WINGS As a Network of Stars—Using connected philanthropy to chart the development galaxy

The latest in our web series, Road to Istanbul: A journey through networked philanthropyconsiders the WINGS global network as a complex system of stars, and how we might use this metaphor to think about new collaborations.


By Chris de la Torre

On Wednesday an international team of astronomers announced that Fomalhaut A, part of a triple star system roughly 25 light years from Earth and one of the brightest stars in the southern hemisphere skies, is now one of two stars in that system with its own comet belt. Fomalhaut C, the red dwarf (or ‘weakest’ star of the three), also has a comet belt, suggesting that the gravitationally bound stars might relate in ways as of yet unknown.

I should add that I’m not an expert in astronomy, and skimming through stories this week about Fomalhaut has only made me a touch more knowledgable on the subject. But today it’s not the technical science I’m thinking about. I’m instead curious about how this latest discovery might relate to global networks and what OECD netFWD’s Bathylle Missika has called “the development galaxy”, or “Milky Way”.

I was a big fan of astronomy growing up. My father routinely asked my brother and I to write reports between school terms to keep our research skills fresh, and one of my favorites was the planets. I found something about alien environments and the unknown intriguing. That’s why Missika’s September blog post for WINGS, “A Lesson In Astronomy—Why Post 2015 could be an opportunity to rethink the Milky Way”, resonated. Missika pointed out that foundations are now on the development scene, partly because of the role they play in pulling people and resources into “constellations” of different shapes and sizes. While it’s unclear exactly how these partnerships and coalitions might work with key development players to influence sustainable growth, there’s no doubt that the road cannot—and will not—be traveled alone.

Just like Earth revolves around the Sun, other planets in other solar systems revolve around their suns (we call these “exoplanets”), and the interaction between these planetary bodies, their stars and debris in their systems, affects their development. This is further evidence of the importance of diversity in shaping the material universe.

At its most reductive level, this cosmic scenario can be compared to a global network like WINGS, in that we pull various players together from around the world to nurture relationships and grow ideas, and that we all affect each other and evolve both collectively and independently, learning from our relationships as we go. But you can take it a step further and think of WINGS as a network of stars, because our membership represents about 150 ‘solar systems’—each with its own unique history and planetary formation—and we’re growing. It’s something I think the WINGS logo conveys nicely—the stars influencing the growth and evolution of these philanthropic planetary systems—stars as WINGS members, planets as their members.

In September a core group of stakeholders convened at the Ford Foundation in New York to discuss how philanthropies and their civil society partners could contribute to the future development agenda, which renews in 2015. At the meeting Missika, Head of OECD netFWD, joined WINGS Executive Director Helena Monteiro and other key representatives from the European Foundation Centre, the Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation and the UNDP, in a commitment to encourage collaboration between philanthropies and multilateral organisations on development goals.

These multilateral organisations represent their own planetary systems, complete with unique histories and formations. And in the rapidly evolving world of global philanthropy, we know that charting stars is just the beginning. It’s exciting global initiatives like the Post 2015 Development Agenda that now challenge us to map routes of collaboration between systems like never before.

Meanwhile, with a slightly different take on the ‘planetary system’, Ashoka’s Felix Oldenburg describes investees and investors as occupying different worlds, isolated, disconnected from each other—something he shared at the 2013 EVPA Conference in November (streetfootballworld’s Jürgen Griesbeck wrote about it for Alliance magazine, here). Oldenburg says “funders live worlds apart, in largely self-contained systems with their own ways of doing things” (Forbes). Conceptually, his planetary system metaphor isn’t so different from what’s happening 25 light years away, where two out of three Fomalhaut stars share attributes yet reside light years apart, separated by mystery.

The possibility that other stars might influence the formation and evolution of planetary systems inspires a new metaphor. Imagine stars as networks, or systems, that influence the formation and evolution of their participants, or planets, conjuring up a cosmic belt of revolving players—partners, funders, individuals and others—who no doubt play a role in that system’s development. This gives us a new way of thinking about what it means to be a ‘network of networks’, and what that might mean for creating new alliances and coalitions, underscoring the exciting (and at times daunting) reality that what we do influences and facilitates the work of so many.

In less than 100 days, key players from around the world will convene in Istanbul for WINGSForum 2014: The Power of Networks. This will be an exciting time for us to think about new modes of collaboration, but it will also give us an opportunity to connect solar systems, all the while using our rich diversity as a tool with which to chart the galaxy.

Chris de la Torre is Managing Editor for WINGS. Follow him on Twitter @urbanmolecule.

Road to Istanbul—A journey through networked philanthropy charts the course of global philanthropy over the weeks leading up to WINGSForum 2014: The Power of Networks. Co-hosted by Third Sector Foundation of Turkey (TUSEV), diverse actors from the world of philanthropy will converge on Istanbul from 27-29 March to discuss emerging trends and other issues important to the sector. Follow on Twitter with #WFnetworks. Register for the event here.

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