The Networked World – The Connected Food System

The networked world is here

A version of this article first appeared in the Coffs Coast Advocate on Saturday, 9th February, 2013

The National Broadband Network has arrived in Coffs Harbour, and soon all of us will have access to super-high speed internet services. Amongst other changes, the NBN is expected to significantly expand the scope for home-based working and tele-commuting, via high-definition and reliable video-conferencing.

The NBN is a further major step in the construction of an increasingly networked world. According to Harvard University’s Cyber Law Centre, ‘ever-evolving and increasingly powerful information and communication technologies have fundamentally changed the nature of global relationships, sources of competitive advantage and opportunities for economic development’ ( Humanity is on its way to becoming ‘an increasingly interconnected network of individuals, firms, schools and governments communicating and interacting with each other through a variety of channels’.

While the implications of a globally interconnected humanity are, to put it mildly, mind-boggling and (as yet) barely understood, the value of effective business and community networks are well known. Richard Pirog, a leading thinker and practitioner in the field of local and regional food systems development in Iowa and Michigan in the US, identifies four key roles that food business networks play:

–          Information and knowledge hubs

–          Catalysts for co-operation – building trust and capacity across organisations

–          Magnets – leveraging funding to do the work

–          Scouts – be at the cutting edge of new ideas and innovation

Successful networks don’t just emerge out of the ether. They are consciously designed, created and nurtured by the individuals who comprise them. Pirog uses the acronym TEAMS to capture the components of successful networks as:

–          T: trust and transparency, shared goals, servant leadership

–          E: enjoy work, participate and collaborate, get and give

–          A: achieve goals

–          M: master content, continuous learning

–          S: structure the network, agree on ways to work together, give a clear indication of value to participants, and provide consistent communication

The tradional, long-standing and successful model of business networking in Australia are the Chambers of Commerce. They have done an outstanding job over many decades in providing services to their members, and facilitating relationships.

Coffs Harbour and Bellingen are however about to host a new business network. The Wholistic Business Network (WBN) is, according to its co-founder Frances Amaroux, ‘an international network of highly-inspired people involved in creating a world to which people want to belong’.

The WBN was created  in Sydney  12 years ago, and has since spread to Brisbane, Melbourne, Newcastle, Byron Bay, Perth, Auckland and Ubud, in Bali. Frances told me that she wanted to create a mid-north coast chapter after moving back to Bellingen following several years’ away; and noticing that, while there were many individuals and businesses working in the ‘cultural creative’ spheres (arts, environment, complementary medicine and therapies, etc.), ‘there was no umbrella organisation that brought all these people and businesses together.’

The aim of the WBN is to ‘bring together people doing innovative and leading edge research and practice’, with the longer-term vision of ‘creating vibrant healthy businesses and communities’, in order to ‘make a happier, healthier and more conscious world’. Their four focal areas are creating connections, researching and supporting sustainable lifestyles, informing and raising awareness about health and sustainability, and ‘building an international community of like-minded peoples’.

The WBN functions through holding monthly business networking events, which in our region will alternate between Coffs Harbour and Bellingen, with invited speakers. While these meetings have a business focus, non-business people are very welcome. I am very pleased to be the speaker for the inaugural event in Coffs Harbour this coming Wednesday, on the topic of networks as the ‘wave of the future’.

The first mid-north coast WBN will take place on Wednesday 13 February, at the Coffs Harbour Professional Centre, Level 1, 9 Park Avenue, at 7.00 p.m. Cost is $20, for more information contact Frances Amaroux on 0414 810 148 or Vanessa Lewis on 0414 448 884.