Collective Mind Community Conversations

Nested Networks

4 min readNov 28, 2022


by Seema Patel, Senior Advisor, Collective Mind

Collective Mind hosts regular Community Conversations with our global learning community. These sessions create space for network professionals to connect, share experiences, and cultivate solutions to common problems experienced by networks.

In November 2022, Collective Mind hosted a Community Conversation on the topic of nested networks. The session welcomed Motunrayo Fagbayi, Program Officer for Education Champion Network, a network hosted by the Malala Fund, and Annalina Kazickas, Senior Program Associate with the Wallace Center and one of the facilitators of the Food Systems Leadership Network, hosted at the Wallace Center at Winrock International. The panelists and session participants engaged in an interactive discussion about what nested networks are, the implications and challenges of their arrangement, and insights and ideas on how to navigate their complexities.

Highlights from the conversation

Nested networks — networks that are created and hosted by a single organization that serves as the primary catalyst and host of the network — present a complex and layered set of opportunities, challenges, and questions. The drivers behind starting a nested network are similar to the drivers behind starting any network — there are people or organizations (in the case of a nested network, those connected to the host organization) that are all working towards similar goals but may be doing so in silos or have an unmet desire for connection to their peers working on similar issues. As such, these individuals and organizations are lacking in streamlined and consistent sources of support and connection, which paves the way for a host organization to fill those gaps and needs by creating and hosting a centralized network. A nested network can provide those organizations and individuals with more formal connections to collectively move their goals forward while also leveraging the readily-available operational and financial infrastructure, resources, support, relationships, and name recognition of the host organization. The arrangement also serves as a vehicle for the host organization to more deeply and formally coalesce like-minded and experienced partners around their programmatic priorities and bolster their overall mission and objectives.

However, these same elements can also create complications for the nested network. At the beginning or early stages of a network’s development, relying on a host organization’s foundational processes and structures can free up the network’s time to focus on its own programming. At the same time, the nested network and its members are beholden to the host organization’s governance and leadership structure, strategy, policies, and procurement practices. Over time, and especially in cases where the host organization’s policies and structures are stringent or rigid, the relationship can potentially constrain the autonomy, ownership, identity, and growth of the nested network and its members. It can also inhibit the network from leaning into member leadership and raise questions about what the network’s identity looks like when it’s bound by another entity’s operational, decision-making, and governance structures.

The conversation offered ideas and experiences for how those working within nested networks can navigate some of these complexities. Our panelists each offered examples of how their nested networks are working to elevate their members’ voices and networks’ priorities within the hosting arrangement. One network recently launched a global steering committee with representatives from each of their national chapters, having been selected by the members of each chapter to ensure representation and equity. The goal of the committee is to create explicit opportunities for members to have more strategic influence and leadership and create spaces for them to actively contribute to the direction of the network. Similarly, another network is exploring ways to provide decision-making and leadership opportunities for its members by undertaking a year-long strategy-planning exercise to examine and guide the future of its network. The activity expects to look critically at the network’s objectives, priorities, governance, and decision-making within the context of their hosted status. They are also considering a transition team to explore what it means to “unnest” from the host institution, what the process would be, and what implications it may have. Another possible option for nested networks to overcome their specific challenges is to be hosted by a fiscal sponsor in which they can still reap the benefits of the sponsor’s operational infrastructure, but are given more autonomy as their own program. The host organization can offer staff to sit on the governing board of the fiscally-sponsored network in order to maintain the connection and engagement between the two entities.

Similar to networks of all configurations, nested networks are living, breathing entities that shift and evolve over time, and as such, require periodic strategic and structural reviews to reflect not only the network itself but their relationship to their hosts. These reviews also create intentional moments and feedback mechanisms to reflect on what it truly means to be a network and prioritize opportunities for members to lead and influence the strategic direction of the network.

Miss the session? View the recording here!

Thank you again to our panelists, Motunrayo Fagbayi and Annalina Kazickas!

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