Your Network is your Net Worth

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G.M

For many applying to Chevening the network essay constitutes the most difficulty when trying to answer the four essay questions. Yet, it is as simple as it is as direct.

Leadership is simply the ability to get things done through others. That is, the ability to attain set goals by influencing your network.

When you write this essay, bear these in mind:

  • What does relationship mean to me and what premium do I put on relationships?
  • Why do I connect with people?
  • What is the most significant impact I’ve had on a person?
  • What is the most significant impact I’ve had on a team?
  • What is the most significant impact I’ve had on an organization?
  • What is the most significant change I have steered in my community?
  • Who are the members of my network?
  • What is their quality and caliber?
  • Am I able to influence policy change at work, in the community, at school, in the Government, within associations etc.? If not? Why not?

Networking simply means connecting with people. Networking isn’t just about chatting with the “politicians” at a luncheon or taking selfies with famous people.  It has everything to do with making a genuine connection with the majority of persons you meet (if not all) – whether they would prove useful to you or not. Verily, verily I say unto you that many of the best opportunities that will come your way will be from trusted relationships with people you least expected could ever be useful to you.

About 16 months after completing my National Youth Service program at the university clinic of one of the tertiary institutions in the Northeastern region of my country having sociocultural and ethno-religious orientation parallel to mine, I get accosted by two tall handsome well-built young men, while strolling down the street in my neighborhood on a cool windy night. Saving for the fact that they were smartly dressed, I would think something dramatic must lie in wait.“Hey doc”, they shout almost simultaneously. “Do you remember us?” ‘I don’t! Have we met?’ I ask.They introduce themselves and recite how nice and friendly I had been to them and the majority of their fellow students while I was working as one of their University Clinic doctors. In particular, one of them narrates a touching story of how I had provided not just treatment but so much emotional support to him when he was turned away one afternoon because it was officially past clinic hours, and how I would patiently listen to their troubles working late and even going beyond official schedule to assist them while I worked in that institution. Yes, indeed, I remember it actually took a month or two before my clinics started getting congested with many of the students and staff of the university preferring to be attended by the “stranger doctor” – apparently, not necessarily for any superiority of competence as much as it was due to soft networking skills which endeared me to them. I left the Institution upon completion of my program with the Vice-Chancellor’s Award for outstanding performance also owing partly to the general student and staff endorsement consequent upon excellent networking skills. Long story cut short, one of the two fellows who accosted me, insisted he’d like to introduce me to his uncle. I didn’t feel it was necessary at all, not considering whatever I did anything beyond my commitment to duty and was about waiving the possibility off, but then, I asked: who’s your uncle, where does he stay? “He’s the Chief of Army Staff”! Came the reply. We exchange contacts and the rest is now history. I am today connected to my country’s COAS through this dude and have reaped great benefits.

Networking is very important—be you a business executive, marketer, civil servant or prospective Chevening scholar. Your network is your net worth! No wonder, for many scholarship platforms, there will usually be a way to probe into what constitutes your network and its driving philosophy. This is because no man can be greater than his network. We can predict your potential for great leadership by considering your associates – those you’re influencing and those influencing you. In business, capital is key–but when many a person think of capital they think in monetary terms. Nonetheless, I know 2 other types of capital that are even more crucial than financial capital. These two forms of capital are actually the pre-conditions to gaining and growing financial capital: human capital (the outstanding people on your team, in a professional or more formal setting), and social/relationship capital (which comes from networks, formal and informal). For the purpose of writing your scholarship essay, I will concentrate only on the importance of investing in your social capital by networking effectively.

Networks enable you to succeed in leadership, find investors for your business, find great people to hire and potential customers, form cross-national ties,and interact and collaborate with great minds beyond your geography. Networks open doors with governments, and provide you with great advice, mentorship, potential research and business partners, and what have you. If you work for a company, networks can help you tap into opportunities to further your career or to drive revenue for your company. As a Chevening hopeful, networks will provide you useful assistance at every stage of the application process: from essay guide to visa applications and to even accommodation when you travel to a foreign land. That catchphrase “your network is your net-worth” is true—personally, there’s a touch of network to every major event that’s taken place in my life.

