How Strong Is Your Network?: Turning Engagement Into Impact

In this ever more connected day and age, you are undoubtedly part of some type of network -- whether it is through your alma mater, current profession or the bounty of social networks.

While networks can be a great a resource and tool, they can also be a drain on your time and money. As such, it is critical to understand and measure the strength and impact of your network and to ask some key questions: Is it delivering on its intended purpose? Does it provide rich and diverse connections? And is it achieving its desired impact?

These are the questions that Ashoka recently set out to answer about the Ashoka Support Network (ASN). The ASN is a global network of industry leaders who come together to help Ashoka and their 3000+ leading social entrepreneurs, elected as Ashoka Fellows, drive social change around the world. The guidance, resources, and expertise that ASN members provide are often instrumental in transforming and scaling a Fellow’s social enterprise.

To help measure the impact of ASN, Ashoka partnered with CEB, a leading best practice insights and technology company. Ashoka and CEB have benefited from a long-term strategic partnership, including collaboration on a wide range of projects with global impact. For Ashoka, this partnership provides needed business expertise and advisory services; at the same time, CEB and its employees gain insight into the ever-growing and innovative social sector.

In a recent interview, ASN Global Director Bruno Borges and CEB project lead Adam Cole discussed how they went about measuring the impact of the ASN, some of the key outcomes, and what the next steps are.

Coffey: Why was now the right time to measure the impact of the network? How was the study developed and structured so you could effectively measure the impact and strength?

Borges: The ASN was developed 10 years ago with the clear idea of building a global network of changemakers who were successful leaders in their own fields and who share Ashoka’s passion for creative entrepreneurial change that would break down the walls between the business and citizen sector to solve society’s most pressing social problems.

Now, with over 350 members in 25 countries experiencing social entrepreneurship in action, we felt it was time to evaluate the impact of our members' experiences and how these experiences are supporting their trajectory as changemakers.

Cole: In order to measure the impact of a vast network with such diverse activities, we needed to pursue several avenues. First, we talked to the people who know the ASN the best and who had participated in the network the longest. These interviews helped us form hypotheses about how the network has grown, how its members are engaged, and where there might be opportunities to incrementally improve the experience for both ASN members and Fellows. We then designed a multilingual survey instrument to test these hypotheses.

"The survey data was very consistent with the feedback we collected through our initial interviews – ASN members routinely cited high levels of engagement and pride in their work with Fellows and a real sense of impact from their efforts." -Adam Cole, CEB

Coffey: Were you satisfied with the results of the study and what kind of things are you looking at in the results to validate your measurement strategy?

Borges: I was pleased to see the overall results of the study-- specifically the fact that 91% of our ASN members interacted with Ashoka Fellows in the past year, and 73% rated their interactions with Ashoka Fellows as very valuable. These numbers show that the vast majority of our members are engaging with Ashoka's community in a meaningful way.

Another interesting data point was the vast diversity of ways in which ASN members interact with Ashoka Fellows -- from helping Fellows create business strategies to serving on Fellows' advisory boards. The study acknowledges one of most critical value propositions to our members: the flexibility that the network offers to its members to engage based on their skills, expertise, and availability.

Cole: ASN members generally have full-time jobs or other interests that put demands on their time, but despite these factors we saw very high response rates. The survey data was very consistent with the feedback we collected through our initial interviews – ASN members routinely cited high levels of engagement and pride in their work with Fellows and a real sense of impact from their efforts. Further, some of the areas we suspected were ripe for additional focus resonated across both work streams.

Coffey: Now that you have these results what are the next steps as far as improving the survey itself and working to strengthen the network?

Borges: The survey did identify several opportunities for improvement but a key one for us was related to the financial contributions provided by our members. The survey identified that of the 62% of the ASN members who did not make additional financial contributions, more than half pointed to a reason other than money. For example, they didn't know which initiatives needed support (9%), or did not realize additional financial contributions were an option (10%).

As such, going forward we will focus on creating a portfolio of investment opportunities that will hopefully allow our members to be even more strategic about the allocation of their financial resources.

Cole: From the start, our teams viewed the survey through two lenses. First, data was needed to support initiatives that would grow and enrich the ASN, a key strategy for Ashoka. But more importantly, the survey was designed to support the continual improvement of the ASN and Fellow experience in the longer term.

“One-off” surveys can provide some valuable insight, but by establishing a standard method for gauging the sentiment of the ASN network, the team will be better positioned to measure changes and proactively invest in further development of the network across time. The survey will become an important channel for the ASN community to provide feedback to Ashoka.