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Fellowship networks – a model for the future?

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  • Picture of Arrun Degenhardt
    Arrun Degenhardt
  • Fellowship
  • Fellowship in Action

A recurring theme of the 21st Century is crises, and a feeling of being overwhelmed at the thought of how to tackle them.

It is understandable that we feel this way, but we need not. Whilst it is in the interests of some that we don’t realise it, in many ways we have never been better placed to connect and collaborate to tackle the issues we face, and here at the RSA our Fellows are providing a model for how we can approach this.

Amongst the many crises we face, four stick out as perhaps the most reoccurring on a global scale:

  • Political representation – The widespread feeling that the current system does not represent the people any more, which many have attributed to the rise of nationalist populism in the global north, and notable countries in the global south. A report in 2016 concluded: “The world was battered by crises that fueled xenophobic sentiment in democratic countries, undermined the economies of states dependent on the sale of natural resources, and led authoritarian regimes to crack down harder on dissent. These developments contributed to the 10th consecutive year of decline in global freedom.”
  • Economic – Most strongly felt during the 2008 financial crisis and the malaise the world economy has been suffering ever since, the looming impact of automation and the ageing populations many countries face will further necessitate massive changes in how the economy functions to avoid a full scale crisis  

  • Climatic – The past four years have all been hottest on record, with 2017 continuing this trend.  This presents all humanity with the prospect of an unprecedented climate refugee crisis, a sixth mass extinction event which scientists believe we have already entered, food and water supply collapse, and normalised catastrophic weather events    
  • Spiritual – A spiritual crisis insomuch as we have seen rates of depression, anxiety and other forms of mental illness ravage our mental environment.  According to the World Health Organisation, mental and neurological disorders are now the leading cause of disability globally, to the point that we are "facing a global human rights emergency in mental health"

Study of social change shows people become most engaged and active in creating change when they are empowered - when their actions are felt and seen to have real efficacy.  It is in the empowerment of people where, despite everything, there is real cause for optimism.  New forms of communication technology, predominantly online forms, mean we are less restrained now by temporal and spatial barriers then at any other time in our history.   The ability this technology brings to share ideas, and collaborate to build solutions across borders, has created the space to harness the true potential of the network, and we are already seeing this take shape.  

Amongst the many initiatives happening all over the world, RSA Fellow-led networks are contributing to showing us how networks of likeminded people can collaborate to act on crises we face. 

On the spiritual crisis, the RSA Mindfulness Network is embedding mindfulness and active wellness in members' lives and communities.  (Now merged with another Network to form the Mindful Living Network.) The RSA Reinventing Work Network is building the ideas for how workplaces can be far more democratic and meaningful in people’s lives.

 The Sustainability Network is bringing together the expertise and skills of Fellows to work on sustainable solutions to the climate crisis, and the Street Wisdom Network is providing new ways to think about and engage with the urban environment.  RSA Engage events allow Fellows to pitch their projects and initiatives to other Fellows to build support and identify potential partners, and our online platforms allow Fellows to identify and connect with one another based off shared interest or location.

It is this model of collaboration, of pooling ideas and resources,and horizontal organisation, that best harnesses the potential of everyone to create change in their lives and in the world, and RSA Fellows are providing a model for just how this can work in practice.

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  • Well said Arun! We need to do more to make the RSA Networks you mention visible and accessible to all fellows via the smart use of digital platforms and communication technology. At the moment, each decides on what (if any) digital platforms and tools to use and this makes it hard for others to know what is going on or participate from a distance. With a few common collaborative platforms adopted by all RSA Networks, we would all have much greater access to data and opportunities to participate and share. We need to scale existing Networks to be global digital networks with the membership and resources capable of addressing the complex challenges you mention.

  • Hi Arun

    Thank you for bringing these thoughts together and highlighting practical examples we can look to. This afternoon a group of 5 Fellows (4 are brand new Fellows) connected with June Holley in Ohio over a Zoom chat. We discussed the potential for using June's Network Weaving approaches, roles and tools (see https://www.networkweaver.com) to nurture and spread networks of RSA Fellows and others. We will begin with an invitation to a cohort of new Fellows involved in the RSA's Health as a Social Movement work. We'd love others (from around the world) to join us in network weaving exploration and experimentation. If any readers here are interested they can contact me on twitter (@dosticen) or email: lorna.prescott@council-rsa.org.uk 

    • Hi Lorna. Great to hear this initiative. There have been several related discussions on the Fellow's Forum re Network Weaving led by David Wilcox so I'm wondering whether you might want to create a Topic there to engage others? I'm a facilitator on the Forum so happy to promote and host a Zoom if you think it worthwhile.

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