Chevening Essay, Networking High Points:

It is my theory that those who do well in this segment of the Chevening application are those who can demonstrate their networks with examples, as well as the impacts in at least three of the following categories: I have not arranged them in any particular order:

  • Political/National Leadership (Politicians, Policy Makers, Statesmen, Diplomats, Governors, Senators, Ambassadors, Local Government Chairmen, Ministry Directors, Council Chair etc)
  • Networks within the Chevening family (Alumni, Current Scholars)
  • Network/Participation in prior or current British Council programs/activities
  • Network with leaders of thought (Academics, Researchers, Writers, Readers, Activists, Board Directors, Program Leads, Journalists, Technocrats, Philosophers etc)
  • Social Networks (Community Volunteerism, Humanitarian Initiatives, Parent-Teachers Association, Religious Groups, UN, WHO, UNICEF, NGOs, Dance Groups, Human Rights Groups, Cross-National Collaborations, Mastery of diverse languages etc.)
  • Social Media Networks as a tool for driving positive change (Scholarship Groups, Environmental Conservation Groups, Political Groups, Health Campaign Groups, Children Rights Campaigns, Gender Equity Groups, Education and Research Groups etc. – Facebook, whatsapp, twitter, LinkedIn)
  • Professional Associations (Journal Clubs, Peer Review Groups, Conferences-local and international, Membership of Associations – local and international)
  • Organizational/Operational Networks (Networks with colleagues, Interdepartmental networks, Connection with superiors and subordinates etc)
  • Network with Institutions (Academic Institutions [intended and other universities], Your Alma Mata, Research Institutes, Societies, Industries, National and International Government Agencies).
  • Simple/Personal Networks (Family and Friends, Class mates, Colleagues with commendable influence and impact on them and on you)
  • Business Networks (Known or less well-known business moguls with appreciable financial capacity to drive change, national and international entrepreneurs and economy stakeholders)

My list is by no means exhaustive. No particular category is superior to the other. It all depends on what you say and how you say it. But it is my advice that you isolate three to five to really talk about using examples and quoting believable statistics if any to demonstrate the measure of impact. Do not be tempted to write about every named category; that is a recipe for failure as you would lose focus and clarity.

Your network will either implicate you as a potentially great leader or mess up the other segments of your essay. Again, do not attempt to invent things where they do not exist. Your assessors are expert psychologists and will spot whatever isn’t adding up.  It is absolutely OK, to talk about ordinary things. So long as you do so in a great way. Sometimes what you claim in your write-up will be weighed against your age, your post-graduation experience, and your recommendation letters to see if they be in sync. A beautiful essay can still get dumped if it sounds too good to be true and if a few things don’t add up. If you haven’t got the kind of network Chevening is looking for, it could be a wise counsel for you to hold on, and take the next 12 months to build it. Like what we have said prior, Chevening is not something you wake up one morning and decide to be. No! It is who you’ve been all the while – over the years gone by. It takes commitment to building a track record, and not just waking up one morning in August to apply.

But how may I build a meaningful network for myself? By doing well to remember that networking is a long-range game. Don’t expect to meet someone at a cocktail and then immediately ask them to be your mentor, give you a job, collaborate with you, link you up to associates or provide capital for your business. That is a No-No for most people. People meet me on the virtual space called social media, and finding out I am privileged to be a recipient of a few scholarships immediately make strange demands.You will need to take the time to cultivate an open and authentic relationship before you can make demands — Never be in a hurry, never pester and never beg. Carry yourself with dignity too. When people know you’re responsible and self-respecting, they tend to oblige you willfully. Also, invest in activities beyond your immediate group or organization; walk around with an attitude of curiosity and be proactive about it.

Four things drive or aid effective networking: Being approachable, having mutual respect and tolerance, a desire for knowledge and exposure,and patience and commitment to networking.

