Networking, in other words, as she is redefining it through her recently founded Institute of Belonging, which is a space – real and digital – designed to bring people together to experiment, play, learn and co-create.
Networking, she believes, when done collectively, kick-starts innovation, unlocks opportunity and drives change. That said, as I explain in my latest masterclass series on networking, for many – especially Gen Z entrepreneurs and Millennial business leaders – it still has grubby associations with lunging business cards (remember them?), pump-action handshakes and aftershave that whacks you like an oncoming e-scooter.
Indeed, on the podcast, we both joke about the fact that in one academic study – tellingly called The Contaminating Effects of Building Instrumental Ties – interviewees who were asked for their thoughts on networking subconsciously felt dirty and had the overwhelming desire to wash their hands afterwards. And all this before Covid! But when the same group were asked to think about community, friendship, collaboration, which as Stoyanova points out, is the essence of effective networking, then people felt completely the opposite.
For her, networking is all about the five Cs – community, collaboration, conversation, creativity and curation. ‘But it is also about collectivist thinking, and about being generous with your time, with making connections and leaning in’.
She learned these things while voluntarily running the London chapter of Creative Mornings for over seven years, but honed them perhaps more strategically when running Meta’s European programmes investing in the growth of community builders, and the brand’s subsequent Ecosystems Partnerships initiative – which, as she explains, less opaquely, was ‘all about building support systems for communities at scale’.
But, as she reflects in the final stages of our podcast, it is also about understanding the true role that serendipity plays in growing these community networks, and by using chance encounters more proactively to unlock new paths, and hitherto unexpected innovations.
She believes that to do this at all, however, you must be willing to reach out and connect in the first place.