Networks and connections play an important role in enabling information, knowledge and experience to be shared and new innovations and ideas to be discussed. Our connections help us to learn, refine and grow ideas and are an important catalyst to drive change, particularly across ecosystems with a number of stakeholders.

This webinar session united The Tony Blair Institute for Global Change and the Alliance of Digital Finance Associations to highlight the benefits of connections and to identify ways we can deepen and leverage these to build an inclusive world. You can watch the recording of the webinar here.  

The Tony Blair Institute for Global Change’s report ‘ Supercharging Africa’s Startups: The Continent’s Path to Tech Excellence’ breaks down what African policymaker’s and the broader tech startup ecosystem must prioritise for Africa’s tech ecosystem to reach its full potential. The report has 10 recommendations focusing on three core areas; developing an enabling business environment that stimulates innovation, attract more funding to African tech startups by building an investment landscape that encourages, rather than deters investors and strengthening support networks that encourages collaboration, cross-pollination of ideas and knowledge sharing within and across (and beyond!) the African tech ecosystem.  

We now have evidence to show that connections are vital, as Belinda said our “networks are out net worth.” We spent the rest of the time during our session exploring where and how we connect and how, in this digitised world, can we grow our network and deepen our connections.  

Face to face networking and events can create emotional connection that are challenging to supplement virtually. Face to face enables you to see people’s reactions and you can see who else they know in a room. It can speed up the depth of connection we feel. But online removes the barriers of location – we can reach out to anyone anywhere in the world – we are no longer limited by geographies. We can bridge knowledge gaps and shared learning much faster and we can connect with someone anywhere 24/7.  

Where are we connecting online? 

We identified four key places where we can connect, share and collaborate online: 

  • Social media platforms such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook aid us keeping in touch without significant effort, they are great for building a network of connections to be accessed for a long-time and for others to find and connect with us 
  • Chat rooms such as WhatsApp, WeChat and Telegram allow us to quickly chat, exchange information, and engage in discussions 
  • Collaboration tools such as Teams and Google Suite enable us to save, access, edit and work collaboratively together  
  • Conferencing tools such as Zoom, Google Meet and Teams help us digitally connect and exchange from anywhere in the world. It provides good opportunities for webinars, meetings, brainstorming and even fully virtual conferences. Functions such as breakout rooms, chat and whiteboards help facilitate interaction  

It is also important to note that all the above can be accessed through our mobile phones as well as laptops and we are spending more time on mobile/tablet devices now than ever before!   

Email is not out of fashion yet either – it can be great for setting up calendar invites and sending out reminders for events and meet-ups. Also for more formal follow-ups to, bringing things back from social media into the more formal work environment.  

How can we make impact in our e-introductions and build connections 

We identified the following tips/hints for successful e-introductions 

  • Be short and sweet with introductions  
  • Find a way to show value add as time is a limited commodity  
  • Find common ground or values or shared experience quickly to start building that connection  
  • Build human connection by sharing a little bit about yourself and some areas of interest to help break the ice 
  • Do preliminary research to understand a bit about the person prior to connecting  
  • Follow-up with connections/messages after meeting promptly  
  • Think about time zones when sending messages and meeting requests 
  • We’re all different – some like to jump straight into the purpose, others like casual/social interaction first – tread lightly at the beginning  
  • Prevalence rates of platforms varies from individual and country – but generally LinkedIn is the place for professional networking  
  • Keep your profile updated – share your experience, interests and contact details  

There are many opportunities to connect, take the initiative – reach out, send that message, request to be connected. Make connecting a regular habit – schedule time weekly to grow and deepen your connections. Don’t forget to share your connections with others too, look through your network and see who you can introduce to each other and don’t forget just a quick introduction helping them see the common ground they already have.  

Good luck and keep connecting!