Network also proceeds in 4 stages. Credit is given to Fred Swaniker who first divided the process of Networking into 4 key stages and developed these thoughts:

‘Connection: Consider this as “the excitement” – “the spark” or “soulical” captivation stirred by the initial conversation at the networking dinner or your university’s alumni homecoming. This is when you’re meeting someone for the first time. The primary objective should simply begetting to know this person–his background, values, interests—and to quickly establish what you might have in common. It is the wrong time to ask for anything.

Relationship: Supposing, after the initial connection, the spark continues (e.g. you both exchange contacts and would genuinely want to meet again), then, you both are ready to move to the next stage of networking: a meaningful relationship. During this stage, both of you spend ample time together and find out whether your initial gut instinct from the earlier phase (the ‘connection’) will be sustainable. You’re interested in finding out your compatibility quotient. Do we really share the same values? Is that area of common interest really there, can we agree to disagree, can we really work together? There should be no bile at this stage if one person starts to realize that you’re not on the same page anymore. The relationship ought to come easy at this stage. If one of you feels like you are forcing things, then this is not a relationship that will last beyond the connection. This phase is the most important part and will take a long time to develop. Relationships also wax and wane. This is okay. But once a true relationship is developed, you can now proceed to the next stage: Trust.

Trust: Trust is the most vital ingredient that is needed to take the relationship to the next level, and it develops in very few cases. During the ‘trust’ phase, both parties will realize whether the other party is truly legitimate or fake. Does this person have integrity? Do they deliver on what they say they will do? Have they been exaggerating or are they telling the truth? If someone is going to invest in your start up or recommend you for a job or scholarship, they need to have full faith in your character, because they are putting their reputation on the line in order to set you up. You have to put in some work to earn their trust by being transparent about who you are and what you can really do.

Collaboration: This is the final stage in networking, where trust is so great that a significant investment or business ‘transaction’ can actually occur (small collaborations may occur without trust, but you will never get a major deal or investment without major levels of trust). Once you have built trust with anybody, you can finally ask that person to recommend you, link you up to other major contacts or invest in you, or to risk their reputation in any other way. Anytime someone engages in a collaboration with you, they are taking risk. So only if they have developed trust with you will they take that big risk.The key thing to remember about collaboration is that it’s a two-way street. For example, if the other person is giving up their time to mentor or advise you, think about what you can bring to the table as well. How are you helping the other person to fulfill their own dreams and needs? What are you offering that the other person can benefit from? Are you the best employee they’ve ever had? Are they happy because they invested in your company and your company is giving them good returns? Are you giving them access to your own special networks? There must be something tangible they are also getting from the collaboration. You should also know when enough is enough. No one wants to feel like you are simply draining them by constantly asking for things. Try and widen your network so you’re not always asking the same few people for things. The more expansive and powerful your network is, the more others will want to be part of it because then they also benefit from your relationships.

I hope these 4 steps will help you build powerful networks in a systematic way. But remember this: 97% of the people you engage with will never become “useful” to you in anyway. That is absolutely okay. Don’t feel like you are not succeeding in building your network if you are not doing ‘transactions’ with the vast majority of the people in your network. I truly believe that life is not about how much money you make, but about who you spend that life with– your family, loved ones, colleagues, and your personal and professional network.  That, at the end of the day, is your true wealth. So invest genuinely in building relationships with people. It’s the only way you will eventually get to the point of trust and collaboration. And even if you never get to that point with most people, you would have had great fun along the way and you will truly be ‘richer’ as a result of those meaningful relationships’. Your network is your net-worth. It doesn’t matter how fat or slim your bank account is right now. You are as rich as 4 of your top most contacts right now. Your capacity to influence national and organizational policies is also predictable by the contacts you’ve made and are making. Build your network. Best Wishes!

N/B: Although this section seeks to determine your network potential, its caliber and its driving philosophy, make no mistake concentrating on your team or using the pronoun “we”. The assessors are interested in YOU! Your specific role/influence on your team/networks. So use more “I” than “we” if at all. Good luck!

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not reflect that of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), its partner organizations or any scholarship awarding institution.

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