Christakis, N.A., Fowler, J.H., 2009. Connected: The surprising power of our social networks and how they shape our lives. Little, Brown.

Connecting to the environment

Reda Sadki Learning strategy

“[…] you learn that you are not alone in dealing with a technical problem and sometimes you just need a second technical opinion. Sometimes, it does help if you listen to people who see it from a totally different perspective. To give you an example: [suppliers] are the providers of equipment and we are the demand side. There sometimes are good discussions to come to a common solution, which you don’t get if you sit at your desk […]. This sharing of technical knowledge as well as brainstorming around the technical problem with different stakeholders who see the problem from different sides, I find that really refreshing or rewarding. But that again, this is not formal training or whatever.” Photo: Christakis, N.A., Fowler, J.H., 2009. Connected: The surprising power of our social networks and how they shape our lives. Little, Brown.

Silent silos (Indigo Skies Photography/

Against insularity

Reda Sadki Learning strategy

“We came to understand because we have very good global connections.” How do we connect with other people, with other member organizations in the network, and with those external to it? How do we form and leverage networks? Where is learning in these networks? Beyond utilitarian purposes, how do connections with our colleagues and their organizations enrich our experience? We cannot afford to remain insular and inward-looking. Some of us may still feel that itis “more relevant” to “look into what we have internally already instead of looking too much externally”. Increasingly, though, we question the insular and inward-looking aspects of our learning culture. We cannot afford to remain ignorant of or uninterested in experiences outside of our membership, not when we recognize the need for change. We see that members are now more open to working with external partners and it is our responsibility to embrace and support this. What …

6509s. A work in progress (Bob Mical/

What is a connector?

Reda Sadki Learning strategy

Where some believe that the value of their network is based on its exclusivity, connectors are people in the organization who have developed large networks of people and who see their role in introducing people in their network to each other. This connector role is closely related to the knowledge brokering process that recombines existing knowledge and facilitates knowledge transfer. The relationships leveraged by connectors may be personal or based on prior experience rather than ascribed to the current role, especially in the context of decentralization. Building a dense network of relationships is a prerequisite for the connector function. As connectors, we are empowered toward the collection vision in which can act as knowledge brokers to foster, replicate, scale, and harmonize innovation by National Societies. Photo: 6509s. A work in progress (Bob Mical/

Wire (Kendra/

What does it mean to broker knowledge in a network?

Reda Sadki Learning strategy

Our network function requires that we interact with the network. We observe profound changes in the nature of knowledge, how it circulates, and this affects how we work (learn). Members in the network, too, have changed. We struggle to keep up with and adapt to these changes. In working with them, we prioritize results against their own expectations as well as those of donors and governments. Hence, it is difficult to justify learning approaches that take us away from such priorities. We wish for time after delivery to reflect on lessons learned, but such wishes may be swept away by the next urgent task. The alternative to this frustrating cycle of task delivery at the expense of reflection is to adopt a knowledge brokering approach. We broker knowledge when we link learning with innovation in the context of the long history of work done by the network. When trying to …

Danger of death (Lars Plougmann/

How do we learn from the network?

Reda Sadki Learning strategy

When our organization’s hierarchy prohibits direct contact with the field, indirect and informal contact becomes more important than ever. Global and regional meetings, bilateral programmes, and various kinds of informal events provide opportunities for staying in touch. In fact, decentralization raises the stakes of informal and incidental learning – activities “flying under the radar” of decentralization’s hierarchical relationships may become the primary mode for learning about, with and for the field. How do we overcome barriers to learning from the network? First, when we reframe new ideas and possibilities, we ask how this aligns with the current characteristics of the nodes in the network (“the membership”). Second, we need to leverage continual learning to innovate, recombining and inventing new solutions (knowledge brokering). Third, we need to consider indicators other than the volume of programming, and consider how we can scale up quality. Photo: Danger of death (Lars Plougmann/

