My colleague Steve Waddell introduced me a few years ago to an emerging phenomenon, which he identified and named Global Action Networks (GANs). These GANs are pursuing an alternative to traditional, not very effective, approaches to dealing with large-scale problems that exist across national boundaries and affect people both locally and globally, such as poverty, corruption, climate change, disease and the disappearance of natural resources.
The traditional approaches rely on national governments and inter-governmental organizations like the United Nations. This approach tends to isolate groups or sectors, driving them to act alone, competing with other agencies for the limited resources available for global concerns (see figure below).
In contrast, GANs focus on global and local collaboration, bringing together people and organizations from different sectors – business, government, and civil society – to tackle big challenges at local and global levels simultaneously. The GANs do this by focusing simultaneously on the three levels of perceived reality. The GAN keeps the global advocacy, its deep vision for the change that is possible, front and center. This possibility-light level focus drives the work of the whole network. Within its possibility-light vision, it chooses the highest-leverage, development-verb level processes that bring that possibility into development in settings over the whole planet. At the same time, these GANs, showing up in local action at the things-noun level. They define this three-level approach as glocal (global and local) behavior.
The founders of these GANs all seem to see the same thing when looking through lens #1 of “how much,” no matter what global issue they take on – they see abundance. They see this abundance at all three levels of reality – in the future that is possible, in the capacities and relationships to develop over time, and in the worldwide actions that people can take on to bring about that change.
Through lens #2 of “who decides,” the GANs hold all five primary relationships to be necessary to work with the abundant possibilities they envision. In the self, they believe they need the best each individual can bring. In the other, they know that their work requires collaborative processes of mutuality among the different members and stakeholders engaged in the work. In the group, they see that each person and perspective needs to be clear in the contribution its work makes to the higher aspiration. In nature, they have to be able to take an audacious possibility, develop high-leverage capacities to achieve it, and deliver very real outcomes, all over the globe. In spirit, this audacious goal can only be achieved if all of the creativity available, everywhere in everyone is brought to the work. This means that they are clear that they cannot achieve what they want without the explicit inclusion of all five primary relationships from the beginning. Thus, when they look through lens #3 of “what criteria,” they have developed global-local, multi-sector, multi-stakeholder approaches for identifying the criteria everyone holds in common, and the criteria unique to each stakeholder. Through lens #4 of “how the relationships interact,” the GANs s experiment with continuous learning systems to share globally what is being learned locally, interwoven with periodic global face-to-face convenings that support all five primary relationships.
To give you a sense of what a GAN looks like and how it works, let’s look at the example of Transparency International (TI). TI came into being in 1993 with a mission to take a stance against corruptions. In 2010 it had a global headquarters staff of 138, based in Geneva, Switzerland, and total revenues of 18,027,000 Euros – a small headquarters budget for coordinating the worldwide fight against corruption. Outside of Geneva, TI consists of a network of more than ninety national chapters, each of which works in its own country to engage key people in government, civil society, business and the media to promote transparency in elections, in public administration, in procurement and in business. The global network of chapters and their contacts also mounts advocacy campaigns to raise international awareness and publicly lobby governments to implement anti- corruption reforms. These efforts have made some significant inroads against the problem of corruption. For example, they have provided a common language for corruption and how to measure it, helped raise corruption to a national-level conversation within countries, and enabled a number of global and national anti-corruption reforms.
As a GAN, TI is able to make global changes one nation at a time with very limited resources. For example, at the national level, TI works to raise corruption to national discourse and action. Transparency Ethiopia convened prominent reporters in a journalist roundtable initiative in cooperation with the Federal Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission. They discussed barriers to reporting on corruption and the need to conduct ongoing anti- corruption sessions. Partnering with two federal agencies, TI El Salvador launched an initiative to enhance fiscal transparency by subjecting the country’s budget process to more citizen access and input, suggesting that greater citizen engagement might increase budget transparency, while boosting economic development and reducing inequality.