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Exploring Network Success at the Beyond the Known Conference 2021 

In October 2021, Small Foundation moderated a session on effective network approaches as part of Beyond the Known, a virtual conference designed to facilitate peer learning and exchange of experiences among micro, small and medium enterprise (MSME) development practitioners. 

Our session featured leaders from five different impact networks engaging with entrepreneurs across Africa: 

Each speaker shared their experience of the results impact networks can achieve in building dynamic and resilient entrepreneurial ecosystems, as well as the challenges faced in scaling and in adding value for members.  

Three key takeaways stood out:  

Contextualising global experience in local markets: 

Networks can facilitate value through peer interactions between global experts and local entrepreneurs. To illustrate this, the panellists shared their experiences of networks:  

  • As means of sharing tailored support to enterprises in response to the COVID crisis; 
  • In facilitating access to academic faculty alongside additional support from local experts; 
  • Providing mentoring and knowledge sharing; 
  • Offering chapter-based models which provide offline means of accessing global best practice.  

The value of values: 

Shared values and principles are often said to be at the heart of networks, and emphasis from the speakers served as a reminder of the need to nurture these intentionally. This might result in networks having to ‘move at the speed of trust’ or ‘go slow to go far’; there was agreement building shared values across a network was vitally important to achieve results.  

Membership engagement is key: 

The weight each speaker placed on adding value for members and keeping them engaged was consistently evident. Examples to achieve this included facilitating in-person peer engagements; ensuring access to a dedicated network coordination team; and adjusting the delivery of training to members to better suit their needs.  

Beyond the Known is a collaborative, transformative Community of Practice on entrepreneurship and MSME development. You can access further resources from the conference here 

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