Watchlist: Networks

Whether helping clients or the world, these five groups are harnessing their collective talents to make an impact.


Nesta is a unique London-based platform with a mission to “help people and organizations bring great ideas to life,” thus increasing the innovation capacity of the UK across a broad range of sectors. The independent group (originally the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts) aims to dodge bureaucratic slow-downs by providing an alternate path forward, coordinating everything from the skills, the money and the networks to make the concept a reality. “Over the next few years, we’re going to need more ideas to cope with the big challenges we all face. Ideas on how to thrive with an ageing population, ideas on how to make money while cutting carbon emissions, and ideas on how to create good jobs for young people.” Due to the flexibility of their mission they have been able to touch multiple arenas, industries and mediums, from festivals like FutureFest (this issue to developing mobile healthcare apps, to supporting digital education in classrooms. While most companies are facing increased constraints, their fluid framework built upon a strong network of partnerships enables supported independence. Tackling ‘hot topics’ from Biomimicry to Garden Drones, Prosthetics and Bionics to the future of Materials, Quantified Self to Personal Manufacturing, they are actively engaged in the world’s most interesting debates. In addition to this, they recently shifted to a charitable status, further setting them apart from other nurturing organizations with similar goals. Sharing the wealth of wisdom accumulated as a result of direct involvement with hundreds of innovative projects, Nesta compiles and publishes their findings as research reports that further assist in creatively and confidently navigating forward.

Small Giants

Advocating for good business and the good of society is Small Giants, an Australian-based social enterprise founded in 2007 by Berry Liberman and her husband Danny Almagor to “create, nurture and empower businesses that are shifting us to a more socially equitable and environmentally sustainable world.” Acting as a catalyst for change through commerce with enterprises of all levels interested in leaving the world better than when they arrived, this B Corp proves that value-driven decision-making is not only beneficial to everyone, but essential for healthy communities locally and globally. Their portfolio reflects their passion and creativity, with a range of projects united under four key elements—opting for those that embody ‘disruptive focus,’ are ‘community driven,’ have ‘enlightened management’ and a ‘commitment to the world.’ In addition to their work as a social enterprise, the founders of Small Giants have integrated their creative passions into the platform, bringing The School of Life _(this issue _to Melbourne, as well as linking the publication Dumbo Feather to the growing network of inspiration. Together, these elements of their platform bring together separate clusters of people under one organized tour de force to better the world as a community.


To accomplish the extraordinary, you must seek extraordinary people. To this end, the online salon has brought together a community of individuals who “do not accept secondhand ideas, thoughts and opinions for their own.” Their aim is “to arrive at the edge of the world’s knowledge, seek out the most complex and sophisticated minds, put them in a room together, and have them ask each other the questions they are asking themselves,” explains the group who pride themselves on “thinking smart” rather than accepting “the anesthesiology of received wisdom.” Started in 1981 as a group of New York City-based intellectuals under the name of _The Reality Club, _members met regularly wherever they could, whether in Chinese restaurants, artists lofts, university board rooms, museums or living rooms, to discuss, debate, learn, challenge and be challenged. It wasn’t until 1997 they decided to take it online with the help of author and literary agent John Brockman, re-organizing as The Edge Foundation, Inc. Now acting as the publisher and online editor of, Brockman puts forth an ‘annual question’ to be answered by the selective community of minds, whose mini-essay responses are then compiled and published as a book. The elegant and mentally-satisfying compendium of insights serves as a physical manifestation of the evolutions in thinking, pushed forward by the group. In addition to the books and online forum, maintains and cultivates their community through a variety of other formats, from posting videos to hosting events, dinners, seminars and master classes.


Ushahidi, which means ‘testimony’ in Swahili, was originally developed by Kenyan citizen journalists as a website to map reports of violence and peace efforts in their country (submitted via the web and mobile phones) after the post-election fallout at the beginning of 2008. The website quickly garnered 45 000 users in Kenya, making it clear that a platform was needed to open up their toolkit to people around the world. Since then, they have grown from an ad hoc group of volunteers to a focused network of players boasting a wide span of experience ranging from human rights work to software development. Their volunteer team of developers has also grown beyond the borders of Africa, to Europe, South America and the United States. As a nonprofit tech company they offer and develop free and open source software for information collection, visualization and interactive mapping that has been customized, appropriated and successfully deployed by hundreds of people around the world to tackle goals, “whether to monitor elections or a crisis, to crowdsource an experiential marketing campaign for a brand or event, or even to organize a music group’s fans and shows.” Some of their most interesting projects include developing the BRCK, a mobile backup Internet generator that can grab an internet connection from anything for a solid connection even in rural Kenya _(this issue, _and funding iHub, an innovation hub coworking space at the centre of the African tech boom. With such a smart and successful framework, it’s not surprising they have garnered attention, funding and partnership from the likes of MozillaCisco and _Google, _as they harness the creative power of communities across the map.


Like the bubbly name suggests_, FoAM_ is a cohesive mass of independent spheres washing over Europe, or in their own words, a “network of transdisciplinary labs for speculative culture.” Inhabited by people with diverse skills and interests, the collective is “a generalists’ community of practice working at the interstices of contrasting disciplines and worldviews.” Guided by their motto “grow your own worlds,” they research and experiment with potential futures, prototyping them as artistic models in public spaces, inviting different perspectives to test and challenge their creations. “As with foam (the mass of bubbles), FoAM (the group) is a dynamic entity that can change shape and scale as required. We can be a transdisciplinary organization in the morning, a tightly-knit family at lunchtime, a learning facility in the afternoon, a loose bunch of philosophers in the evening and a dedicated designers’ collective by night.” With studios in Brussels, Amsterdam, Stockholm and Falmouth, the network spreads their reach with services like one-on-one coaching, apprenticeships, group workshops, residencies, as well as a ‘Libarynth’: an online dumping ground for projects, sketches, journals and ideas ranging from newly conceived to long-since completed, active to forgotten—all open for borrowing, building upon or revitalizing. With collaboration at its heart, their activities range from modern storytelling to food-sharing, live coding to lectures, experimenting with design installations to education models. Their publications range in format from video to photography to text, which are catalogued and cherished in their multi-sensory appointment-based library. For those wishing to tap into the network without over-committing, FoAM also offer ‘micro residencies’ which can range from a couple hours to a week of intensive sessions to tackle your challenge with the help of experts and enthusiasts from within the network.

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