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Interaction Institute for Social Change—and a piece of Quaker history

April 4, 2008

My friend Amy sent me this interesting e-mail from the Interaction Institute for Social Change. I plan to check out the recommend books below.

“Networks are present everywhere. All we need is an eye for them.”

– Albert-Laszlo Barabasi, Physicist

Dear Friends,

Granville Sharp may not be a name with which you are familiar. Sharp was a musician and attorney who lived in London and who, in 1765, began an unlikely campaign to abolish slavery. Fueled by his experience of representing a 16-year-old slave who had been beaten and left for dead by his owner, Strong was moved to fight the prevailing social acceptance of the (mis-)treatment of some human beings as the property of others. For 18 years he led a tireless campaign, making little progress, and then he reached out to the Quakers. Tapping into this marginalized but nonetheless robust religious community of some 20,000 people living throughout England, Sharp was finally able to create a significant platform and catalyze a movement that successfully rendered slavery illegal in England in 1833.

For authors Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom, the story of Sharp’s partnership with the Quaker community is an illustration of the power of networks to spread an idea and mobilize people on its behalf. In The Starfish and the Spider, Brafman and Beckstrom write of numerous examples of the proven ability of networks to spread information, activate people, build resilience, and influence decisions. Their book joins a growing body of work echoing Barabasi’s words – networks are indeed everywhere, and they merit both our attention and our intention.

Here at the Interaction Institute for Social Change we are paying attention to and setting our intention based on what we are learning about network theory and its application to social change. We are designing and facilitating the work of social change agents who are intentionally tapping, activating and building on their social networks to create and implement effective strategies for action. For example,

  • In a small urban community, organizers and residents are creating an open network to better offer services, create opportunities for connection, and foster spaces for self-organized social and political action.

  • A foundation has initiated a network mapping and building process among nonprofit leaders by funding a fellowship program to intensify connection, trust, and relationship while fostering previously unexplored possibilities for collaborative action and innovation.

  • A partnership of philanthropists concerned about environmental issues is looking to build and connect to a network of stakeholders that can pool resources, create shared visions, and ratchet up their impact.

  • Grassroots activists, scholars, and funders concerned about the state of US foreign policy have created a network that convenes itself and shares resources in order to reframe peace and security issues and regain lost political relevance and effectiveness.

At the heart of IISC’s methodology is our commitment to tapping the power of participation and in the collaborative principle that we should all be participants in the decisions that affect our lives. The freedom of decentralized networks and the emergent power in self-organized systems are clearly taking our field in a new and exciting direction. We are integrating these lessons into our work with multistakeholder change efforts, organizations, schools, and communities, and into new versions of our Facilitative Leadership® and Facilitating Change™ workshops. It is also our goal to build a new training experience for “network weavers.”

IISC has a deep belief that we must take our change efforts to scale in order to confront the global crisis that is at hand. And we believe that our change efforts must be rooted in an unlimited love for one another and the planet. Network building not only takes change to scale but by necessity prioritizes the building of relationships of trust. These two factors are what is needed to realize the extraordinary potential of the new world we must and will build together!

Please stay tuned, and as always, feel free to send us your thoughts and reactions.
And thank you for your continued good and important work in the world.


Marianne Hughes

March 2008

Visit IISC’s website to learn more about us!

p.s. In addition to The Starfish and the Spider by Ori Brafman and Rod A. Beckstrom, we recommend the following books about networks, network theory, and network building:

Net Work: A Practical Guide to Creating and Sustaining Networks at Work and in the World by Patti Anklam

Theory U: Leading from the Future as it Emerges by C. Otto Scharmer

Inside-Out: Stories and Methods for Generating Collective Will to Create the Future We Want by Tracy Huston

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