dara.network
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dara.network

Why We’re Building Dara.network

The point is more social capital. How we get there is software that binds communities.

First, some background

Fundamentally, I’ve been interested in the same thing ever since I majored in CS and Public Policy — how can I nudge the world to be a better place, using the geeky tools of software in the hands of millions of people?

I’ll admit, this interest is full of hubris — first that software can modify human behavior and second that I have the skills, luck, capital and networks to convince people to actually use it.

But this belief in the power of our environments to influence people is shared also by architects — the type that build buildings rather than software. And it’s hence no coincidence that architecture is the one other field I’ve dabbled in over the last 2 decades, but that’s another post.

At a level of a few people, software and architecture do not influence people much but with ample time and/or scale, their impact on human experience is significant and often negative. Drab cubicles and marble inlaid executive lounges cement offices social hierarchies while swiping through idyllic pix of friends looking better and having more fun than you is terrible for the psyche of teenagers (and many of us non-teenagers too).

So how do we design our daily communication software towards positive goals — namely more social capital and deeper relationships that ultimately aid our life’s ambitions? This is the goal of Dara.

Why Social Capital?

The first question to answer is “Why is more social capital a worthwhile goal? Why does it matter?” As Robert Putnam, Jared Diamond and Robert Wright have argued, high trust societies simply did better and spread. Trust creates mutually beneficial, positive-sum trades. All of our evolution to higher levels of organization from single to multiple cells, towns to cities and nations to the WTO — have involved entities trusting each other, giving up (some of) their individual rights and gaining more security and better odds that their descendants thrived.

Social capital is how these trust networks play out on an individual human level. As Putnam puts it, “Social capital is the trust, friendships, group affiliations, helping, and expectation of being helped built up by actively participating in and being a member of all sorts of groups.”

I’ve been fascinated by social capital since college and was inspired by the work of Anirudh Krishna to start my previous company Babajob; he discovered that the recipe to alleviate poverty is two fold:

First, stop people from becoming poor by providing an insurance-like safety net when folks get too sick to work (e.g. it’s the biggest reason that Northern European countries don’t have a poverty problem and why Obamacare was such a big deal in the US).

Two, people escape from poverty when they get different jobs. How? Confidence in themselves and their social networks — which historically informed them about the availability of jobs and provided the required references to get them an interview.

This insight to leverage the power of the social network to aid hiring was the core insight of Babajob (and core insight of LinkedIn as well).

Where Dara comes in

Dara’s goal as social network is the enhancement of its users’ social capital with each other and the institutions they’ve been a part of.

Elite institutions like Harvard’s Business School and other old-boy’s clubs of many kinds excel at enhancing their members’ social capital. For example, HBS alums routinely take each other out to dinner and have well-staffed investment clubs dedicated to pushing monetary capital back to graduates.

The patterns of group social cohesion are old, somewhat well-known but not well-distributed: Help each other, pay it forward, offer assistance freely and without expectation of return to those on the cusp of their careers, get together on a regular cycle, make introductions, etc. Having a copious amount of money to invest in the next generation helps a ton too whether those are access to Sand Hill Rd VCs, big wedding gifts or loans from family members to buy a house.

In one sense, social capital is a lot like the deeply unfair model of inheritance but just like wealth, it can be enhanced over a lifetime. Fortunately, lots of institutions — schools, fellowships, accelerators, religions, companies, crypto DAOs, philanthropies, venture capital firms — are dedicated to improving the lots of their vetted members and often benefit when their members do better.

Hence, we feel it’s time that the tools to digitally keep these communities tight and meaningful are specifically designed to enhance their social capital, rather than increasing per minute engagement and advertising revenue (e.g. Facebook), selling access to you to some other party (LinkedIn) or increasing enterprise software fees (Microsoft and Slack). In short, we want to enhance the world’s social capital and in doing so build the next ubiquitous professional social network.

Dara.network in a nutshell.

So how do we get there?

With Dara, we have 4 strategic pillars:

  1. Strive to be the daily communication heart of communities, frankly taking straight aim at WhatsApp, Slack and LinkedIn. Online and real-life events, Channels, video chat, great reliability and profiles are all key pillars and the modern metaphors of what we believe is required to create the toolset of great communities.
  2. Make community creation and management simple. Admin rights, community construction and growth are often complicated but they don’t have to be.
  3. Productize effective patterns of community building. Alumni groups, Discord servers, religions and even cults abound with time-tested, effective ways to keep a community tight. Our job is to build a digital product that makes it easy and obvious for our partners to employ these best practices in their own communities.
  4. Connect aligned communities within industries. Institutions often have great respect for their peers (and the people they’ve vetted) and new opportunities and collaboration often lie in those adjacent communities.

We are beginning this journey with intense focus on the cultural sector in South Asia. As of August 2022, we already have a fantastic set of partners like the British Council and Goethe Instituts and a community of 1000s of incredible users on Dara. As importantly, given our earlier work in Jaaga.in and BeFantastic.in, we believe truly incredible innovation occurs when the people of art and technology come together.

The culture sector also shares many features that are central to many industries now and in the future; namely lots of gig work, relationships with mentors and marquee institutions often being the key to landing future opportunities, tons of international and remote collaboration and portfolio/project-based resumes. As we look to 2023, we’ll extend Dara to other industries where we are already seeing communities growing organically — namely, entrepreneur networks, education, fellowships and philanthropy.

We are obviously early in our journey and our vision is ambitious. But we think that’s how every great and important idea started and we’d love to see you and your community on Dara. Just visit https://dara.network to get started.

Cheers,

Sean Blagsvedt

Co-Founder and CEO, Dara.network

PS. Send me a video message me at https://dara.network/sean! I’d love your feedback.

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