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Successful Networking and Fruitful Collaboration: Part One

“How do you find the refugees who work for you?” The first time I was asked this question I had to stop and think. It dawned on me that I did not search them out. We have been working among refugees and displaced people for many years. I did not go find them, they came to me either by way of introduction or by seeking me out.


We have always made it a point when beginning a new work to research the various organizations and people working in the same geographical vicinity in similar fields of work. Years ago, this meant getting out phone books and showing up in offices. “Hello, my name is Nell Green. We are new to the area. We would like to learn more about you and the work you are doing.” This usually led to a follow up conversation over coffee or a meal. Always a key question in the conversation, “How might we collaborate?” Or, “How can we help?”


When we began Threads by Nomad and later The Off Ramp, we did not have to search out people. We made a few calls in the beginning. Area partners made suggestions. Word began to spread and people began coming to us and they still are. I am convinced that one of the reasons for this is the time and attention devoted not just to networking, but networking that leads to collaboration and relationship-building. I do not claim to be an expert in this field, but I thought I would share some of my tips for successful networking that leads to fruitful collaboration.


Here are the first five. We will share the next five next week!


1. Go outside your natural tendencies. I am an extrovert. That does not mean that just showing up cold on someone’s doorstep is easy. I will come up with absolutely every reason networking can be delayed. It is a place of vulnerability. You never know how you will be received. Nevertheless, someone has to make the first move and it probably is not going to be the other entity or person. It has been rare that I have not been well received. Those very few times that the reception was less than warm, I did not allow it to discourage further relationship building. Eventually even the most reluctant came around to some form of relationship.


2. Do the research. Thankfully we do not have to rely upon the phone book any longer. The internet and social media are absolutely amazing for this. Just this past week we had a call with a production company with likeminded ideals. They were researching on Instagram and came across our brand. They checked out our website. Read some of our blogs. Eventually they reached out and a conference call was arranged. I can’t count the number of times that we have learned about a unique work or brand via the internet and reached out to learn more. It really is that simple. Not everyone will respond. That’s okay. Once in a while you find a treasure.

3. There is always room at the bowl for one more. In Africa, we were taught a proverb that has served me well over the years, “There is always room at the bowl for one more.” In that communal society everyone in the house (no matter who is there) gathers around a large bowl and using their hand enjoys the meal of a grain and sauce. Sometimes there were a lot of hands reaching into one bowl. Nevertheless there was always room for one more. Do not be territorial. We say we are not, but we are. We are afraid that when we share we will lose something. Control or power or resources perhaps? We are stronger together rather than apart. I received a call about a new work in our vicinity. It was obvious that they were just getting started and wanted a lay of the land. They seemingly wanted some short cuts. Anxiety begins to build just a bit. Will they get our donors? Will their work infringe upon ours? Will we be recognized less? Why shouldn’t they have to go to the trouble we went to?

There is plenty of room at the bowl for all of us and there is plenty of food in the bowl. When you need to make room at the bowl, rather than apprehension, suggest people and organizations to connect with. Share the lay of the land and how you see the situation from where you are. Discuss the opportunities you see. Share your vision for the future. Will everyone treat the information you share with integrity? Maybe not. But that is their issue, not yours.


4. Cross the lines. Decades ago we made the decision that while we would hold to our core values, we would not be hindered from working with everyone who shared our purpose and vision. That meant working cooperatively with religious entities, government bodies, non-governmental agencies, the business world, etc. Will you be challenged? Yes. Do you agree on everything? Of course not. Find areas of agreement and work together effectively where possible. Successful networking and collaboration may not always mean agreement, but it does always mean respect. It does demand a basic trust that everyone is working towards good and not harm.

5. Be the learner. We have been doing this long enough that people I knew when they were born are now my colleagues. I sit in meetings where people are from different countries and cultures. I have worked alongside the poorest and the very wealthy. It would be easy to either be intimidating (and I have been accused of it) or be intimidated (and I have felt it). Make a conscious effort to adopt the position of a learner. Everyone has something to teach us. Every experience and relationship has value in helping us become better versions of ourselves.


Stay tuned for the next five tips early next week!


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