12/02/2011 08:46 am ET Updated Feb 01, 2012

Thank Your Networks

This Thanksgiving, I am especially thankful for all the opportunities I've been given to connect with other leaders across the United States and even internationally. Originally, I had planned to write this blog post about the importance of student voices in education reform, but that was before I realize my fellow Huffington Post blogger Jonathan Jeffrey had already done so. Through the Youth Creating Action Network (Youth-CAN) launched by another Huffington Post blogger, Alex Wirth, Jonathan and I met and connected over our shared interest in creating a medium for student input to affect education.

After realizing our shared passion, Jonathan and I spoke about our ultimate goals and vision for the American public education system and within days, began to create a plan for collaborating. In the next few weeks, we hope to connect with more student leaders in the network who are also invested in youth engagement in education policy.

Similarly, this past August, when I had the chance to meet young female leaders from around the world at the United Nations International Year of Youth Culmination Celebration summit, I was struck by the potential for the girls to work together to enhance the talent and efforts of females everywhere. Inspired by the conference, the organization that hosted it decided to launch TheAllyNetwork, a global network of girls and women who will "unite to ignite" by combining their passions, talents, energy, creativity, resources, voices, and own networks. Something clicked in the minds of the founders of TheAllyNetwork, as they perceived the idea of a network as a blend of mentoring relationships (young girl leaders will mentor older female leaders in a reverse mentoring model) and supportive relationships (the Network will garner support from individuals and organizations for these girls and women).

TheAllyNetwork and Youth-CAN are examples of initiatives that "get" networking. They understand that networking isn't just about making the connections but about how people harness them and support others through them. The greatest power of networking comes not from its potential to advance one's own interests but from its ability to foster partnership and collaboration, which together can advance a cause as a whole. By connecting, people are able to learn together and from each other -- they become mentors to one another.

Thanksgiving is a one-day holiday, but its two facets, thanks and giving, should happen every day. This year, in celebration of Thanksgiving, thank your networks and give back by reaching out to others and sharing your insight and experience so that you can further empower them. You might be surprised to find that in return, you have been empowered too.