Network Building – Like Herding Dinosaurs

Article posted on on April 28, 2012 by Daniel F. Bassill, Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC founder.

Dinosaurs: they’re big. They can trample you. They can eat you. They have their own ideas on what they want to do, and who they want to hang out with. Hard to get them all in one room, or to keep them there for a long time. Maybe they went extinct because they could not work together. Maybe they survived and evolved for 200 million years because they knew some things that we’ve yet to learn. In mid April I wrote an article that talked of the difficulties big cities face in bringing people and organizations together for collective purposes such as helping more kids move thorough school and into college and jobs. I pointed to report by The Bridgespan Group that listed challenges such as obtaining long-term funding, connecting across silos, defining realistic, shared goals, etc. These included: * Funding that is largely short term * Leaders who are overstretched, with gaps in organizational capacity * Uneven commitment to resident engagement (community involvement?) * Unrealistic expectations about how much can be accomplished how soon * Limited access to what works - or shows promise of working * Silo-ed thinking We need to overcome these and many other obstacles if we’re to solve some of the complex problems facing this country and the world. In my own work, I focus on collecting and sharing information that can be used in many places to help kids who are born or are living in high poverty move through school and into jobs and careers. I use graphics such as I’m including in this article to illustrate my ideas.

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We all want more kids to stay in school, be safe in non-school hours, graduate, and move on to jobs and careers and adult responsibilities. One of the challenges we face is that in order to build relationships and networks of purpose, someone has to have a database containing most of the organizations that need to be involved in the relationshipbuilding process. I use the database I’ve been building to a) point people to information; b) increase the number of people looking at this information, c) increase understanding of the information, and actions people can take; and d) to inspire people to be volunteers, donors, partners, leaders, etc. at one or more youth-raising organizations in high poverty areas of Chicago and other cities. The goal of all of this strategy is to create a better distribution of places helping kids to careers, with more leaders who will adopt the commitment and strategy shown in this map at, in their own leadership.

Since so many organizations focus on helping kids, with their own networks, funding streams and strategies, the challenge for big cities like Chicago is to focus everyone on common goals and strategies. While many aim to unite everyone under one umbrella and one set of standards and outcome measures, I’m not sure that is realistic, or possible.

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I’ve pointed to a wide range of ideas about collaboration, innovation, knowledge management, etc. in the Tutor/Mentor Library at and I think some of these ideas might enable us to find ways to work collectively, yet operate independently. I’ve also been creating maps to help groups in the same geographic areas work together, or to help groups with common goals connect with each other. This week I created a new map just to illustrate how many different groups in Chicago are acting in intermediary roles to connect people they know to each other, and to influence actions of the group that affect the well-being of kids.

See this map at

While this map represents a few of the organizations working to help kids, I’m sure it is only a fraction of the organizations in the Chicago region or the nation who need to be connected in what I call a “network of purpose”. Each of the nodes in the graphic below represents a network of potentially many organizations and many resources. Unless someone creates a map showing members of the network, and web sites, they are not connecting their members to each other, or helping leaders and members of other networks connect with to them. This graphic is from an essay titled “Building a Network of Purpose” found at I’ve been hosting a conference in Chicago every six months since May 1994 and on June 14, 2012 I’ll be hosting a one-day event, inviting members of this network to gather, share ideas, build relationships and play ways to help more programs obtain volunteers and financial support as the school year starts again in August. See

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details at This past week I took part in several network-building efforts where I shared ideas that I’ve developed over more than 30 years of network-building. I was invited to attend a breakfast at WTTW11 Public TV Station in Chicago to talk about ways public TV can work with business and community-based organizations to reduce the high school drop-out rate. I created a map of the invitation list. Which you can see at In this map I include links to other web sites and links to other concept maps and the library of information I’ve collected over the past three decades. Network building requires an effort to connect all of these different groups to each other in an on-going process of learning and relationship building. One of the maps I point to is this drop out conference map, which shows organizations connected at a 2011 and earlier drop out conferences held in Chicago area. All of these organizations are involved in some way, yet most may not be actively connected to each other, even when they attend the same events!

See link at

While I’ve been building a database of Chicago tutor/mentor programs and inviting programs to connect with myself and each other since 1975, I created the Tutor/Mentor Connection in 1993 to do this network-building on a more formal and larger scale basis. Our aim was to build a master database of non-school tutor/mentor programs and to try to connect them to each other more frequently.

