Last week I was in Pittsburgh for 2010 GEO National Conference, "Unleashing Philanthropy's Potential: Smarter Grantmaking for Better Results." You can find detailed coverage at Sean Stannard-Stockton's Tactical Philanthropy Blog. I wrote about the keynote from Dev Patnaik on widespread empathy here.
I was honored to participate in a session called "The Funder's Role in Networks" designed by Diana Scearce, Monitor Institute, who spends a lot of time thinking about networks. The session was an introduction to the powerful work that can be accomplished working with networks - from stronger community ties, collective action, and coordinated services and breakthrough innovation. The session examined what networks mean to grant makers, many who are oriented to funding single organizations.
The session used a modified version of the World Cafe, developed Juanita Brown. This format is different from the traditional conference model of panels and speeches because participants get an opportunity to have a conversation about the topic. Here is the process as described by Kaliya Hamlin
The tables are set like a small cafe with 4-6 people per table. A conversation is put forward. with attendees spending 20 minutes at a table. At time’s end, a host is chosen to stay behind and summarize the conversation to the next group that comes to sit at the table. The other people move on to different tables and another round of conversation happens. At the conclusion of three rounds, the conversations are collected.
As people filled the room, they were greeted by a sign that encouraged them to sit a table with a topic that interested them. The topics were drawn from learning and tools developed by a community of practice of network funders, launched by the Hawai'i Foundation and the Monitor Institute. Some of the topics included:
- What is a grantmaker's role in networks it supports?
- How can a grantmaker catalyze networks?
- What does it mean to be a networked foundation?
The session kicked off with a brief presentation about networks presented by Diana. At each of the tables, there was a facilitator from the community of practice who lead a conversation about the topic. After 25 minutes, people at the table moved to another table. We were asked to jot down insights and share them with the facilitator who shared them with the full group.
It was energizing to have the gift of time to discuss a topic. The format is also an excellent networking opportunity and a way to spread learning. If you want to learn more about networks, check out the Working Wikily blog.
There is excellent coverage of the conference over at the Tactical Philanthropy blog. Here's a few posts from conference sessions well worth reading:
Foundation Dashboards and Scorecards
by Gale Berkowitz
Nonprofit Next: A Model Conference Session by Stephanie McAuliffe
Effectiveness = Empathy + Evaluation by Tom Kelly
Philanthropy and Communities of Color by Kathy Reich