Strengthening Voluntary Network Management: The Network Strengthening Program

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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 a communications platform 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 very same management approach as the NGOs that make up their membership, with both unrestricted and restricted (project-specific) funding provided by donors in perpetuity. Yet, as member organizations, networks are distinct from NGOs and must be run differently. That is, networks must adopt entrepreneurial-style management practices if they are to achieve organizational financial sustainability.

Developed by USAID’s Leadership, Management, and Governance Project, the Network Strengthening Program (NSP) was designed to introduce entrepreneurial management techniques to NGO networks. The NSP was piloted in 2015 and 2016 with two networks in Malawi: MANET+, which represents people living with HIV, and MANASO, which comprises health service delivery organizations focused primarily on HIV and AIDS at the community level.