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A parallel goal was to create greater public awareness so that volunteers and donors would increase and they would use maps to search out programs in different parts of the city who were working to help connect youth with mentors, tutors and extra learning. This week I hosted this one hour discussion that shared my ideas with people from the US and different countries. I also shared ideas about “empathy” and “strategy” in a Social Edge forum. In order to share my ideas I am active in many networks. This map shows some of them. In each of these forums I share ideas related to the discussions which I draw from my own experience and library. In doing so I hope that I build credibility and draw people to my own web sites where more information is available to support the decisions people make about where, and how, and, how often, they try to help kids.

See this link at

I’ve been doing this for a long time, yet I’m not in many (most?) of the discussions and planning sessions that are taking place in Chicago and other cities. Why? Is it because “not invented here” is alive and well? Is it because of how self-interest and power are still drivers of leadership and social interaction? I’ve written articles in the past talking about the challenges of opening organizational “silos”

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My goal: Social Innovation Strategy, supported by Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC A few years ago one of my interns gave me a book titled The Starfish and the Spider, which talks of the strength of decentralized organizations. The book also shows how platforms, like eBey and Wikipedia support millions of independent users. For years I’ve shared ideas that Leaders in business and faith groups could apply in building their own organizational involvement strategies. See ROLE OF Leaders and other leadership ideas at I’ve been sharing ideas that others could use to duplicate what I’m doing for over 20 years. Here’s a copy of a 1999 newsletter that I was sending out to 12,000 people three times a year between 1997 and 2001 (after 2001 this was discontinued due to lack of funding for print media). Here’s a handout on “starting a Tutor/Mentor Connection” that I presented at a 1999 conference in Portland, Oregon. In 1997 the Tutor/Mentor Connection was one of 50 Teaching Examples at the President’s Summit for America’s Future, which led to the formation of the America’s Promise organization.

This page shows dozens of media stories where we talk about a strategy to help kids in all poverty neighborhoods connect with tutors/mentors. http://www.tutormentorexchan

The 1999 T/MC Report newsletter and the How to Start a Tutor/Mentor Connection, as well as many of the media stories, show that my ideas came from leading a volunteer-based tutor/mentor program from 1975 till 2011. Much of my commitment to volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs as a strategy for adult civic engagement as well as a strategy for expanding social capital of youth in high poverty, focus on changing how non profits are funded. These ideas come from my own experiences of leading an

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on-going program and the frustrations of not being able to find consistent philanthropic support, as well as my understanding of how big companies such at Montgomery Ward supported hundreds of stores with central office strategies. Now this strategy is led through the Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC The inconsistent funding through the 2000-2011 period led to the April 2011 decision of the volunteer Directors at Cabrini Connections to discontinue support for the Tutor/Mentor Connection from their single small non profit base. It led me to create Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC in July 2011 to continue to share these ideas. Thus, many of the articles from past years will continue to show a Cabrini Connections, Tutor/Mentor Connection identity, which I’m sure will confuse many people well into the future. When I left Cabrini Connections in July 2011 I did not have an organizational structure to re-build the T/MC as a non profit with leadership who could speak creadibly about citywide strategies to help all youth to careers, or who could raise $500,000 to a $1 million a year to support this strategy at the level it needs to be funded in Chicago – the third largest city in the USA. I still do not have that. However, I don’t need to create a new Tutor/Mentor Connection to share 36 years of knowledge to help others share part of the responsibility for helping close the gaps between rich and poor and neighborhoods with many opportunities and those with few opportunities. The information and ideas on the Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC web site are free for anyone who wants to spend time browsing the sites. However, if your organization wants to add me as a consultant, resource and partner in your brainstorming and planning, consider becoming a sponsor of the Tutor/Mentor Institute, and adding “supported by Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC to your own site. I can give you the same recognition on my sites. In doing this we can each share more of the work needed to connect networks and share information and ideas across networks. We can do more to increase the daily media and public outreach needed to draw consistent attention, talent and operating resources to the many organizations working in the region to improve the well-being of kids. If you’re interested in having the Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC support your efforts in another city or another country, this invitation is open to you as well. See Tutor/Mentor Institute, LLC Tutor/Mentor Connection Merchandise Mart PO Box 3303 Chicago, Il. 60654

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