it has been especially gratifying to see practices replicated from one program to another including PEPY’s DREAM program to LEOT, ODA’s focus on art to CEF and LEOT and just recently several in the group are looking at adopting JWOC’S financial literacy materials.

Advice from a Donor

In addition to our meeting, we do manage to squeeze some time in for fun as well as to do a deep dive of our host organization. During our time together, our partners are always relieved and heartened to be reminded that they are not alone in their efforts; that there is a growing community of like-minded friends and colleagues out there to support and help them.  We were also fortunate to have one of our Founder’s Circle Members, Greg Kadel, attend the meeting this year. As a member of our Founder’s Circle, Greg got to see first hand and, very intimately, the kinds of issues our partners struggle with day to day. He provided great insights from a donor’s point of view, encouraging members not to be afraid to educate donors about challenges and issues that they face; a suggestion all found reassuring.

Introducing New Approaches:  Network Mapping

Coming together as a network also provides GoPhil with a unique opportunity to bounce ideas off our partners, delve into issues of interest and talk about new approaches and efforts. This year we exchanged our important communications strategies as well as ways we are creating new donor involvement opportunities, our focus on root cause and expansion of our networks and regions.

The network gathering also provided a great chance to introduce a concept to the group that we have been using to find new and innovative programs. Here we identify key issues, people and organizations we know (or would like to know) who are working on similar topics within a given region. We do this through a dynamic technique called network mapping. Mapping entails actually creating visual maps of relationships and then working to bring the connections between people and organizations closer together. This process has been used by various profit and non-profit entities for some time now but not so much, as we understand it, by other foundations, so we are pretty excited about the opportunities we see on the horizon.

Weaving New Relationships

Our team has been using mapping with great success for expansion into our new focus area of anti trafficking in SE Asia, Nepal and India and intend to continue to become more sophisticated in its use. And, as a weaver of relationships and programs, we see the wonderful and, sometimes absolutely serendipitous, things that can happen when we bring people together. With a thorough map of the people and organizations working on similar issues within an area, we can help facilitate a network’s ability to scale, spread and leverage their respective ideas, tools and resources. Just looking at a map, one can tell much more quickly than simply talking about it, where there are gaps in connectivity, where there may be relationships not realized and what next steps to take.

Having said this, mapping was a brand new concept to our SE A Network, and as a result, we decided to create our own map related to educational resources in the region. We were surprised to find that we had lots more ideas and connections than we thought we had and that there were many new contacts to be made.  Though our first stab at mapping was rather elementary, we do have next steps in place including reaching out to our known networks and exploring brand new possibilities for making connections to introduce to the group.

As network weavers, we believe that huge “AH-HA” moments and new, unforeseen opportunities will arise, enabling us as individuals and as a group to be more innovative and impactful.