Despite cliched phrases like ‘your network is your net worth,’ we rarely reflect on the actual riches that we each possess in our networks. Although it’s easy to take for granted the people in our circles, evidence reveals repeatedly how critical they are. Certainly, after months of being socially distanced from friends, family members, and colleagues, we have a renewed appreciation of how important our networks are to our health and well-being. But what role can they play in promoting the greater collective good?
One woman who’s devoted much thinking to this topic is Julie Kohler: writer, podcast host, and philanthropic and advocacy leader. Julie is passionate about creating positive change and believes we can all do more of it by tapping into the power of our own personal networks. Here’s how:

Your Network is More Powerful Than You Think

There is no type of advertising that can have as much impact as a trusted suggestion from someone you know and admire. Companies know this. It’s why they invest so much money in having people share their brands with their networks ($5-10 billion was estimated to be spent globally on influencer marketing in 2020 alone). So, if this is true in business, then think about what could be possible if we shared the causes about which we were passionate with our networks, and culled our networks for support in affecting positive change.
“I was taught to think of our networks as groups of individuals with unique resources that fall into three categories: time, talent, and treasure. Look to see who in your network has time to dedicate to a cause, a special talent like legal or design expertise they could offer pro bono, or treasure like financial resources to donate. Always remember that most people really want to make a difference, and they are more likely to respond to specific asks for support, especially when they align well with the resources they have to give,” shares Kohler.
Think carefully about the skills of those in your network and how they can be harnessed for good. Does an organization you care about need volunteers, web design, or new donors? A financial expert to lead their board’s audit committee? Supporters to join a rally or call their elected officials?
“Ask your network to make 2021 the year that they commit to doing one thing they’ve never done before to support an issue or cause you to care about and are sure they will too. Have them encourage those in their networks to do the same. Contributing positively to the world is also a great way to combat the ‘pandemic blues’ to help us feel more hopeful about the future.”

Unleash the Power of Your Story

Your story is powerful and uniquely yours. Have you thought about the ways that it can also be a tool for social change?
“It can be scary to reveal vulnerable things about ourselves, but doing so is what helps us make authentic connections with others, taps into our common humanity, and spurs action. There is a real hunger for authentic connection, and when we connect our personal experiences to causes we care about, the results can be profound.”
How? “First, determine why you are passionate about an issue. It’s probably because of something personal. Write that down. Then write a small paragraph or ‘elevator pitch’ explaining the importance of the issue and your personal connection to it. Next, integrate that into an email or social media post that outlines the specific ways that others can help. Your network will be more inclined to act when you have shown them why the issue is personally so resonant.”

Think Bigger: Focus on ‘Systems Change’

“Many of us direct the bulk of our charitable giving to organizations providing direct services to those in need like food banks, homeless shelters, or emergency resources to survivors of domestic violence. All of this is important, especially in the midst of a public health and economic crisis that has increased hardship exponentially and magnified all forms of inequality. But think of what would be possible if we devoted equal resources to addressing the root causes of such hardship. Many charitable organizations engage in ‘systems change’ work, organizing community members to develop proactive community solutions, pursuing legal strategies that advance justice, and advocating for policy change at the local, state, and national levels. Not only does such work address stubborn barriers to stronger and more equitable communities, but it also helps reduce the incredible demand placed on emergency relief services and builds a healthy and inclusive democracy.”
“Ask how the causes you support and want your network to support affect systems change. What percent goes to this? Then make 2021 the year in which you magnify your impact by devoting at least 50 percent of your giving (in the form of time, talent, or treasure) to changing systems, and encourage those in your network to do the same.”

Remember That Activists are Everywhere

Many people do not think of themselves as activists, but we are all capable of making a bigger difference than we realize. “We should never forget the ways that individual actions can add up to a huge collective impact. For example, it may be surprising to those of us who grew up hearing stories of the civil rights movement that the racial justice demonstrations of the past summer attracted more participation than any social movement in history,  with an estimated 15 to 26 million Americans reported joining the protests. Activating our networks can help build and sustain social movements that create a more just and equitable society.”
Activism encompasses a whole range of behaviors and often begins with everyday conversations about issues that matter to us. “Help support the budding activism of those in your network by serving as a ‘safe space’ in which people can build their ‘democracy muscles’ and gain confidence in their own voice. Whether it’s by encouraging participation in a virtual event hosted by a local community organization, inviting a friend into a private Facebook group that is working to affect change, or engaging in an informal conversation with neighbors and friends about community issues, look for ways that you can provide those spaces for others who may  be beginning their activist journeys.”
“We are trusted messengers to many people in our lives. Never forget that trust is, in many respects, the most powerful currency we possess for building a more just and equitable world.”

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