Networking on Steroids: A Reciprocity Web Defined

How do you shake information out of a conference room full of smart and well-connected people? Try the reciprocity web. As the facilitator for the Africa Meeting at the recent Grantmakers Without Borders Conference in San Francisco, I didn’t participate in the breakout or speed networking sessions but I made an exception when it came to the reciprocity web--I just couldn’t pass up an opportunity to get something that I needed from such a well-connected group of people.

As Gw/oB Board Member Rucha Chitnis summed it up, “The reciprocity web cultivates the idea of abundance within a group of people.” I’ve summarized the process below so that you can try it at your next meeting or gathering. The materials required: ten 3x5 cards, pens, and, five to ten post-it notes per person.

Step 1: Gather with eight to ten people in a circle.

Step 2: Have everyone write down a short statement of something they need on a 3x5 card. For example: “I need an office space in San Francisco.” They can ask for anything within the capacity of a typical human being, it may be a physical object, an intellectual resource or a person. One cannot ask for money.

Step 3: Ask someone to read the statement out loud. Allow each person in the circle to ask clarifying statements. For example, “How much space do you need?” Let everyone read their statement once so that people can jot down notes about possible ideas they have on the post-it notes. Go around the entire circle.

Step 4: Have everyone read his or her statement a second time and this time allow the participants in the circle to offer ideas written down on a post-it note. Pass the notes with an email address or phone number for follow-up. Move on to the next person and so on…

Step 5: When you are done, ask the group to reflect on the experience. Do you have any surprises? What did the exercise teach you about networks?

As the room filled with a growing buzz and laughter, one woman exclaimed, “This is better than networking. There was a real dialogue about needs.”

I came away with a list of people willing to put me in touch with their networks to reach some individuals from the African Diaspora who can help me with my work.

It felt great giving and receiving information, ideas and connections with my colleagues through the reciprocity web. I enjoy the way the reciprocity web gives conference attendees permission to ask for something they want or need.

The reciprocity web is like brainstorming on colorful post-it notes. While it may sound a little corny at first, I recommend it. As the famous advertisement once said, “Try it, you’ll like it!”

Thanks to Grantmakers Without Borders and John Harvey, Executive Director for sharing their facilitation guide with me and promoting this networking exercise.

Jennifer Astone is a philanthropic consultant with a focus on international giving, community-based change, and Africa,