Fellows and Networks come in all shapes and sizes and small can be beautiful. But what if your group is either non-existent or not quite there yet? You have a strong desire to do more as a Fellow, and you know the RSA’s work could really bring some benefit to your community, but how can you get started? My colleague Vivs gives an overview of how to start a network below and Andy gives a great example of a network getting things done. Here are some of my own pointers from my work around the US networks.
Your first point of contact should always be your regional network manager. He or she can connect you with other Fellows with similar interests. You might be surprised to find one or two are close by – two is company and three’s a network!
The Chattanooga network in Tennessee is a good example of a network built from scratch in a region where Fellows are few and far between. When David Turner moved to Tennessee, I introduced him to another long-time Chattanooga Fellow, Bo Sudderth, and they started meeting for coffee. Both men feel that their lives have been changed for the better by the RSA and both felt very strongly that they wanted to pass that opportunity along to a new wave of younger Fellows while also doing some good in the local community. They built relationships with local nonprofits and foundations, and met with civic leaders to better understand the gaps in the local social fabric that an RSA Fellows’ initiative might be able to fill.
The Chattanooga timeline went like this:
- November 2008: Two local Fellows meet
- June 2009: Grant approved by local foundation;
- June 2009: Community foundation account for Fellows’ network was created
- September 2009: Information event to introduce the RSA to the community
- November 2009: Two nonprofit leaders recruited to the Fellowship
- Spring 2010: Monthly Network meetings began; potential new Fellows invited and gradually recruited
- May 2010: RSA Catalyst grant awarded for Saturday Art with Dad Program at Calvin Donaldson
- Sept 2011: Chattanooga Fellows present to RSA US Board in NYC
Many cups of coffee later, the Chattanooga network has grown to 20 Fellows, all actively engaged in a cluster of social projects as showcased at the recent New York-Chattanooga network exchange.
"In my work, I have witnessed incredible potential realized simply through the committed action of creative, inspired citizens. The RSA and its Fellows are poised to accomplish similar ongoing success in communities throughout the world, and I am excited to see what is possible in Chattanooga as we continue to collaborate."
Trey Meyer, Broken Windows Brigade
Chattanooga Lead Fellow Sharon Turner affirms, “The history and the resources of the RSA make a great platform for Fellows' projects, while regular networking meetings provide inspiration and motivation. FRSAs are part of a tradition of change."
It can take patience and hard work to get something going, especially is regions where Fellows are few and far between. Remember that it might not always be clear at first what RSA Fellows can bring to their community, but when Fellows get together great things happen. So even if you don’t start out with a Big Idea, it doesn’t usually take long for inspiration to strike.
Lynn Broadbent is Fellowship Director for US networks – follow her @LynnUSA