Unfinished is a network of networks bringing together the collective efforts of partners to strengthen our civic life in the digital age. Launched in 2020, Unfinished is part social enterprise, part network, and part technology. We spoke with Lara Galinsky, Director of Impact Innovations, about Unfinished’s work to advance solutions to some of the greatest interconnected challenges we face today.
IS: What is your organization’s mission? Tell us about your organization’s areas of interests and the community you serve.
LG: Unfinished is the cumulation of years of learning and visioning. Our work originated with Frank McCourt, who was concerned about the deteriorating social fabric in our country. To achieve a strong, equitable, multiracial democracy and civil society, we need to think about collective well-being. By redirecting technology, especially social media, we seek to fuel collaboration that could lead to more inclusive conversations and a fairer economy. Emerging from a world being brought to its knees with the exposure of inequities through access and systems that have fueled divisions, we are oriented to ways we can support on the systems level. We act as a laboratory, media outlet, and a research institution.
We worked on our guiding values quite a bit. They help us see the variety of roles we can play. We act as builders, especially in technology; as architects, building foundations brick by brick; and as a network with deep listening, collective wrestling with issues, and learning together.
We view our work through a long-term lens – over generations, with lasting value over quicker gains. The power of networks is so valuable to our work. There is a lot of gold from those networks identifying overlap, collaborating, and building trust across so many different kinds of organizations and people. There is a lot of possibility that arises from that collective work, and although any entrepreneurial endeavor with big bets will have bumps, we think what’s most important is how you get back up from those setbacks to continue to pursue your mission. Deploying what we know and learning from pivoting will inform what happens over time.
Our network of organizations is comprised of nearly 20 impact organizations, including Independent Sector and other IS members. These partners are driven by impact and working at the nexus of collective interests and strengthening civil society through work in economy, democracy and civic engagement, technology, and other areas.
IS: What’s new in your work that you’d like to share?
LG: Project Liberty was launched in June. It is an initiative to enable a more equitable technology infrastructure for the internet, fueled by a publicly owned and open sourced protocol. This work serves as a foundation to help recenter the internet around people’s interests – technology for the common good, along with the founding of the McCourt Institute, with Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and Sciences Po in Paris, France, as founding academic partners.
Bringing together thinkers and changemakers on September 23-25 both in person and virtually, Unfinished Live will explore how technology is shifting power and shaping our future. Building on the success of last year’s event, this year’s program will be driven by seeking a deeper understanding of what it means and could mean for the future to be decentralized for democracy, business, journalism, philanthropy, and other spheres of civic life. It will convene partners, the city, and other guests joining us. The events will open The Shed, a cultural institution with a unique space in New York City for immersion experiences. Our partners will have special parts of the program called “activation projects,” will center new voices, and bring artists into narrative change. Overall, the experience will be intellectual, but also creative and “heart-led.”
IS: Independent Sector focuses on collaborating with individuals and the nonprofit sector to create a healthier sector and racially equitable and just nation. Tell us about aspects of your work that help support or advance these objectives.
LG: By creating inclusive spaces and conditions for generating unique conversations and new ideas, we can move the traditional paradigm for solving problems from a top-down, disconnected approach to a more democratized, stakeholder-driven model. When we ask questions together, the answers naturally become more equitable.
In the spring we welcomed Angela Glover Blackwell, Founder in Residence at PolicyLink, as our chair for the Unfinished Network. Angela has decades of experience bringing equity and inclusion to the forefront of systems and institutions to helping shape the Unfinished network.
IS: What has been the most memorable part of your work so far? Where you have seen your mission in action?
LG: I see thousands of points of light from where I sit tending to the network, and I already see the impact of building institutions that support the work of other organizations and individuals. In any sort of partnership with networks the importance of knowledge sharing, relationship building, and collaboration is revealed. We’re starting to realize the possibilities that can come from wrestling with the big issues of our day together.
Seeing network partners connecting, seeing the invitations for speaking, publications, and interviews that come from our work together – it shows the cross-pollination that happens when we get out of our silos. It can be hard to do that without infrastructure underneath you to connect missions, but with that support and collective work, the impact and the possibilities are so much greater.
IS: What else would you like to add?
LG: We are honored to be part of the IS family and sharing the long view of what strengthening civil society can look like.
The top photo, courtesy of Unfinished, is by Jeff Scroggins. It shows “Can we Coexist?” by Jun Mabuchi, in Placitas, New Mexico. This Unfinished Network Partner project involved For Freedoms. It was part of a 50-state campaign of billboards asking artists’ urgent questions about society and humanity. Learn more about Unfinished, other Independent Sector members, and becoming an IS member.