Networking advice + tips for (and from) social entrepreneurs

So it's Global Entrepreneurship Week this week. And it's a week chock full of events, press releases, statistics and more. Our own contribution came this morning with a live videoconference between SSE students in London and Sydney, using CISCO's Telepresence system in their offices. Given where we were (the world leader in networks) and what we were doing (connecting  / learning / sharing), the theme of the dialogue was about networking: advice, tips, stories and thoughts about the importance of it for social entrepreneurs. I was excited about that, and about using the system they use in 24 :0)

We had half a dozen social entrepreneurs in each city, from a range of backgrounds and working on a range of different projects (hello Wale, Junior, Ryan, Saritha, Farah, Janine, Nikki, Tracey, Nicole, Jason; see London and Sydney programmes for more details). They heard first from foremost Australian social entrepreneur Steve Lawrence (now working as Executive Officer at ASIX, who helped set up the event today) on his tips and learning and feelings about networking. Steve had some great contributions, including:

– there are "lovers" and "tourists" in business, and lovers are the ones who are passionate about it, will follow up and make the most of connections

– that he tends to ask questions, to help discover what matters to the other person and find what they're passionate aboute

– that he always writes something about the person / conversation on the business card when he gets it (particularly important at events where you come away with a stack)

The social entrepreneurs from both sides then shared their thoughts and experiences, which covered a lot of interesting ground. This included the importance of creating authentic connections (and being authentic in your interactions), of following-up (and being purposeful in your networking), and on the need (at times) to be persistent when it seems worth it. There was also the point that generosity to others, such as connecting two other people at an event, normally repays itself (in a good karma kind of way). There was also the excellent advice to be responsive and thankful in your interactions.

The conversation moved on to authenticity, and the genuineness of networking. Understanding people's passions requires to be genuinely interested and on a positive motivation…not smiling and waving while you look over the person's shoulder for someone more important. There is a difference, it was said, between a coffee-fuelled speedy effort to buttonhole people, and an authentic, 'whole-person' conversation over tea. One quote in this context was "be yourself and you will meet the people who are right for you". There were further key points about being concise and relevant (you can be genuine, but also be concise in what you say): being able to get across what you need to swiftly is crucial. 

The final bit of the conversation focused on cultural differences, and how it was important to be respectful and knowledgeable of practice and custom internationally. A couple of the social entrepreneurs, who both work overseas, felt that this was crucial to success for their project, be that about religion, belief systems, customs, language or about devolving and delegating power to ensure the project sustains. The linguistic challenge was also seen in social entrepreneurship more generally, with jargon and vocabulary sometimes being a barrier to progress and good contacts being built (one felt that social entrepreneurs themselves were bridgers and translators in effect, between communities and the corporate / estbalished third sector world).

There was also an interesting insight into working with Aboriginal communities, and the amount of sign language (hand signals, eyebrow raising etc) that is used to communicate. Which brought us back to face-to-face vs. online, with the general consensus that online was useful, but couldn't replace face-to-face (which was reinforced by the very technology we were using) in terms of achieving authentic, trusted relationships. The kind of relationships on which social entrepreneurs thrive. 

We hope to have the video up soon, and thanks again to Martin and the team at CISCO for making it happen. What was exciting to me was to see the culture of openness and honesty reflected in both groups of social entrepreneurs, and to be running an event where learning and knowledge were being shared witha  purpose, rather than being just a launch or talking shop.

The Anglo-Australian top 10 networking tips for social entrepreneurs:

  1. Be authentic and genuine
  2. Bring your whole person
  3. Be generous to others (it will repay)
  4. Ask questions and understand the other person
  5. Be patient and (as appropriate) persistent
  6. Always follow-up: make the most of the contacts you make
  7. Be respectful and attentive
  8. Use online networks to broker or bed down relationships, but not to replace face-to-face
  9. Be honest and open, and that will be mirrored
  10. Be concise and relevant

The top 5 quotes from this morning's event

  1. "If you're generous to other people, it repays. I think it's a universal law" – Junior
  2. "Sometimes you feel like the ugly one at a speed-dating event" – Ryan
  3. "A night on the turps" or "Hit the turps" (Australian colloquial: to get drunk) – Jason (et al)
  4. "You don't go in playing golf, you go in playing ultimate wrestling" – Nikki
  5. "You have to kiss a lot of frogs before a prince comes along" – Saritha (via Colin Crooks)

[btw, on the same subject, you can check out SSE CEO Alastair Wilson in the recent issue of Social Enterprise Magazine, and I also very much liked this post on The Key to Powerful Relationships]

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