It’s not the first time that Jesuit Networking has brought together the main international networks of the Society of Jesus. We did so in 2012 at Boston College after the inspiration received following the General Congregation 35, and we did so again last week, five years later, to update our reflections on networks after the last congregation in which networking was identified as one of the keys to our new way of proceeding.
This last conference took place at Georgetown University's Business School. 35 individuals from academia, Jesuit governance roles, and leaders from the main Jesuit international networks gathered together for two intense days of work around network culture, strategy, and governance. Although we are still working on the final document, we cannot resist providing some of the main reflections:
- Interestingly, the first conviction is that it is our mission, and not the structures, what polarize our debate. Networks are a structural response to a renewed mission that needs structures, processes and strategies to be developed. There is a creative tension between the provincial level and the networks that go beyond our usual structure opening us to new apostolic dynamics guided more by the causes and challenges than by geographic or functional structures.
- Our debates showed that we need to work more and more on an appealing global narrative about the common mission to foster collaboration and networks, although it is also increasingly clear that there is no single model of networking, since the network structure and strategy depends on the cause, objectives, resources, actors, contexts and local cultures involved.
- In this sense, networking is a response to an increasingly diverse and complex apostolic body where, in our search for an increasingly universal mission, we must be attentive to cultural differences and the importance of local adaptation. Networks are structures that recognize and accept diversity while fostering inclusion, a sense of belonging and shared identity.
- In turn, it is clearly evident that networks help us to be more open to the new, the different and the unknown. The dynamism of the network makes it a place of innovation and creativity that allows us to balance our tradition and corporate sense with a necessary entrepreneurial spirit. Networks enable us to bring together communities and groups of institutions in search of new apostolic approaches that are challenging and changing the Society of Jesus.
- Networking requires shared listening and deliberation. Networks are increasingly perceived as structures that facilitate common discernment that allows us to be attentive, listen, and at the same time learn, permeate and reveal the dynamics of participation and direct engagement between institutions and people to the shared mission.
- Therefore, networks can have an interesting prophetic dimension at this time, since they allow us to revitalize what exists towards what our apostolic body can become if we let the dynamics of our mission transform us. Networks are changing us, challenging us, questioning us and suggesting new possibilities that are not within the reach of our isolated current structures. Networks raise the variable of the possibilities of common work as an important criterion to consider in our current discernment of universal apostolic preferences.
- Finally, the great challenge is how to accompany and align this progressive awakening of international networking. There are many points of connection with the government of the Society of Jesus at the global level that still need to be clarified, but we are beginning to understand the need for a formal link through which the mission is assigned and a new type of leadership understood as persuasion, animation and promotion of networks. It is clear that network dynamics require specific intelligence and leadership to be at the service of the Mission, especially if we want to make it a strategic process that adds to the current dynamism of discernment and restructuring that we are currently undertaking within the Society.
At this time, we have identified up to 52 networks linked with the mission of the Society of Jesus and during the conference we addressed different attempts to visualize and classify this new level of apostolic structure that does not always fit or is understood in relation to our classic hierarchical structure. In the coming weeks, we will be publishing the results of the conference as well as the various products prepared for it, which will undoubtedly help us to feed an open and much broader reflection than the one that took place in Washington last week.
The process of preparation, dialogue and joint construction has been a beautiful experience of networking. The group of attendees, the majority of whom have been connected through the Jesuitnetworking.org initiative for years, is becoming a network of networks that studies and stimulates reflection on Jesuit networking, convinced that networks are an important tool for carrying out our mission in a complex and uncertain context, and that they can be one of the keys to working together in a diverse and plural body that seeks to discern and be an instrument of the same mission.