By Corinne Cariad, GEN Member Coordinator
For many of us, networking is one of the main attractions for attending conferences and professional events: meeting people who can offer advice, support and sometimes experience, given they are probably working in a similar field or a complementary discipline and are likely to be interested in our work. The Global Environments Network strongly believes in the power and effectiveness of networking, prioritising support for our members, both individuals and groups, in networking and advocacy initiatives through GEN Partnerships.
As part of the Farming, Food and Climate Justice March organised by the Landworkers’ Alliance organised by the Landworkers’ Alliance (LWA) in London recently, there was a day of ‘Movement Building Workshops’ of which GEN was a main partner. I was invited to facilitate a networking session. This session was in addition to the usual networking opportunities, which are often squished into the breaks between other sessions. The event drew together numerous organisations as participants and co-organisers, making good use of connections with like-minded organisations such as GEN, The Gaia Foundation and Greenpeace. As many of us were travelling from across the UK to attend the march, it was a great opportunity to share ideas and generally support each other.
As this was the first LWA event I’d attended and the first facilitated networking session I’d run, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would anyone turn up? How would I match people up, especially if there were no obvious connections? On the day there was a decent turn out (about 15% of event attendees) with some people having lengthy conversations and swapping contact details (success!). Others left their details and messages to be circulated post-event to all attendees via email.
Here’s what I learned from facilitating the networking session, based on what I did, and didn’t do:
Prepare attendees before the networking session.
I emailed a short survey two days before the event to all attendees. This had a 10% response rate, the responses were helpful for me and, possibly more importantly, it alerted attendees to the session and got them thinking about their ‘wants’ and ‘offers’ (even if they didn’t complete the survey).
Announce the session and the message boards at the start of the event.
People need to know about them to make use of them!
Provide message boards. Not even the best networkers can talk to everyone at an event and we could all miss speaking to the most relevant person for us. A well-worded message with contact details increases the chances of meeting/matching people. Place two large boards/paper and pens etc in an easily accessible space, ideally on a wall so it’s easy for people to read as they’re passing by. Have one for ‘wants’ and another for ‘offers’.
Network, network, network!
As the networking facilitator, hang around near the message boards, talk to people (network!) and encourage them to add their message. Remember who these people are so you can connect them with others during the event and/or networking session.
When facilitating or hosting a networking session, use the knowledge you have of attendees and introduce people to each other or to the messages (if the person isn’t there). People may drop-in and leave whenever they like; keep using the message boards. If you commit to circulating messages post-event, do it asap, yourself or through the event organisers.
Some people from the networking session continued their conversations at the social which followed the event, which I took as a sign of successful networking. The following day we marched together through central London, led by a 46-year-old tractor and vintage farmer who’d driven for four days from West Wales to join the march! We stood in front of the Houses of Parliament, farmers, growers, campaigners, doctors, teachers, carers, and citizens, young and old. Together we called for farming, food and climate justice. With some excellent banners.
Photos used with permission from Landworkers’ Alliance