The Power of Peer Networks - CatComm and PledgeBank

“Everybody knows the proverb about how it’s better to teach a man to fish than just to give him a fish, but there’s a step beyond that: it’s better that a man’s neighbor is the one teaching him to fish, his peer.  If some expert swoops in from afar you miss half the value of the interaction because of the inequality in that relationship. But if it’s his peer teaching him? Then the man is much more likely to offer something in return.  You are much more likely to create a real sustainable relationship rather than just a new dependency.” Theresa Williamson, Founder, Catalytic Communities

Can individuals change the world? It's all a matter of leverage…

At BRINQ we've been exploring the creation of peer networks for local innovators in the Base of the Pyramid, particularly for innovation in toys and all things play! And although we've already written a number of recent articles about them, we thought it was a good moment to again bring up our friends in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, who exemplify the power of peer networks. Those friends of course are the folks at Catalytic Communities (CatComm) , who we recently entered into a partnership with to help fundraise and expand their local world-changing network globally.

Why our intense interest in Catalytic Communities? Raw admiration for their work aside, we're just heeding the advice of Njeri Muhia, an economics professor at Egerton University in Njoro, Kenya who mentored us on participatory methods for development. Njeri told us, "Instead of trying to build entirely new infrastructure in poor communities, first try doing something new with existing capacity and groups." In Brazil, Catalytic Communities has already built a powerful peer network of community leaders and innovators drawn from amongst Rio de Janeiro's 750 squatter communities (favelas) and such a resource provides huge opportunities to new ventures like ours. In fact, through Patrick's involvement with the Base of the Pyramid Protocol, we found that networks like CatComm's are invaluable in seeking out new opportunities for business and development.

Then there's PledgeBank, a UK based organization launched earlier this year that also leverages the power of peer networks. Pledges made at can be anything from fundraising for your favorite cause, volunteering at a local charity, to finally kicking that nasty nicotine habit. The key is that PledgeBank pledges go into effect only after you recruit enough of your peers to make the same promise: "I will do this if 1000 other people pledge to do so too!" PledgeBank therefore harnesses and encourages the power of individuals to become groups, and it doesn't even need to be people who know one another, just ones that share a common cause.

Both organizations enable individuals to band together to create new movements, to allow the local to join with the global, and in doing so change the world. Given that similarity,it's only natural that Catalytic Communities would decide to use PledgeBank for its 2005 fundraising drive.

"I will set up a $10 monthly donation to CatComm (or $120 annually) but only if 399 other people will too, and only if one philanthropist will match our joint donations dollar for dollar."

— Patrick Donohue

Deadline to sign up by: 31st December 2005

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It turns out that it's not the big foundations but the individuals like you and I who are the most powerful philanthropic force around. Lynne Twist, author of the book The Soul of Money and award winning fundraiser (she's raised some $200+ million for non-profits, all from individuals) gave us this statistic when we met her last week: of the $250 billion donated in the United States last year, the vast majority was donated by individuals, close to %80. And most of those individuals are in the $150k a year and under group, not just the Bill Gates of the world.

What does this all mean for business? Well, we believe that the organizations which learn to create peer effects - those that catalyze an explosion of grassroots innovation and growth - are the ones that will lead the future in the Base of the Pyramid. A successful model will not be one that just "scales", but instead one that embraces replication and adaptation. The former is about mammoth organizations whereas the latter is all about networks of individuals.

And if you don't have that network yourself, find a way to become a peer of one that does. All you need is a little leverage…

"All that is valuable in human society depends upon the opportunity for development accorded the individual." - Albert Einstein

Additional Resources:


The Power of Peer Networks -

The Power of Peer Networks - Individuals vs. Scale

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