How to build a network in your community

“It’s all about people. It’s about networking and being nice to people and not burning any bridges.”

Mike Davidson, vice president of the social networking site, Twitter

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A woman called Rojamma was left all alone with her two daughters after her husband passed away. A meeting held in her village by Hindustan Unilever Company gave her and other women a chance to be part of ‘Project Shakti’. Every morning, Rojamma woke up at 5 am, finished her cooking and by 7’o clock she would set out, moving from village to village to talk to people, make connects and sell products. She did not merely sell consumer goods, but informed people and convinced them about the need for those products. Due to her wide network of customers, she was able to sell products and earn a profit to feed her family. Because of her products, the villages are also advancing. Rojamma feels that the recognition people give her, outweighs the monetary benefits. Everyone in the village knows her now and when people see her coming to their village they crowd around and call her ‘Shakti Amma’

 

As a leader in your community, your responsibility is no different from Rojamma’s. While you do not have to sell products, you do have to communicate a vision, a vision of an equal community, and a brighter future. You have to educate people about the need for social change and how they need to adopt the right behaviours. To do that, like the Rojamma you must build connections, get out of your house, meet people, talk to them and build relationships such that people trust and recognize you.

 

This is networking.

 

Networking has a very simple definition: CONNECT + SHARE + REMAIN RELEVANT.

 

In order to network in your village, you have to meet people and connect with them, share information and get to know what they have to say. Most importantly, you have to be relevant, that is, listen to people and give them information based on their needs. Also remember, networking is based on developing long-term relationships based on mutual gain. Just like Rojamma, you cannot merely give people information, you need to discuss and convince them what they will gain after following the right health behaviours and using the required health service.

 

HOW TO NETWORK IN YOUR  COMMUNITY?

PART 1: PREPARE

  • Prepare a quick 30 seconds biography about yourself, your interests, likes, what you do for a living. This will help you introduce yourself quickly and confidently.
  • Be ready with your vision statement. Refer to the chapter on ‘Articulating your vision’, for preparing your vision statement.
  • Try and think about people you want to meet and connect with. Think of building connections with people who possibly have a large network. For example, a teacher, as communicating your vision to a teacher can help to transmit your message to a number of parents, children and fellow teachers, if the person is convinced and influenced by you.

 

PART 2: MOVE OUT

  • Get out of your house. Networking does not happen inside close doors. It is rather impossible to build real relationships with people without making an effort and getting out of your house. Just calling someone on their phone once will not help you build a trustworthy relationship with him or her. There is really no substitute to face-to –face interactions.
  • Start with your comfort zone: First start meeting people you know and are acquainted with. Talk to your family members, your friends, and people at your work place. These are people you have conversations with on a daily basis, it could be to test run with your close contacts before talking to people you are not acquainted with at all.
  • Step up your game! After sticking to your comfort zone for a while, try talking to people in settings that you would otherwise rarely go to. For example: Your building or neighbourhood group meeting, have a conversation about anaemia with your child’s teacher on his/her result day
  • Identify naturally occurring events in your village, like a festival, fair, market, or even planned events like a health camp or a wedding that you are invited to, and meet new people. Try to attend a networking event at least once a month. Practice will make you perfect.

 

PART 3: CONNECT

  • Small talk: Networking is like a ladder, small talk is the first step. Smile and be confident. Positive body language will make a big difference in the impression that people make of you.  Ask open ended questions, listen intently, and bring up a common topic for discussion. Try to get to know about the person. Say something that will make the person remember you.
  • Think of ways you can help people. Reciprocity is a key ingredient of networking. If you genuinely try to help the other person, they will be willing to listen to you and try to help you in spreading your message.
  • Find out who knows whom. Find out what they do for a living, get to know their family and friends. If you are lucky, you might find someone with a lot of influence and with well-established networks. These key influencers can help spread health messages.
  • You will find that some people are great at networking, they probably know everyone. You will benefit from getting to know them as they can help set you up with their network.
  • If the situation feels appropriate, see if you can share contact numbers and stay in touch. You could even invite new contacts for group discussions and community events.
  • Follow up. Don’t just make a connection, or take number, and forget about people. Try to keep in touch as much as possible. Networking is like a tree, if you don’t enrich and nourish it, it will die. Send your influential connects an occasional greeting, or forward an sms to them. If it is a religious festival, wish them. If you don’t have their contact, if you meet them again, reconnect. Make a conscious effort to meet them again. Invite you’re your new connections for community events. If you happen to meet these people, greet them and strike a conversation if they have the time to spare.

 

These are the three simple parts of building a network in your community and for spreading messages and influencing social change. So go ahead and start networking then. All the best!