I hate networking. There, it’s out. Being in international development has made it necessary, and actually presented great opportunities, for networking. Work required me to attend and give presentations in many workshops and conferences around the world. I do love conversations and meeting and learning from people of diverse backgrounds. But being an introvert, finding my way in the crowd and presenting myself to strangers and making small talk, is not exactly the most pleasant experience. Ok, I will get straight to the point. First, you can never get away with networking. It will permeate both your professional and personal spaces. It’s part of your professional development design at Atlas Corps and in your host organization. Second, chin up. Given the right attitude, it could be a fulfilling experience. Take it from someone who hates people. Ok, that’s not true. I take that back.
By Ava Danlog August 12, 2017
So how did I shift to a more positive attitude towards networking? Language can significantly influence our thinking and attitude. As it turns out, there is a difference between networking and being part of a community. Mintzberg sums it up best – “networks connect; communities care”. Networking is mostly associated with elevator pitches, sort of like speed dating, and knowing the right people who will be helpful in your career. For me, it did come across as self-serving and careerist, and is thus one of the probable reasons for my aversion. On the other hand, over the past three weeks that I’ve been here, I realized that I was not merely meeting people and collecting business cards. We were actually learning from each other – gaining insights from each other’s work and fields of expertise and gaining a deeper understanding of issues and different advocacies. I learned about startups in Tunisia and Egypt, the main challenges surrounding youth and HIV in Africa, and innovative strategies on education in India. There is mutual respect and admiration for what each other is doing. We were not building a directory of people whom we can contact in the future, we were building relationships with the end view of continuously learning from each other and possibly collaborating for a better world. The fellowship actually provides an expanding community of fellows, staff, host organizations, local ambassadors and friends. It does take time and effort to develop genuine relationships, as this Linkedin article points out. Yet this is the heart of reaching out to others, and avoid “network individualism” where people communicate easily (thanks to technology) but struggle to collaborate. As Manville argues, real change can only come from collaboration, a shared purpose that supersedes individual needs, and accountability forged through commitment and continuity of relationships.