The power of networks, locally and globally

berzins_250By  Ansis Bērziņš

WINGSForum 2014 was another great chance to build existing and frame new networks and partnerships. The global philanthropic gathering gave the long awaited chance to meet peers from all continents and start new relationships. This is how, from my understanding and experience, networks start—with face to face meetings and personal trust.

WINGS has been described as a “network of networks”. This was seen in Istanbul. The chance to talk to people who engage daily with their peers and are familiar with situations in their countries is unique. Reaching beyond the fence of one’s yard is always valuable—even mandatory—for growth. WINGSForum offers this.

When I hear the word “networks”, I think both local and international. Our national networks provide the reason to meet globally, don’t they? Thus, it is important to stress that WINGSForum is a wonderful learning space for our own networks to develop.

New opportunities to collaborate, new projects, new ideas, events and shared values to promote—these are just a few examples of what’s gained from the global gathering, and I am happy to share this with my community foundation peers in Latvia.

One particular topic that spoke to me throughout plenaries and concurrent sessions was the importance of data. Barry Knight (CENTRIS), Larry McGill (Foundation Center), Jenny Hodgson (GFCF) and others gave great examples of why data matters, how it can be used, and how it helps our development. It is not just accountability and transparency that matter. For us, here in the Baltics and Eastern Europe, reliable data is a tool that explains what philanthropy is, what grantmakers do, and how these concepts can contribute to local communities.

Data can and does show that we are not alone. We can use data to position ourselves—our network and each one of our community foundations—in local communities and nationwide. Data also has the power to motivate. On one hand we can see where we are successful, and on the other we can see where to grow; “if my neighbour can, then we should as well!”

Within our CF Movement, we have struggled with data since the very beginning in 2006. We can all agree that summarised information is necessary to evaluate ourselves and to promote our network. But this takes time. We occasionally have discussions about the data we gather within our network. The main issues include how to structure the data (e.g. into which categories or topics grants should be divided), and how detailed that data should be.

We realise that detailed data is most useful, but also understand how limits in human capital require us to keep it simple. This is where resources like Barry Knight’s survey and the Global Philanthropy Data Charter become invaluable, in that they provide us with a framework from which to build our data structures.

WINGSForum 2014 gave good insight into the basics as well. For instance, what is a network and what are its functions? Does everyone need to cover it all? The Forum was a good reminder, especially for us—a voluntarily driven network of small foundations—that only we can (and indeed we must) define the purpose of working together.

Ansis Bērziņš is the Chair of Community Foundation Movement in Latvia and CEO of Valmiera Region Community Foundation.

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