October 13, 2021

A Radical Network — What We’re Learning in Collective Action

This pandemic has challenged our individual and collective assumptions of who we are, how we work, and what we want. Unprecedented challenges demand that we think and act differently. When we launched Pandemic Action Network in April 2020, it was with the knowledge that the challenges of pandemic preparedness and response are too big and too many for any one single stakeholder or sector, but together we can make an impact.

Over the past year, our Network has grown from 25 partners to more than 140 diverse partners spanning the globe, sectors, and points of view. To better understand how to make the most of our growing Network, we recently conducted a partner survey, to which 60 partners — from civil society organizations, private sector business, philanthropies, multilateral organizations, consultancies, and creative agencies — responded. Based on our survey and our day-to-day experience wielding the window of political opportunity to stay open, we’ve documented six lessons we’ve learned so, as our Network grows, we increase — not dilute — our opportunity for impact. Some are new revelations. Some are not. But they deserve to be documented again, lest we all forget. Now is certainly not the time to go back to business as usual.

Break, then smash, silos. Don’t get us wrong, we love expertise, but this work requires that we look beyond our own silos to share knowledge, identify opportunities, and act together. The Network is built to do precisely that. In our recent partner survey, on average, respondents shared that their work crosses into three Network focus areas. One partner shared, “We are grateful for our partnership and appreciate the ability to elevate our advocacy priorities into broader pandemic prevention and response policy discussions.” Pandemic Action Network is the connection point between various organizations, priorities, and discussions — the place where the dots and the roads connect. 

It’s not about you and your brand. It’s about impact. Another way to say this is: check your ego. Our co-founder Gabrielle Fitzgerald recently wrote in Stanford Social Innovation Review about the power of putting ego aside, referencing Pandemic Action Network and the COVID-19 Action Fund for Africa. She writes, in reference to our World Mask Week campaigns, “It didn’t matter whose hashtag got the most mileage. What mattered was, by the end of that week, billions of people around the world had heard that wearing a mask was one of the simplest and most valuable things they could do to protect themselves and other people. Had each of us prioritized our own individual campaigns, we never would have had that kind of reach.” As the pandemic persists, we call on all in our Network to continue to resist the urge to lead with ego and competition. When we set aside our own visibility, we can collectively amplify priority issues, calls-to-action, and messaging.

Slow down to go faster. We must admit, we are not always good at heeding this lesson;  “Action” is in our name afterall. But what is clear from our recent partner survey is that there is a deep need to pause, discuss big picture context, see around corners together, and make meaning of the messy details. One partner touted the value of “interactive brainstorming” when that has often been lost during our remote work lives. Together, we are seeking and finding value in the unstructured conversations — opportunities for growth and inspiration outside of the bubbles of our day-to-day priorities and patterns of our respective home offices. In response, we have refashioned our Coordination Meetings to be monthly “Virtual Stages” on big picture issues, trends, insights, and perspectives. Working groups balance it out with weekly and biweekly time to get in the trenches of strategizing and activating together. And, based on our recent survey, working groups are delivering on a number of levels. One partner defined the working groups as “the informal networking that is impossible during COVID.” Another shared, “Working groups give us a chance to network and discuss policies, health advocacy, as well as bringing insights and opportunities for us to be a part of creating the solutions with various communities.” 

Take note of who is at the table. We’ve built a diverse ever-growing Network, but who do we see and hear from most? How can we be more intentional about leveraging the expertise of our full Network? This is our challenge ahead. From how we connect to how we communicate, we are focused on shining the light on and amplifying our partners. 

How we show up matters. This work is challenging. We are here for the challenge, but also here for the rich benefit of working with brilliant, thoughtful, and generous people around the world. We will say again, because it is not said enough: kindness is key to this work. 

Color outside the lines. Now is the time for bold thinking and action. If not now, when? This Network is here to be relentless in our effort to end the COVID-19 crisis for everyone around the world and ensure that this crisis leaves a legacy — one where humanity is better prepared to deal with outbreaks and prevent a deadly and costly pandemic from happening again. That takes a willingness to color outside the lines and creative solution-making. 

As this pandemic persists, the Network is proving itself critical to the response to COVID-19, but also for what is to come. One partner noted, “I believe as the current pandemic subsides, it will be key to keep people engaged on the next topic, such as global health security or the public health system.” We agree. Every day we are inspired by the collective action of this growing Network. We are here to connect, collaborate, and catalyze impact together. If you have ideas on how the Network can be a platform for action on our shared goals, reach out

Together, we achieve more.