Vintage Bank Vault (Brook Ward/

Death of the knowledge bank

Reda Sadki Learning strategy

The complexity of the networks in which our organization operates is scaffolded by a corpus of mostly-unwritten, tacit knowledge and ‘ways of working’ that we learn mostly from our peers. It would be impossible to justify time to study even a fraction of the written corpus of policies, procedures, regulations and other instruments of bureaucracy that provides the legal and operational framework – and even that would not provide access to the tacit knowledge that we need. So we learn as we go from our colleagues. In some contexts, we may proceed by trial and error, making adjustments when we receive negative feedback. When asked where we learn such knowledge, sources may remain apocryphal. We seldom reflect on where, when, how, and from whom we learn. Relegating learning about operational complexity to the informal domain may seem to present a risk for the organization. In practice, we find that we do tend to …

Crop Circle - Waylands Smithy (Ian Burt/

Decentralization done wrong

Reda Sadki Learning strategy

Leave the global functions to headquarters, and shift responsibility for the field to those who are actually there (or close by). It sounds perfectly sensible. And, in fact, it is an approach to decentralization adopted by some organizations. What are its implications for learning strategy? At the most obvious level, decentralization for those of us who work at the global – and, to a lesser extent, regional – level has reduced direct contact with the network. We often experience this as a constraint, limiting our ability to stay current with what is happening in the network to ensure that our work is closely aligned to the mission. We duly note that privileged relationships with donors have been preserved at the global level, despite decentralization. We observe mostly negative consequences of decentralization, even though in principle it should be the best support to take into account differences from one geographic region to another. In the organization’s culture of …

The hub upon which all things turn (Nic McPhee/

The hub in a network

Reda Sadki Learning strategy

We sit at the hub of a distributed network. In the past, only some organizations sought to organize as networks – those that had to bring together, federate or otherwise affiliate disparate groups characterized by diversity. Today, an organization that does not distribute its functions is unlikely to leverage its network. Learning strategy therefore carefully considers how to decentralize the means while sharpening the aim. We explore the tension between the consequences and risks of decentralization and the benefits of learning in the network. We share a collective vision and commitment to building the capacity of our network and leveraging our organization’s connectedness to improve. How well we execute on that commitment is measured by mission performance. We are empowered as connectors in the network: from members to the hub, from the hub to the members, and members to each other. What is changing about the collective vision we share? What needs to change? How …

Under the Bridge (Kim Hill/

Mind the gap

Reda Sadki Learning strategy

How do we establish a mentoring relationship? What do we do when we identify a knowledge or performance gap in a colleague? This is a sensitive issue. Pointing to a gap is more likely to lead to a productive process when mutual trust is a pre-existing condition. When we mentor a colleague, we rely on our relationships as peers and our shared values. We deploy a range of context-specific approaches. We use sophisticated strategies to provide support while respecting silo boundaries, personal pride, and limitations circumscribed by institutional culture. When we establish a mentoring relationship, we take a careful, considered approach, respectful of the other person’s experience and context. Developing mentoring is easier in smaller teams. Because the concept of “mentoring” implies different levels of experience, we emphasize mutual support between peers. One recurring gap is the lack of knowledge or experience in the organization or industry. Those of us who …

Chinese Garden of Friendship in Sydney Australia (Ajith/

Being mentored

Reda Sadki Learning strategy

Mentor was the name of the adviser of the young Telemachus in Homer’s Odyssey. A mentor is an experienced and trusted advisor. In the workplace, mentoring usually involves providing counsel to colleagues. Mentoring relationships may be purely informal one-offs or imply a deeper investment for both mentor and mentee. For mentoring relationships to deepen and become sustainable requires mutual identification and recognition. The organization does not currently formally prescribe or support mentoring. And, for some of us, at times we have had to find our own way because there was no one to turn to for guidance or support. Yet, most of us can recall how support, counsel and advice received from more experienced colleagues both helped collaboration and furthered our individual development. By exploring when and how we received mentoring, we can better envision how the organization might be able to recognize and support it. Line managers may be …