Blog: John Heiss

John Weiss is the founder of the Social Ventures Network of Southeast Michigan and a long time advocate for food security. John seeks to merge for-benefit and for-profit models together to foster long-term, sustainable development in metro Detroit.  Read his thoughts and join the conversation!

Post No. 2


Networks offer unique opportunities with special capacities and advantages. Networks have proven instrumentalities or technologies to increase efficiency deepen impact and expand capacity all of which combine to Create Value. Voluntary networked organizations (Peter Drucker’s Third Sector) deliver to their membership great benefits and also maximize resources.  

Networks represent a technology for change that is asymmetrical, viral and relational. The technology encourages members to make new links, bring people together across boundaries like geography or social distance, and have proven resilient and adaptive to change. Networks create value by serving as Connectors of individuals and organizations, Disseminators of knowledge, Learning Systems for key industry competencies, and Brokers of resources. A network synergizes relationships, wisdom and best practices. It can increase impact by leveraging assets that already exist in a system and connecting them to each other; build overall capacity by mobilizing diverse and flexible individuals and organizations (Plastrik and Taylor 2006). 

Many Americans now worship in large, mega-churches that are often called "Saddleback Churches" after Rick Warren’s congregation in Orange County. Warren, the author of The Purpose Driven Life, recognized that small, cellular groups within a large institution expanded the level of commitment of participants, expanded at no cost the level of interpersonal connectivity and relationship-building, while offering "something for everyone" (Gladwell, 2002). At least 40 million worshipers in this country are part of cellular faith networks and small groups. 

The problems are considerable. According to Comerica Bank Michigan Brief of June 11, 2007, Michigan is the only state in the union to experience negative growth (.5% negative growth compared to national positive growth of 3.4% in 2006). The per capita GDP in Michigan has declined to 89% of the national average. Anyone noticing how many For Sale signs decorate our lawns and driveways.  

Challenges often come paired with opportunities: disinvestment in real estate drives down the price and cost of assets to the point where they can create a competitive advantage; downsizing and layoffs in the auto economy release into the market a huge flood of entrepreneurial talent that can be harnessed to build the next wave of the economy; a concentration of African American culture and talent creates new economic opportunities and potential competitive advantage when connected to the emerging innovation economy; the sheer scale of the challenge drives social entrepreneurs to experiment with new innovative solutions that would otherwise not be tried; neighborhoods band together committed to systemic change and renewal; philanthropic funders concentrate investments in ways that enable new social infrastructure; and civic leaders are pushed to break out of their traditional boundaries and collaborate across regions, sectors, races and classes. 

In short, crisis can be the crucible of innovation, and can spawn new solutions to social and economic challenges that "leapfrog" seemingly more stable and competitive regions. But this requires the willingness to “think outside the box”, take risks, acknowledge the "brutal facts", and exercise high levels of discipline in investing in, and testing, new solutions. We believe the Social Innovation Ventures Network can be part of this innovative set of solutions.