Communities VS Networks

I’ve always had an aversion to “networking.” To me it seemed self-serving, transactional and just a bit… icky.

By Sharmadean Reid

1 January 2021

tereotypes of the serial annoying networker, vigorously shaking hands, with blow dries and heels, collecting business cards with promises of a “quick coffee”, made my eyes roll. I would watch them work the room at events with disdain and pity. Some of them were my actual friends, buzzing around like beautiful butterflies while I casually sipped my drink in the corner and surveyed the room.

The truth is, I’m actually just an ambivert. Sometimes I can turn on the charm, and sometimes I find a room of strangers completely overwhelming and I do indeed have to psyche myself up using a transactional outcome (the ‘icky’ one associated with networking) as the reward.

I’d quietly repeat to myself:

*“Act interested; be curious; there could be someone in this room who will change your life.” * And quite often, there was.

I felt this allergic reaction to networking because I’ve always been all about communities. Wonderful, loving, nurturing communities, filled with people with the same goals and outlooks. I love just chatting aimlessly with women, discovering more about their lives. Their shared experiences, desires and dreams meant stronger bonds and friendships formed. Communities were it for me. It had been that way since 2005, when I made a printed magazine called WAH and handed it out in hip hop clubs, collecting amazing women along the way. I’ve always been a community builder.

Is there a difference between communities and networks?

The question that has plagued me for decades and will continue to do so for decades more is: why do some people win and others lose at the game of money and power? From anthropology to behavioural economics to human biology, there are literally hundreds of reasons and millions of words packed into books which discuss reasons for inequality (but, if you are so inclined, Jared Diamond’s ‘Guns, Germs and Steel’ is a good place to start).

So, I want you to imagine me in my university library browsing books and documentaries (ah, the bliss!) to find out why the world works so differently for different people…

Because the field of inequality is so large, I choose to narrow down my focus to women and their poverty. This in turn relates to their power – which would be nice to research if we actually had any. At this point, I realise that what I’m dealing with is actually inequity.

This extract from "Global Health Europe" explains the situation well:

"Inequity and inequality: these terms are sometimes confused, but are not interchangeable, inequity refers to unfair, avoidable differences arising from poor governance, corruption or cultural exclusion while inequality simply refers to the uneven distribution of health or health resources as a result of genetic or other factors or the lack of resources."

So ladders…

Communities nurture and mentor. They get you from -10 to 0. They support you in a trauma, tragedy or crisis. They’re there to hold your hand and keep you at equilibrium. They’re the ones lifting you as they climb. Because they share so much energy with you, their own progress is slow – but it feels really nice to be held. It’s empathetic, active listening.

Networks sponsor and advocate. They get you from 0 to 100. They give you money, power and influence. They’re there to help you up the ladder by placing fresh rungs at every step and showing you where to put your foot for maximum efficiency. Their progress is fast because they give you small but pertinent bits of information to help you rise. It’s raw, unfiltered advice.

Why am I done with communities? Women have been talking amongst themselves for centuries, providing much needed space to literally just be heard. But progress for Gender Equality continues to be slow. In fact, it’s in crisis mode and I’d love to see some change in my lifetime. Rather than just huddling in a warm and comfortable circle, staying safe in your community’s sameness, I believe women need a New Method. We need to break out, build our networks and take action.

But don’t get it twisted: communities and networks are not mutually exclusive. In fact, some communities can be valuable networks and some networks can provide community. The goal here is to act consciously, understanding where you want to be and how to leverage your network to get there, rather than going around in circles and showing no progress.

"For me, communities are dead. Drum roll please: it’s now all about networks."

How do communities vs. networks operate?

Family Your first community is your family; they (mostly) love, nurture and support you. Your family becomes a network when your parents’ influence gets you into a better school, university or cushy internship.

Friends Dunbar’s Number states that one person can comfortably manage up to 150 people. This Arabic method says that there are 12 levels of friendship. It’s important to have a friend who we can call for moral support (community) but we should also all have an acquaintance who is a super connector, who can make a few phone calls and get you what you need.

