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A Whole Greater than the Sum of the Parts

Looking for systemic solutions beyond your organization

The expression “A whole greater than the sum of the parts” - often wrongly paraphrased from Aristotle’s works - presents an optimistic view of partnerships growing beyond transactions into something greater - an ‘emergence’. Continuing our theme (from the previous blog) of finding appropriate resources to help impact incubators scale their mission, this article talks about a critical resource that all organizations can benefit from: Networks.

An incubator requires not just talent, but a variety of resources to bolster its growth through its various stages of evolution. Is there a source that can be tapped to address these needs? I’m not sure about ‘a’ source, but there are many such potential sources in the ecosystem around an incubator.

Very often my incubation team and I have forged partnerships with other ecosystem players (incubators, investors, and customers) for specific purposes, including pipeline of enterprises, to technical assistance for enterprise growth, to exit through investments. We often share company details with other ecosystem partners during diligence, provide sources / references to providers of technical assistance to help solve issues for our social enterprises. We also use a ‘solutioning tool’ we call the ‘diagnostic panel’ where we bring various experts whose backgrounds are tailored to an enterprise’s needs and formulate an action plan specific to the stage and context of the enterprise. These panels evolve periodic, actionable, tailor-made solutions for the strategic issues faced by the enterprise - often by designing a set of lean experiments to try. We rely heavily on experts in the ecosystem, leveraging connections with other incubators, to constitute these panels. In essence, we look past our organization, into the vast sea of resources around us for help. In all these times, our ‘network’ has come through to our aid, connected only by the undercurrent of a common goal: helping social enterprises.

Looking back at ‘how’ these relationships were leveraged, I see an inherent ‘trust’ factor that made it work. Even though these relationships were somewhat transactional, this trust helped the various organizations look past any short-term mutual benefits and work towards long-term win-wins. From the

perspective of our mission to build a network of impact incubators, I now see that these relationships are the beginnings of an ‘emergence’ - a natural synergistic movement - that perhaps could grow into an ‘impact network’. Perhaps such a network can be the ‘infinite source’ that impact incubators can rely on for solutions to their ever-changing challenges. Is such a network possible and, more importantly, can it be self-sustainable? Well, quite a few examples of ‘impact networks’ and some frameworks/guidelines to make these work have been presented by many experts and researchers in this field.

The recent ecosystem gaps highlighted by the pandemic, such as information asymmetry, funding incubator operations, working capital crunch, and lack of proper mentors, have left us all yearning for systemic change in the impact incubation space. Perhaps now is the time to leverage our common goal to weave our ecosystem partners into ‘impact networks’. Together we may get to what Aristotle alluded to when he said “a whole greater than the sum of its parts”.

With an aim to help the impact community grasp the core principles of cultivating a strong network, we invited David Sawyer of Converge to talk about “Impact Networks for Impact Organizations” in the upcoming Wednesday Wisdom Session.

Join us on Wednesday, April 27 to learn how you can leverage the power of networks to scale your organization’s impact. Register here:


Arun Venkatesan

Co-founder and CEO at Villgro USA

Arun is passionate about scaling impact by helping impact incubators succeed. He led Villgro India's health sector before his current role at Villgro USA

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