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Fellows Spotlight
Forum of Fellows Year in Review
December 20, 2023
Photo of Omidyar Fellows Forum of Fellows
Written by: Ben Treviño, Network Coordinator

“We think of impact networks as a combination of a vibrant community and a healthy organization. At the core they are relational, yet they are also structured. They are creative, and yet they are strategic.

Impact Networks build on the life force of community—shared principles, resilience, self-organization, and trust—while leveraging the advantages of an effective organization, including a common aim, an operational backbone, and a bias for action.” — David Ehrlichman, Impact Networks 

The Forum of Fellows is a body that includes 115 impact agents—every individual in all eight cohorts of Omidyar Fellows. In 2023, we explored a question: What might be possible if we transformed our community of impact agents into an Impact Network?

The inquiry raises as many questions as it does possible answers—what would our Impact Network be aimed at? What value would it offer Fellows? What commitments would it require? Who “gets to” decide? Despite still needing to answer these questions, what we learned in the process of exploration is exciting for the prospects of the whole of the Omidyar Fellows Impact being more than the sum of the parts.

Here’s what that exploration looked like through our Network and Forum of Fellows programming: 

A CONTENT Foundation of Leadership and Relationships

In February, we welcomed David Ehrlichman to deliver a workshop elaborating on the insights his book Impact Networks captured around complex impact and action. In April, Ed O’Malley shared complementary insights on activating the leadership in all of us with a public keynote and series of workshops around When Everyone Leads (The Toughest Challenges Get Seen and Solved), a book he co-authored with Julia Fabris McBride. Building on their work with the Kansas Leadership Center—a consistent source of inspiration for the Hawaiʻi Leadership Forum—When Everyone Leads is as much a practical guide to movement building and organizing as it is a conceptual defense of leadership as an activity and not a role.

Photo of Fellows participating at a workshop at HLF

Diving into QUESTIONS and Experimenting with Ideas

Building on last year’s Omidyar Fellows Summit, which gathered all eight cohorts of Fellows at a biennial retreat, Fellows continued five conversations that started at the event. With coordination and project management support from HLF Staff, working groups, project teams, and learning networks aroundAffordable Housing, Mental Health,ʻOhana Friendly Employers, Leadership Transition, and Philanthropic Accountabilityebbed and flowed throughout the year, emerging and materializing as the year unfolded. Each working group followed a different path, to a different end—project funding, coaching circles, case studies, system improvements—but each exploration yielded new insights. Layered onto those conversations was a relaunch of Impact Project funding, in which we resourced nine individual projects, each committed to sharing back learnings to the larger Forum of Fellows.

Photo of Forum of Fellows at a hybrid quarterly gathering

Investing in ourselves and in COMMUNITY by gathering and learning

In 2023, cohorts stepped up to co-host our quarterly Forum of Fellows gatherings on a rotating basis while we collectively committed to measuring our performance fostering connections. We complemented the relationship-driven activities with skill-building workshops including innovation and problem solving with Dave Viotti’s 1:1 Coaching and SMALLIFY Useries, articulating our personal theories of change, and reflecting on the devastating fires in West Maui, with Moving toward the Future in a Time of Griefwith Aubrey Yee, explored principles for spaciousness with Bill Coy’s Yutoriworkshop, and did a deep dive on facilitation skills through the Art of Hosting and Harvesting Conversations that Matter.We also experimented with more intentional collective engagement in events convened by partner organizations as a first step in exploring Collective Learning Excursions.

Photo of Fellows participating in a workshop at HLF

Co-creating an EVOLUTIONARY Impact Network Strategy

Through a series of collaborative design labs built on a foundation of the Forum of Fellows charter values and a #KuleanaCan Impact Model drawn from our own experiences, we launched two Fellows-driven Impact Network initiatives:

  • Hui Olonā to identify opportunities to flow resources to impact opportunities through one-to-one, Fellow-to-Fellow connections.
  • Pilina Peeps provides input and thought partnership on pilina-building Collective Learning Excursions inspired by the individual Learning Excursion element of the Omidyar Fellows experience.

What has emerged for me is a consistent pattern in how Fellows have successfully deepened their practice of leadership, whether in their Cohort experience, or after it as part of the Forum of Fellows. When we invest in learning more about the I-We-Itof our leadership, and when we invest in close relationships with other practitioners around us, we become more effective leaders.

The difference between the two, however, is that through the fellowship, we learned the foundation of individual transformation to transform individuals and individual organizations around us. The promise of the Forum of Fellows, however, is the chance to practice relational transformation, how we lash ourselves together in order to transform together. I’ve observed this as the evolution of an ecosystem of relationships that echoes the transformation of individuals. As we look to 2024, I believe we’ve arrived at a formula for creating the context for that evolution: Community + Content + Questions = Evolution.

Reflecting on responses to her recent book ReCoding America: Why Government Is Failing in the Digital Age and How We Can Do Better,Jennifer Pahlka highlighted the following line from a comment (that otherwise lamented the inept “kludge-ocracies” that emerge from complex systems such as bureaucracies that fail to incorporate continuous improvement):

Real fundamental solutions are always in the works because friendships are being formed by the chaos.

If I take away anything from a year of contemplating the Forum of Fellows as an Impact Network, it is a reaffirmation that relationships are synonymous with solutions. The kinds of relationships we have will be the kinds of solutions we have. I’m grateful to be part of a Forum of Fellows committed to deep relationships—connected by the practice of courageous leadership in service to Hawaiʻi—because those are the solutions I hope for us.

Photo of Rich Matsuda
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