In 2009 three people sat down together to ask a question as relevant today as it was then. How might we build new platforms that unite and magnify people’s abilities to solve the challenges that are most meaningful to them, and in the process upend the old models of the social sector to offer something more collaborative, more open, and more innovative?
This question intrigued GKI’s co-founders: Nina Fedoroff, a biotechnologist and former Science and Technology Advisor to the US Secretary of State, Sara Farley, an innovation strategist who’d helped the World Bank, United Nations, and other organizations craft their innovation strategies and programming, and Sam Pitroda, a world-renowned telecom entrepreneur. And so, GKI planted its flag at the edge of the frontier, dubbing the dawning of “The Collaboration Era” and heralding the power and necessity of a new flavor of innovation, one that is deeply rooted in partnership, sharing, and collective action.
The decade that followed has offered a rich learning journey and spurred the formation of a growing community of thousands of partners who’ve counted on the Global Knowledge Initiative to help them transform themselves and their organizations into “Super Collaborators” — people and institutions adept at uniting disparate ideas and resources to solve challenges in complex systems.
Since its founding, GKI has never shied away from walking its talk, driven by a global team that’s grown over the years and fueled by the conviction of a passionate Board. Over the years…
We built things
Systems mapping processes, innovation labs, collaborative networks, playbooks, toolkits, interactive experiences, and communities. GKI has been a sandbox and a laboratory for innovation for more than a decade. We believed if it didn’t exist, we could, with the help of our stakeholders, construct it. For example, through network formation and the production of systems analysis, GKI unified the people, processes, and innovations successful in solving a mysterious problem in Rwandan specialty coffee, minimizing the challenge for tens of thousands of farmers and their families. It was a network that took years to build and became a sustainable feature of the coffee system through ongoing partnerships with the University of Rwanda, Michigan State University, Rwanda’s Agriculture Board, various coffee cooperatives and exporters, and thousands of farmers.
We broke things
For some, collaborating comes naturally. For others entrenched in disciplinary, industrial, cultural or geographic silos, boundaries thwart collaboration. The result: misaligned incentives, untapped resources, and duplicative efforts. Some of GKI’s most provocative and successful work has been in silo-busting, as we did in Pakistan and Afghanistan and in Malaysia where we focused on skills building and facilitation to overcome power asymmetries and cultural barriers to connect scientific research to food security and water challenges.
We grew things
Becoming a Systems Innovation Rockstar begins with a mindset shift. Supporting others in building the mindsets, skillsets, and spirit inside GKI first and making collaboration a habit. We count over 2,500 innovators, policymakers, corporate leaders, civic leaders, researchers, entrepreneurs, and change agents among the alumni of GKI’s programs. These alumni serve as an enduring legacy of our work and offer hope for a new kind of “systems leader” emerging in vitally needed spaces for social impact and transformational change.
We reimagined the future
Many of GKI’s most provocative and impactful endeavors were rooted not only in systems methods but in future thinking. Helping people and organizations not only understand their collective present, but also envision their collective future so that they can align policy, investments, ideas, and strategies around that future have been part of GKI’s story from the start as has advocated that everyone understands the power of change that rests in all of us. Just like the 300 youth from 100 countries at the Thought for Food Summit, who GKI worked with to visualize their role in the future food system. Pulling it off took costumes, a Swiss greenhouse (in which the experience took place), a dozen co-facilitators, a fantastic GKI team, 3,000 sticky notes, and an artist to help us visualize the results in a simple graphic.
Through the years we have grown, experimented, and made mistakes. Sometimes we got it right, and sometimes we got it wrong, learning through the most instructive of teachers: failure and humility. The journey is not a straight line, but it tilts forward in terms of impact and influence . At GKI we will continue to pursue change. We want to change the degree to which billions of people’s lives are defined by climate change, poverty, inequality, and a host of food, health, water, and energy insecurity challenges. But pursuing change means being open to change as leaders, loosening our grip on what we are certain of, to sit with the unknowns and the complexities that render systems transformation so very hard.
We invite you
We invite you, our future Super Collaborators, to join us as we continue to build, break, learn, reimagine, and change to do the bold things needed to build a more resilient future.