February 3, 2022
“There’s a lot of love in our network, but not enough care”, “We don’t have enough money to cover our admin costs this year”, “People are here for the connections and are not aware that they require a minimal common structure to maintain them”, “The members of our network are getting more and more paid-projects through the network, but common finances are decreasing each year”, “People take the care needed to sustain a healthy community for granted”.
If you’ve ever been in a supporting role related to finances or value flows in a community or network, you can surely relate to some of these situations.
That’s why a couple of years ago a few colleagues and I decided to create a course that would support networks to intentionally work on their money and value flows. It’s called Thriving Networks.
We’re aware that there are many more elements that are needed for a network to thrive, but we wanted to bring attention and inquiry in these areas (money and value) and so in 2021 we started with the first two cohorts.
This article provides an overview of the framing of the course and why we have chosen this focus.
After many years of working in communities and networks, struggles around value and money flows are some of the most common patterns we have seen. We work hard building mini-systems that fight the scarcity of the socio-economic system we live in, yet inevitably, those scarcity patterns reappear in the systems we create.
There are many reasons for this, and over the years one key element that we have seen provoke deeper reflections and give us a vocabulary to have challenging discussions is the work on commoning and money.
For some readers, it might be painful to see these two words together. We are critical about the money system altogether, but since we operate in a context where it’s necessary to deal with it and, many of the networks we are in or in touch with avoid the topic or are not relating to it in a strategic way, we decided to take this approach.
This course is not for just any type of network, but what we’re calling “purpose networks”: from professional to livelihood-focused networks, online to locally rooted communities, communities of practice or interest, to “neo-guilds”, movements, to DAOs (decentralized autonomous organizations). What they all share is that they have a larger purpose and intention to catalyze action, beyond connecting people and organizations; people and planet wellbeing are at the center.
We don’t think that in the complexity of networks it’s possible to find a perfect model or solution. There is no network out there that has figured this all out, a “perfect thriving network”. We have been developing a set of elements through our experience in our own networks, the ones we have worked with and the +35 networks that have gone through the first 2 cohorts of the Thriving Networks course. These elements are not complete and they might differ depending on the network’s culture; these are also not boxes to be ticked. Thriving networks might be in tension with some of those elements, but they are aware of it and look for ways to deal with those tensions and imbalances.
Of all of these elements, the Thriving Networks course focuses on money and value flows. To understand the role these two elements play in networks, we like to use the metaphor of water running through the swales of a permaculture field.
This is not a permaculture field. It’s water running through a landscape, fostering life wherever it goes.
A first step is to work on building awareness around:
And here are some experiences and mechanisms that support groups to reflect on their relationship to value and money:
In permaculture we build swales to channel the water where it’s needed. Likewise there are structural elements that are necessary in networks to channel the value and money flows, once we are aware of them:
To support these structural elements, we show and use tools and mechanisms developed and used by networks around the world. Among others, these are:
Peter Koenigs “source” concept suggests that each initiative (a network, for example) has a source; someone who started the project with a specific intention. That person holds the vision of the initiative, and much like a gardener, takes cares of their creation and provides direction for it. This concept might sound counterintuitive to the idea of distributed power and is not free of controversy, but in our experience, acknowledging the “source” can actually unlock collective leadership capacity.
There are two main elements that we do touch on in the course indirectly, because they are the basis of the ecosystems we create in our networks:
To continue with the metaphor, commoning & power could be the soil of our permaculture field, we need to constantly give it the care it needs to be a proper basis for what we want to grow.
We’ve put a lot of care and effort into developing the course, but we’re aware (and happy!) that the most valuable experiences participants get are the relationships built during the course. Network leaders from all over the globe are able to share their experiences and learn from each other at a deep level. They go through group dynamics and personal discovery journeys and become the biggest source of learning for each other.
This is the permaculture garden we want to keep caring for so that many more networks can thrive.
If you would like to experience this for yourself, check out our upcoming dates for our next cohort of Thriving Networks.
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