Weaving Ecosystem for Societal Change
The social sector has been experimenting with the idea of collective efforts- the idea of how different actors in the ecosystem (stakeholders, CSOs, government, academia) can come together to brainstorm and implement interventions on ground. This effort has manifested in numerous forms- collective calls, communities of practice, collective PMUs for projects, co authored public goods etc.
But there still exists a notion that weaving ecosystems and sustaining them is either not worth it or extremely difficult.
At ShikshaLokam we rely on collective action, it’s a non-negotiable approach. We have had a very interesting and insightful journey in weaving ecosystems over the past 5 years. I want to highlight a few key principles to keep in mind ( which has worked for us)-
- Keeping the objective micro
Often ecosystems come together and engage on broad ideation terms and eventually die down. It’s important as an ecosystem orchestrator that you have a simple, tangible, time bound objective in mind that you wish to drive in these engagements. It can do various things for example- brainstorming on a problem statement, getting feedback on an asset, building a Table of content/roadmap for a project etc etc.
Keep it specific, structured and simple.
- Know your boundaries
- Be cognizant of when your engagement with the ecosystem is widening and be cautious to sense whether the partners are okay with it.Ensure that everyone in the engagement especially when you are all coming together,feel comfortable and energised.
- Know when to start, but definitely know when to stop
Ecosystem engagements need to be curated with a lot of precision- it has to connect with your partners on a logical as well as at a personal level. Often your partners may feel exhausted, confused, overwhelmed by the nature of what you are doing together. It’s important as an orchestrator to stop when there is need- either momentarily or if need be for a permanent basis. After all, it’s the ecosystem that decides!
- Diversity is key
Everyone in the sector is looking to participate in conversations that trigger new ideas, give diverse perspectives, help them in their vision, feel connected to the ground etc.Some as an orchestrator ensure you have different personas coming together- CSO leaders, thinkers, actual stakeholders, government officials etc.
- Crack the modality and medium
There is a notion that the ecosystem’s role majorly is to come together and brainstorm or discuss- there is nothing else that can happen. This is definitely wrong. It could be many things- experience field together, vent together, co-create a simple document together etc. As an ecosystem orchestrator ensure you create different experiences for your partners- online/offline.
- List promise and bargains for all
Social space is a demanding sector. Everyone is networking to drive their vision and in that journey broaden their horizons and come up with new ideas. Don’t expect your partners to come together to drive your vision ahead. Be clear on what you want from the experience and what the partner gets from it. Don’t keep it vague before the first call.Ensure some specificity is detailed, which can obviously evolve in the duration of the engagement. Your clarity brings credibility to the ecosystem effort and partners will contribute with a lot of enthusiasm.
- Make everyone feel important
Everyone loves validation and a sense of uniqueness. Ecosystem engagements are an amazing opportunity to spread this. As an ecosystem orchestrator, everyone feels important. Let them know why they have been invited/selected, how unique their contribution will be to the community. Find opportunities to give them credit- on a regular basis.
- Do your research, know who has to attend from each party
Ecosystem efforts die often when the wrong set of people come together. And when I say wrong, I don’t mean people who are not equipped, but just people who are not appropriate for the engagement. For example, if it’s a tech consultation call, it would be simply impractical to call an academic consultant from a CSO. As an ecosystem orchestrator, ensure you do your research of all your partners and when you reach out to them, let them know who would be the ideal representative. It saves thinking time for the organisation as well, which is always good!
- Make it celebratory
Social sector professionals are working in extremely difficult and often dire conditions. Everyone is dealing with a lot of uncertainties, delays, a sense of not having done enough or just frustrated that the impact they are seeking is not coming soon!
As an ecosystem orchestrator it’s pivotal that you flip this narrative for your partners- celebrate their small winds, share empathy for their failures, create spaces to talk nice things about their work, their vision, their practices in whatever way possible. Let them know that they are doing amazing work! A little positive iteration will go a long way.
- Communicate and show the efforts
Ecosystem engagements fizzle out when any of the partners feel that the orchestrator is shying away from putting efforts or just not communicating well enough. If you are planning to engage in the ecosystem be ready to communicate regularly, across mediums. Be ready to show that you are putting a lot of effort into making this experience happen. Go beyond the said structures to engage with ecosystem partners when you can, it helps build a sense of community that works with great sense of responsibility and accountability.