Building Collaborative Networks for Social Impact: Insights from the 2023 PreConference

“My challenge to all of us is this: to have the courage to reclaim a healthy public square that calls us to come together and to use our collective power to care for each other,” said Daniel O. Ash, president of Field Foundation of Illinois, at his opening keynote for the 2023 PreConference in Chicago, hosted by KPMG and sponsored by UPS.

It was an inspirational way to kick-off conversations with the Points of Light Global Network, reinforcing the value of their own efforts as leaders in societal-changing social impact work in communities around the world.

The day continued with informative breakout sessions, led by members of Points of Light’s Global Network Assembly. Sessions ranged from Disaster Management, facilitated by Chris Cameron of HandsOn New Orleans to Corporate Activation Goals & Strategies, facilitated by Jay Cranman of HandsOn Atlanta to Engaging Volunteers in Listening and Learning led by Rob Pabon of Chicago Cares. Attendees then moved to a second round of sessions with Assembly Chair Vanessa Diamond, Greater Richmond Community Foundation and Assembly Co-chair Julia Aramendi, Volies, building collaboration and offering opportunities for networking.

Day one ended with a fireside chat on “The Power of Networks as Change Makers,” which I had the privilege of facilitating with International Association for Volunteer Effort (IAVE) CEO Nichole Cirillo.

“Networks are the key to resiliency,” said Cirillo. “The more people who use a network, the better and stronger it becomes.”

She went on to challenge perceptions of volunteerism sharing that, “volunteerism has shifted from civic duty to systems change Our younger generation is flipping the perception from civic duty to civic dissent.”

Cirillo emphasized how volunteering is finding the solution and delivering it to solve a societal problem. She also touched upon the importance of connecting the work to on the ground impact. We ended the day with her encouragement to take chances to reach one’s full potential.

“Failure is how we change and grow,” she said. And those words proved especially true later that same night.

“An excellent plan. What could possibly go wrong?”

— Kristina DaSilva, COO, HANDSON BROWARD, describing a moment in her career at Failure Night 2023.

Failure Night hosted by Tim Atkins at HandsOn Atlanta was a raucous gathering of Points of Light affiliates who came together to share their biggest failures, reminding us that failing is an essential part of learning and growing. The crowd represented, shoring up the presenters with warm laughter and understanding. Five brave leaders embraced vulnerability and shared their tales of failure, accompanied by valuable lessons learned:

  1. I did my best to use humor with a healthy dose of humility to expose the hazards of ignoring stakeholder instructions and placing all your bets on hope.
  2. Kristina da Silva, CEO at HandsOn Broward, shed light on the unpredictable nature of events, emphasizing that they often take on a life of their own, deviating from carefully crafted plans
  3. Rosie Drumgoole, chief programs officer at Chicago Cares, imparted the vital message that neglecting self-care should never be an option.
  4. Alana Jorge, operations director of Atados, divulged the consequences of picking the worst possible timing for an event—during the World Cup and elections, for example—reminding us timing is everything.
  5. Stephen Davalos, vice president of external affairs at L.A. Works, demonstrated the repercussions of chasing grand ambitions while ignoring the subtle cues conveyed by the universe ultimately resulting in an overwhelming array of headaches.

Day two began with the group hearing “Bright Spot” stories from leaders worldwide as they showcased their impactful work, including that of Riakos Adams from Killeen Volunteers, Jessie Case of HandsOn San Diego and Kristina Balciauskaite with SAVA Platforma. More breakout sessions followed, ranging from Effective International Expansion and Engagement with Leila Saad and Stephen Joseph of Common Impact to How to Expand Your Impact and Reach Through Building up Your Network with Hannah Wojno & Kaynan Rabino from Ruach Tova.

PreConference ended with a historical first-ever shared luncheon between Global Network affiliate and the Points of Light Board of Directors. Board members, including Neil Bush, Nikki Clifton and Jeff Hoffman, mixed and mingled with affiliates. Lunch concluded with a fireside chat between Points of Light Board Member Michelle Gavin and Points of Light Interim CEO Diane Quest that focused on shared learnings from the Global Gathering in Brazil.

Gavin noted that it was a privilege spending time with affiliates and added, “It was like a cup of coffee in the morning. It was a jolt of energy that made me excited for the future of the organization.”

Lunch concluded with Ellen Ray, CEO, Chicago Cares, accepting Daily Point of Light Award #7574 on behalf of outstanding volunteer Joyce Donaly, who has given the last 13 years to supporting and building her community.

The event ended with palpable excitement, an invitation to Warsaw Poland February 4–10 in 2024 for the Global Gathering, and a reinforcement of the power the Points of Light Global Network, especially when its members connect and learn in person, together.

Elizabeth Schwan-Rosenwald