Work This is where networks really come into their own. Networks in your career can open doors, give positive references, prep you for that big interview and lay down the foundations for you to succeed. A community at work is POC at Google. A network ensures that Google hires more than XX% POC in their workforce.

The square and the Tower.

How Communities VS Networks operate

You are in an abusive relationship with your partner A community gives you a space to cry, to share and feel supported. A network gives you a lawyer who tells you your rights. A super network gets you a XX lawyer at a discounted price so your abuser goes to jail.

You are applying to uni A community makes you think it’s even possible and gives advice on the best courses. A network is an Oxbridge alumni who reviews your application and gives you tips on improving it. A super network is an endorsement from a renowned alumnus, who can write a letter of recommendation to the Dean of your preferred college.

You are investing your first bonus cheque as an Angel investor A community shares their experience about how to invest and what it means. A network tells you which stocks are hot and where you should invest A super network gets you access to the best deals that don’t even come to public market.

You’re a founder who is fundraising for the first time. A community creates panels and discussions on how to fundraise. A network of founders who have raised will give you critical feedback on your pitch deck. A super network will introduce you to investors and advocate for you.

Some other examples.

Let’s take Millie, a writer studying at Cambridge, already of some privilege; she is a healthy white woman with cool parents studying at one of the most famous institutions in the world. Millie wants to apply to McKinsey and is dismayed to learn that members of the Rowing Team have someone coaching them on their applications. This is not a network she is part of.

Rosie comes from the charity sector and starts a youth marketing agency dedicated to telling stories about community. She learns that Vijay, who worked for one of the biggest sports companies in the world, started his agency with almost £1m of business instantly because his ex-colleagues all sent him jobs.

What do these stories tell us?

A community slaps you on the bag, cheers you on and tells you “YOU GO GIRL!”. A network coaches you on how to win and gets you your first big opportunity.

"Some communities can be valuable networks and some networks can provide community"

Finding the networks you need

Assuming the goal is economic empowerment, there are multiple networks and clubs that can help you on your way.

Networks I’m NOT part of Since joining the start-up world, I’ve realised there are a few networks that afford some founders privileges that get them: a) More funding, and b) More capital efficiency (they know how to spend their funding)

Some of these include:

1. Consultants The start-up world may be realised by founders, but it’s the ex-McKinsey, ex-Bain & Co. Street Boys who left the corporate world to join the ‘glamorous’ life of a start-up founding team, that keep the industry turning. These people get unprecedented access to capital and contacts. Their graduate training process means that they know how to scale companies fast.

2. Bankers Founders who were former bankers or former VCs themselves are part of a network where they instantly know how to raise money with good financial modelling and market opportunities.

3. Ivy League / Oxbridge Harvard MBAs stick to their section like glue for the rest of their lives.

4. YPO Joining the Young Presidents’ Organisation gives you access to a global network of chief executives.

5. Founders Forum This ‘positive impact’ network is all about accelerating connections between European founders.

6. Private School If you’ve been to a British private and/or boarding school as a kid, you will have a vast network of contacts as an adult that connect you to powerful people across sectors.

7. Gentleman’s Clubs of London They may be old school – but plenty of business chat still goes on in some of London’s most exclusive Gentlemen’s Clubs.

8. Normal London University People who meet at uni tend to feel connected for life. Chances are, if you’re a founder who went to a London university, you already have a tonne of contacts you can leverage.

Some networks I’m part of:

1 - Local Globe Founders WhatsApp group 2 - Foundrs 3 - Soho House 4 - The Ned 5 - Black Founders WhatsApp Group 6 - WITSEnd 7 - Worshipful Company of Grocers

I also briefly considered joining University Women’s Club, a private members club for women.

Where do we go from here?

While I love communities, and there is still very much a place for them – especially for women to share their experiences – I want The Stack World to operate as a network for women’s progression. Rather than simply listening to and supporting each other, I want us to point out opportunities, share our useful connections and build that ladder to help each other rise.

The Short Stack

Communities and networks are not mutually exclusive. In fact, some communities can be valuable networks and some networks can provide community.

By Sharmadean Reid

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