Network Strengthening Program Case Study Report

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1. Background

Africa has experienced a dramatic proliferation of local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) during the past three decades. Because such organizations are often very small, many like-minded NGOs form collaborative networks to amplify their ability to advocate to local governments and donors, and ultimately achieve their goals. Some networks are formed independently, and others are established at the recommendation of and with funding from donors like the Global Fund, USAID, and the World Bank.

It has generally been expected that networks not only provide economies of scale to their member NGOs, but also act as platforms for sharing best practices, policy changes, and other relevant information. Funders have also expected that the networks they support will, in time, become self- sustaining.

To-date, most networks in Africa have operated using the same management approach as the NGOs that make up their membership, with both unrestricted and restricted (project-specific) funding provided by donors. Yet, as member organizations, networks are distinct from NGOs and must be run differently.

The USAID-funded Leadership, Management, and Governance Project (LMG) developed the Network Strengthening Program (NSP) to build the leading, managing, and governing skills of voluntary network managers and leaders, including board members, secretariat leaders, and network managers. The program is designed to be a comprehensive, network-wide approach that participants can use to strengthen the diverse management aspects of their networks.

The objective of the NSP is to improve the effectiveness of networks so they are better able to meet the needs of their members and can enhance long-term sustainability. To achieve this objective, the content of the program focuses on five success factors that were identified through a literature review and a series of interviews with network stakeholders:

  1. Membership and benefits
  2. Distributed leadership
  3. Network governance
  4. Financial systems and sustainability
  5. Communications for resource mobilization

The components of the program include pre-launch preparation, two technical capacity building workshops, and a final results-sharing and presentation workshop for stakeholders and the broader membership of the network. The pre-launch or preliminary phase, conducted prior to the first workshop, includes preparation and review of foundational network documents. The workshop contents and focus areas are determined based on the priorities of the participating network. These priorities are defined using findings from the document review, a member self-assessment survey, and a mapping exercise to highlight the position of the network within its broader context and identify what stakeholders influence the outcomes as well as the resolution of the network’s challenges. The NSP is highly participatory, based on adult learning theory, and relates directly to the needs and desires of network management. It is designed for 15 – 20 participants, including board members, senior secretariat staff, and highly-engaged members such as committee heads. The whole process is designed to take six months, but this timing can be adapted to meet the needs of the network.

The first workshop consists of four modules:

  • Module #1: Net-Mapping
  • Module #2: Membership and Benefits
  • Module #3: Distributed Leadership
  • Module #4: Governance

The second workshop consists of two modules:

  • Module #5: Financial Management and Sustainability
  • Module #6: Communications for Resource Mobilization

The program is designed to allow network managers to develop both short-term plans to address specific topics (implemented while they are going through the NSP) and a long-term plan (a Network Strengthening Plan) that frames how they will strengthen their own networks in the 12 months following the program. The Network Strengthening Plan includes priority actions in key focus areas.

Results are demonstrated by the network’s performance during the course of the program in completing their short-term plans and achieving results, and over the following year by taking steps toward achieving their longer-term network strengthening objectives.

The NSP was pilot-tested with two networks in Malawi, one composed of people living with HIV, MANET+, and the other of HIV and AIDS service providers, MANASO. The pilot testing took place over a period of nine months, from September of 2015 to May 2016, and revisions were subsequently made to the curriculum based on lessons learned and experiences facilitating the material.