Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Decentralized Organizations

So in my last post I touched on how, through hosting conferences and otherwise compiling strategies and information about tutoring/mentoring, The Tutor/Mentor Connection aims to be a hub that provide resources for other organizations supporting youth tutoring/mentoring. The T/MC was founded to empower others through the creation of loose networks of people all interested in a common goal, providing opportunities to help at-risk youth. Via our conferences, our tutor/mentor program locator and our online tutor/mentor institute and other resources, we wish to be the catalyst that brings people together around tutoring/mentoring and mobilize them to contribute in various ways towards improving the availability and quality of comprehensive, long-term, volunteer-based tutor/mentor programs in high-poverty areas.

In fact, a recent book entitled "The Starfish and the Spider" has made waves in managerial circles by documenting the recent rise of decentralized organizations such as wikipedia and craigslist as well as older, more established organizations like Alcoholics Anonymous. The idea is that, if you cut off a spider's head, it dies; however, if you cut off a starfish's leg it grows a new one, and that leg can grow into an entirely new starfish. Traditional, hierarchical organizations are like spiders, but now starfish organizations are changing the face of business and the world.

Much like these organizations, The Tutor/Mentor Connection is also decentralized, with its users providing the bulk of the content and practice after we, the catalysts, have helped to give the organization form, ideas, value, focus, and meaning from the get-go. However, now that we have roughly established the aforementioned aspects of the organization, we wish to cede power over to its members to grow the network and achieve our collective goals.

In 1995 Craig Newmark founded the website Craigslist to serve as an online classifieds for the San Francisco bay area, offering nothing more than a website for users to buy and sell goods. Now over 30 million different people use the site each month in over 450 world cities, exchanging goods and information in communities. The beauty of Craigslist is that it is merely a platform where its users provide the content. There are active discussion boards swapping information about a variety of topics and active marketplaces selling everything under the sun. However, all communication and sales are between users; there is no middleman or need to deal directly with administrators of the organization, the network is already there. This allows a staff of 24 people to administer an online marketplace receiving over 9 BILLION pageviews per month!

This is what the Tutor/Mentor Connection is trying to do. We have built a decentralized network, a "starfish organization", that tries to engage diverse sectors and bring them together in support of tutoring/mentoring. For instance, as you can see in the figure below, we are trying to serve as a hub to mobilize businesses, faith communities, schools, community leaders, technology specialists, athletes/celebrities, universities and other people/insititutions to to help end poverty, improve education, and make life brighter for youth born in poverty. As leaders in these various areas begin to involve members of their networks to volunteer at tutor/mentor programs or otherwise support them with donations of time, money and expertise, these volunteers will similarly bring new leaders into the tutor/mentor fold by telling them about their experiences. The idea is that, once provided this space, these volunteers who come from similar backgrounds will start to network amongst themselves, sharing ideas and strategies, leading to their increased and more creative involvement in tutor/mentor programs all around Chicago. We are merely the catalyst.

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