Building Capacities Towards CSO Network Sustainability
In the course of implementing the mentoring component of the Strengthening the Capacities of Philippine CSOs Project, a 3-year project (2012-2015) of USAID and a consortium of CSOs, which was led by Ayala Foundation (AFI) and which included CODE-NGO, capacity building concerns that are unique to CSO networks surfaced. These include managing vertical and horizontal relationships within the network’s membership, ensuring quality and equal opportunities for participation of members and how these relate to effective governance of the network, and sustaining the network despite internal and external challenges, among others. These concerns, inherent to CSO networks, were not explicitly covered in the main capacity building interventions that were provided by the project to the participating CSOs as only a small minority of them were CSO networks. Yet these are major considerations that need to be addressed to strengthen the capacity of CSO networks.
CSO networks play a crucial role in strengthening CSOs and thus in advancing development in our country. They may be referred to a “networks”, “alliances”, “associations”, “federations”, “confederations”, “coalitions” or other similar terms. They may be composed of NGOs or of people’s organizations or of cooperatives or some or all of these and other types of CSOs. No matter how they are called or what types of organizations compose their membership, CSO networks facilitate capacity building among their members thru the exchange of information, good practices and lessons, allow for more efficient operations of the members thru resource sharing, and empower typically small organizations as they band, speak out and act together.
Recognizing the importance of CSO networks, the Strengthening CSOs project convened a Peer Learning Exchange (PLE) on CSO Network Sustainability just before it ended. The PLE intended to reinforce capacities and provide an opportunity for the participating CSO networks to further interact, share and learn from the each other’s practices and experience. The PLE also enabled them to identify solutions to the difficulties that their network may be encountering. The PLE was designed such that the other networks learn from the experience of more established CSO networks. It was geared towards sharing experiences on challenges and adoptable mechanisms and practices on membership relations, advocacy effectiveness, and operations and financial sustainability with the subsequent purpose of drafting this guidebook that will guide other networks in addressing sustainability concerns.
This guidebook is primarily intended for:
- Civil society organizations (CSO) and CSO Networks, to provide technical guidance and reference on membership relations, advocacy effectiveness, and operations and financial sustainability. It is also intended to share examples of replicable mechanisms and good practices of the CSO networks that may also be utilized to strengthen and sustain CSO networks.
- Development workers whose program/ project interventions include strengthening of organized groups in the community and networks of such groups, and
- Organizations and agencies doing development work, i.e. bilateral aid agencies, government agencies, etc. in order to inform programming.
This guidebook has four main sections. The first describes CODE-NGO’s Framework for CSO Network Sustainability. This is followed by three sections, with one each focusing on membership relations, advocacy effectiveness, and operations and financial sustainability. In each of these sections, there is (i) a case study of one CSO network, then a discussion of (ii) the important elements and indicators that are key to making CSO networks effective and sustainable, and (iii) red flags or early signs/ warnings of major problems and how these problems may be avoided or addressed.
Among the cases presented on member relations, advocacy effectiveness and operations and financial sustainability, these requirements for making CSO networks effective and sustainable come out: 1) Strong membership and constituency, and their active participation, 2) Effective governance and leadership, 3) Collegiality, representation and mutual responsibility of the leaders and members of the network, 4) Effective resource generation, and 5) Clear and functional monitoring and evaluation system.