Nonprofit Collaboration: How relationships drive small batch social enterprise

By Ryan Galloway
The Brief
As the world becomes increasingly connected, its biggest issues may be solved not by governments and corporations, but by networks of passionate collaborators.

Social media has been hailed as the next major catalyst for social change. Ditto crowd funding Microlending, too. And while each has tremendous potential for both fundraising and marketing, none is the magic bullet for social enterprise. No matter how many platforms and tools are designed for the nonprofit sector, positive change still requires one of humanity’s oldest institutions: relationships.

Actual human relationships—the face-to-face variety, not the kind forged by Facebook or kickstarter—have a uniquely powerful ability to generate revolutionary ideas. The guiding principle is simple: People who are passionate about a cause often know others who share that passion, and shared passion plus diverse backgrounds (the mark of an effective network) generate creativity. While there’s certainly value in a grand scale approach, smaller groups of likeminded individuals can innovate and execute best because they can more directly and efficiently tap each other’s networks.

This is what Nonprofit Quarterly’s Brian Cognato calls “small-batch social enterprise.” He says a concise, relationship-centric approach, though lacking in “the broad audience of heroic social enterprise” that the big do-gooders (think: TOMS and Kiva) draw on, makes the most of “modesty and locality,” which speaks  to today’s DIY culture. Cognato continues,

This is the story of co-ops and Community Development Corporations (CDCs), and the partner neighborhoods of Enterprise Community Partners, which attempts to bridge the private and public sectors to develop affordable housing in thriving communities.

If small-batch social enterprises may be slow growth by definition, the concept at least seems to be taking off. Austrian start-up Impact Hub is facilitating a more modest approach by providing space, resources and networks for those interested in driving social change. Calling itself “part innovation lab, part business incubator and part community center,” Impact Hub is banking on the potential of small, network-driven enterprises that will add up to large-scale change as they spread across the globe. So far, the gamble has paid off: a single hub in London has blossomed into more than 50 worldwide locations, and another 20 are on the way.

Let large-scale social enterprise continue to be dominated by players like TOMS. There’s plenty of room in the space for small organizations as well, especially at the local level. Flexible, agile, and unburdened by organizational baggage, network-driven enterprises are poised to make their own noise in the very near future.

The Takeaway: Think local before you go global. If corporate partnerships or other large-scale social enterprise isn’t an option, examine your personal and business networks for opportunities to organize passionate people on a smaller scale. The best ideas are born of well-connected diverse experiences and expertise.


Ryan Galloway oversees content for The Hired Guns, a digital marketing and talent consulting firm in New York City. He has written for Business Insider and Forbes.com and is a frequent contributor to this blog.
RelSci helps create competitive advantage for organizations through a crucial yet vastly underutilized asset: relationship capital with influential decision makers.

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