Friday, November 08, 2013

Building "Network of Networks"

In the opening comments to Monday's Tutor/Mentor Leadership and Networking Conference, Brandon Bodor, Executive Director of the Illinois Commission on Volunteering and Service, talked about the need to build a "network of networks" connecting more of the people and ideas related to the work we are each trying to do.

I've been maintaining a database of non-school tutor/mentor programs operating in the Chicago region since launching the Tutor/Mentor Connection in 1993. I share this information using maps and an on-line directory so anyone can find and connect with any of these organizations, and so leaders can build strategies that support existing programs while helping new programs form where there are voids.

I've also been building a web library with information people can use to better understand where programs are most needed, and ways they can help programs constantly improve. This concept map shows part of that library, which now contains more than 2000 links. When I host a conference my goal is that people from the different organizations and web sites I point to will volunteer to share their own expertise, while using the conference to connect with others doing similar work.

Over the past 18 years I have seen numerous intermediary organizations form in Chicago who had goals of helping kids in poverty. Some still exist. Others ran out of funds and disappeared. I created this concept map to show some of the intermediary organizations and networks I'm aware of. These represent the "networks" that Brandon was referring to who need to be connected to each other in a "network of networks".

I've created dozens of visualizations over the past 20 years, like this one, to illustrate a goal of helping kids from first grade to a first job and steps toward a career.

I include these graphics in blog articles, and in illustrated articles on At some point in the future, my hope is that you could find a graphic similar to this on the web site of anyone who is working to help every youth in the Chicago region move more successfully through school and into a 21st or 22nd century job.

Network building is a process. It requires building a list, a web library, a database, etc. showing who else is involved in doing similar work. And it involved sharing this information on a regular basis so others can use it. It involved organizing events, like the Tutor/Mentor Conference so people can come together and network and share ideas with each other. This PDF essay shows some of the steps I've taken to build this network. I think others could apply these ideas in their own efforts and at different times each year we might find ways to gather together.

Ideas for Expanding Network of People Working for Social Benefit by Daniel F. Bassill

As you look at this information I encourage you to create your own visualizations showing the information you share, the strategy of your youth organization or your corporate volunteer program. Recruit a team of youth and adult volunteers to create map stories during November and December, showing where tutor/mentor programs are needed, where your program is located, and ways volunteers and donors can help you with year end giving.

I'll be hosting another Tutor/Mentor Conference on May 19, but the next major event is January National Mentoring Month. If we keep repeating these events, and drawing more networks and network supporters together, we can increase attention and resources, and improve the distribution of resources in more neighborhoods.

If you attended Monday's conference, or if you were not able to attend, I hope you'll use the web resources I host in your own efforts and that you'll want to reach out and connect with me on web platforms or at a coffee shop in Chicago. Let's find more ways to give visibility to these ideas and draw more consistent support to the youth-serving organizations working in different neighborhoods.

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