New Article: Opening Up Educational Opportunities Through Network Leadership

Posted by Stanford Social Innovation Review on January 18, 2022

Public service programs often pose a confusing maze to the people they intend to serve. Agencies often work in isolation, with broken pathways looping back on themselves or leading to dead ends. This fragmentation inadvertently creates barriers to access for their intended beneficiaries. Public health systems purchase vaccines but struggle to reach seniors and underserved populations. Food banks stock up on summer meals but can’t reach hungry children when they’re not in school.

After-school and summer learning time is an important education area plagued by fragmentation. Lower-income students miss out on stimulating and engaging learning opportunities that their more-affluent peers receive. This has important consequences: A Johns Hopkins University study found that the cumulative effects of summer learning loss can account for two-thirds of the academic achievement gap. More recently, McKinsey research found that learning loss due to COVID-19 school closures will widen the academic achievement gap even further; students of color were about three to five months behind in math compared to one to three months for white students.

Now, more than ever, there is a tremendous need to let go of traditional ways of working to deliver greater educational outcomes more efficiently, effectively, and sustainably. Increasing the impact of education and other service delivery networks requires that we adopt new approaches—and we need a new model of leadership to get there. “Network leaders” who put an ambitious mission ahead of their own organizational self-interest are the key. These leaders focus on creating trust-based relationships from the bottom up rather than leading from the top down. They seek to grow the capacity of others and the field more broadly, and by fostering a culture of trust, integrity, and humility, they promote distributed leadership toward a shared mission throughout the network.

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