The starfish and the spider? Strange title for a book, I thought. Especially one about organizational dynamics. But as I studied it I was enthralled with the imagery and how it relates to our TraffickFree Communities. This is not a book review – it’s a great book and well worth the read (details are below) but a brief summary of it is this: it discusses the strengths of decentralized organizations compared to organizations that have a more traditional approach to governing from the head down - the starfish versus the spider. In a nutshell: if you cut off a spider’s head it dies. A starfish has no head. Cut it and it regrows. Cut it in two and it will become two starfish. Everything needed for it to function exists within each part. 

So how does it relate to our TraffickFree Communities? OasisUSA’s fight against human trafficking largely functions through these groups. They are a network of local, grassroots communities whose goal is to change their communities to become places where traffickers are unable to operate, and more than that, to be places where those that have been trafficked can feel safe. Each group looks different as they represent their own communities. They are not run by Oasis although they share the same ideology. The mission and vision of Oasis is lived out at all levels and infects the whole organization. They are interconnected with each other and with Oasis. They are not dependent on Oasis for funding – they seek to raise their own funds. If one closes, it does not affect any of the others. If one gets too big, it may morph into two. There is room for diversity. They can work underground – very useful at times in the fight against trafficking. And a crucial point: each group has a feeling of ownership and wants to invest.

The book tells us that starfish organizations are strong. Size doesn’t matter – except actually it does. Small is better. It’s less expensive. Each new member adds to the strength of the whole. Chaos is OK – in fact it goes with creativity. And we need creative ways to fight trafficking. Knowledge is not limited to the center. In fact there may be more at the edge. And that is a strength. It is not a threat. Leadership is by inspiration rather than control. These groups are trained by Oasis staff but are then let go and allowed to develop and morph as they see fit, safe in the understanding that they share the same beliefs and vision of the whole.

Human trafficking has to be attacked from all sides. This is how we at OasisUSA do it.

 (Brafman, Ori, and Rod A. Beckstrom. 2006. The Starfish and the Spider : The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations. New York: Portfolio.)