The Emerging Field of Network Weavers

by Deborah Fishman

After in-depth conversations with around 30 network-weavers in the Jewish world as part of my Network-Weaver Series, I have seen that there are a lot of really passionate people building networks that are quite impressive – and the term “network-weaving” resonates with many of them quite deeply. It puts a descriptive word to what they do in connecting others toward a greater cause; and more importantly, it acknowledges that they are not alone in doing it.

On a parallel level, more and more organizations are becoming aware of the possibilities of working with networks that can drive forward causes and campaign, build and unite communities, and provide support and resources that bolster Jewish identity. Yet there is confusion and imprecision in terminology – most notably, the term “network” itself. Once a network is properly understood to be a system of interconnected individuals or groups who share some factor(s) in common, it is not always clear how to integrate work with networks into one’s day-to-day activities.

How do we support and strengthen the execution of this role in our organizations, and in the community as a whole? Based on my conversations, I believe three parallel tracks are necessary to make the Jewish world’s already invaluable efforts – in education, social services, community-building, social justice, and on – more effective and connected:

  1. Training: Organizations, their leadership, and their professionals well-positioned to build and sustain networks should gain a greater understanding of how networks operate and how to work in a networked way. This training will be most effective if it includes a continuum of learning the theory and practicing it in action.
  2. Connecting: Network-weavers across organizations need to be connected to support one another, share frustrations and best practices, find resources (including people, information, and funds), and collaborate;
  3. Professionalizing: These steps and others will build toward the professionalization of the field of Jewish network-weaving – which will create a commonly accepted terminology of network-weaving, its challenges and benefits. With this understanding, it will become more standard for organizations to incorporate network-weaving into their job descriptions and their strategy.

The fact is that professionals across the spectrum of Jewish nonprofits are already weaving networks – that is, connecting people with resources and each other for greater goals. Communications and alumni relations professionals and those in outreach, education, and young adult engagement are just some examples.

In my interviews, I have observed many common themes amongst those who excel at network-weaving positions. These include a desire to get to know others due to an insatiable curiosity for and fundamental love of people; a knack for retaining knowledge about others so as to formulate helpful connections between disparate parties on the spot; and an ability to employ these talents and others for the sake of driving forward projects, and ultimately missions.

Yet while many of the network-weavers I interviewed spoke of the innate and intuitive “people skills” their work entails, there are tools, technologies, as well as theory and strategy behind building networks, which have a firm academic foundation that can be learned and applied. Furthermore, I believe that network-weaving throughout the Jewish world will become increasingly effective as network-weavers learn to practice a greater degree of intentionality – a consciousness first and foremost of the larger vision they are seeking to achieve, and then an understanding of how networks operate and how they can be strategically leveraged toward those goals.

The process of training, connecting, and professionalizing that I have laid out will help those who are currently in network-weaving roles to become more effective – as well as those who are naturally adept at network-weaving characteristics (such as relationship-building) and would like to fill professional network-weaving roles to grow into them. This, therefore, would also tremendously benefit the organizations network-weaving positions are housed in, and the Jewish world as a whole.

Considering that so many organizations and individuals are currently exploring the path of building networks, I believe it only makes sense to find ways to weave our efforts together. Network-weaving sounds highly theoretical until you try to put it into practice. At the point when talk begins to translate into action, everyone will need to support one another through the challenges and combine our energies and resources toward the solutions.

What do you think needs to happen in order for this field to be professionalized? What do you need in your organization and/or as a network-weaver? How have you created organizational change, and what do you dream of for the future?

If you would like to be a part of these efforts, please contact me!

Deborah Fishman is a network weaver interested in new opportunities to create change in the Jewish world. She was most recently Editor and Publisher of PresenTense Magazine; cross-posted on Deborah’s blog, hachavaya.blogspot.com and on the Darim Online blog, JewPoint0.org.

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