New Careers: Are you a Cross-Pollinator?

by Jenny Leis

What is cross-pollination? Simply, it is the skill and practice of helping communities work together and learn from each other, especially when they differ importantly over values, vision, identity, ideology, strategy, language, experience, position, etc. It’s a grassroots attitude, focused on building many local connections between groups rather than relying on large, distant “coalitions” in which only overworked leaders participate meaningfully.

Cross-pollinators build personal relationships with people within the communities involved, often participating in their lives and work, at least for a time. They help communities recognize the benefits of collaborating, work through the misunderstandings of culture clash, and support the emergence of new liaisons. They are skilled at the tools of diplomacy, active listening, and affirming what it is that makes each (sub)culture unique.

Why is cross-pollination important? We live in a world of niche markets, hybrid identities, and organizational silos, rather than a uniform “mainstream”. This means that people power today does not lie in “mass organizations” or getting everyone to agree on a single platform, leader, or organization. Instead, people power lies in the capacity of many different, small, local communities to be linked together in ways that allow positive changes to grow exponentially — without undermining the fundamental autonomy of each group. Cross-pollinating is the experimental, practical work of facilitating those linkages.

Many of us are de facto cross-pollinators, at least to some extent. Some of us have recognized this role, given it a name (or, many names!), and work to get better at it.

Please share your stories, resources and tools for cross-pollinating with us.