Networking: A Mission-Driven Activity

In this exclusive interview, Yasmina shares her top three pieces of advice for successful networking in mission-driven organizations.

September 17, 2015

“Always think about how you can lead with your humanity.”

That’s Yasmina Zaidman, Acumen’s Director of Strategic Partnerships, speaking about networking – an activity she has a particularly good knack for. At Acumen, we know that solving the world’s toughest problems can’t be done alone. It will take all of us. That’s why Yasmina spends her days building relationships with individuals, corporations and influencers and others who can help us change the way the world tackles poverty.

“I’ve found that networking is actually a mission-driven activity that has unique value in the social sector. Meeting someone at a happy hour and exchanging a business card is just a start," says Yasmina.

"Real networking is about building relationships with interesting people and figuring out how you can solve problems together.”

Yasmina has made the connections that paved the way for collaborations such as ELII – a $10M investment initiative between Acumen, Unilever, and the Clinton Giustra Enterprise Initiative – to improve the lives and livelihoods of 300,000 smallholder farmers and help link them to global agriculture markets. She has helped develop relationships that have supported Acumen’s portfolio companies, including with Ernst and Young and their Enterprise Growth Services and SAP and their Social Entrepreneur Fellowship. All relationships that provide critical support for Acumen’s programs; and relationships that help amplify Acumen’s work, with media and networks where new ideas can be shared.  In this exclusive interview, Yasmina shares her top three pieces of advice for successful networking in mission-driven organizations.

Good connectors, as Malcom Gladwell calls them, are people who are innately curious and want to learn about other people. They find natural ways to work together. It’s important to be clear-sighted and realistic about networking too. You have to realize that some partnerships might not have immediate pay off, but rather take years to cultivate. As you think about networking in terms of social change, Yasmina recommends keeping the following three networking tips in mind: 

1. Ask yourself: What kind of network do I need? 

In our upcoming course Networking Leadership 101, you’ll learn that the best networks are diverse, open and deep.

Different kinds of organizations require networks with different emphasis.

“Start to think about your working style, the kinds of roles you want to play within your sector, and the kinds of relationships that best correspond to how you want to solve problems in the world.”

2. Be aware of the assumptions you hold about other people.

“Early in this job, I realized that some of the people who I perceived to be the most intimidating actually turned out to be incredibly kind and humble once I got to know them. I think you’ll find that everyone just wants to be known as a person, everyone just wants to be seen,” says Yasmina.

Start to think about how you’ll see beyond titles and net worth and fancy degrees and really get to know the person.

“There’s something about truly seeing someone else that is a powerful way of building a relationship.”

3. Figure out how to make the personal connection before moving to the strategic one.

The best networking is genuine. “You know you’ve gotten to the heart of a good partnership when you’re able to ask: ‘How can I solve a problem for this person?’”, Yasmina says.

“Figure out what they care about, what matters to them, what keeps them up at night, and how they see the world.

"Once you’ve figured out what problems they’re trying to solve, then think about how your skills, talents and mission potentially intersect.This is the opening to build something together.”

Networking can be perceived as a superficial way for someone to build a Rolodex of contacts, but in the context of social change work, it can make all the difference. Real change happens when people are able to find potential allies and partners with shared objectives, and develop the trust-based relationships that can reveal meaningful opportunities to work together towards those goals.

For more networking wisdom and techniques, whether you’re looking to find your next job or raise funding for your organization, signup for our new short course Networking Leadership 101: Building Your Core Professional Network, built in partnership with Center for Creative Leadership.

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