Thursday, 22 January 2015

NGO Networks: Opportunities and Challenges

An exchange of experience:
Together with its lead agency HORIZONT3000, TRIALOG organised an evening to discuss the opportunities and challenges of NGO networks with development practitioners and guests from universities on 27 November 2014.

During the event at the c3 centre for international development in Vienna, questions such as “what is the added value of networks, what indicates a successful NGO network and how can a platform work effectively?” were in focus. The speakers shared experiences from different angles.

Joachim Lindau, former Bread for the World programme director and co-founder of the German NGO platform VENRO, as well as the TRIALOG project, has been active in various networks. He underlined that forming networks is necessary for the political work of NGOs, particularly their joint lobby and advocacy work. “NGO networks are not social movements”, Joachim Lindau explained, “They are convenient alliances”. Small organisations especially benefit from membership of a network. On the other hand platform building and maintenance require financial and human resources from its members. To keep the network alive and relevant, it is indispensable to constantly prove the benefits for its members. It can help to recall why a network was initially formed, re-define objectives and check if the context has changed.

TRIALOG has been supporting the establishment of development NGO platforms in EU13 and their integration in the European NGO confederation CONCORD. It has organised many networking activities where it showed that personal and continuous contacts lead to partnerships of trust and an open culture of learning and knowledge exchange. Elisa Romero of TRIALOG reported that regarding the integration of weaker or smaller members in a network or larger platform, it is important to show solidarity! The newcomers might need some guidance and support to find their roles and spaces to contribute. Also if in financial terms, the weaker members might contribute less to the network, nevertheless their voices must being heard equally loud.

Jakob Mussil is EU Policy Officer at the Austrian development platform and active in various CONCORD working groups. Apart from the external representation, he sees the internal capacity development and experience sharing as an asset of networks. In CONCORD, ideally the wider network benefits from the work of its members (for example lobby towards national governments), while the members benefit from CONCORD’s lobby towards the EU institutions. As a challenge Jakob Mussil identified the active participation of members and the representation of a very diverse group of members. Defining topics that are relevant to a big group of members and setting up effective ways of working together has to be constan
tly reviewed using participatory methods.

In the discussion that followed, it was said that pluralism of membership is both an opportunity and a challenge for networks and if a classic platform is the best way to work or if a loose network would better serve certain objectives. Finally it was found that an enabling environment for CSOs is the necessary basis for a strong and effective contribution to development cooperation. NGOs in countries with financial instability often lack personal resources and consequently have lower impact both on lobby and advocacy, as well as in their role as development actors.

During the event, the booklet “TRIALOG in the enlarged EU: 15 years supporting civil society to engage in development” and a short film were launched. The booklet is a journey through the TRIALOG experience from its beginning to the fifth project phase, starting in 2012. It provides insights into the context in which the project was embedded. Project activities are described and analysed according to the three main areas of TRIALOG’s work: “European Integration of Development CSOs from the Enlarged EU”, “Platform Building Support” and “Capacity Building for Development CSOs”. A special focus looks at the contribution of TRIALOG to “Networking”, “Learning and Empowerment” and “Advocacy” in EU13. At the end of this journey you will find the lessons learnt and case studies from EU13 development NGO platforms.

The booklet and the film are available on the TRIALOG website.

Photo credits: TRIALOG, participants of the event NGO Networks: Chances and Challenges.

Information provided by Elisa Romero, TRIALOG

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