by David Kabiswa.
The subject of networking for organisations is increasingly being talked about in development workshops and meetings.
- Many questions can be asked, such as:
- Who qualifies to network?
- Is networking helpful for everyone?
- Is it something worth talking about?
- Does networking reduce the value of individual skills and abilities?
- What does it take to network?
- Who makes the decisions in networking?
ACET has been keen to encourage networking in various forms. For example:
- We have arranged exchange visits for local groups (driving people from one place to another).
- We have provided learning experiences for groups from other countries by taking them to visit a number of organisations in Uganda and then encouraging reflection time at the end of each day.
- We encourage good practice by exchanging useful models of working among various partners to avoid ‘re-inventing the wheel’.
Some benefits of networking
Speaking out on behalf of others Networking helps increase the ability of organisations and communities to speak out about issues. Within a network, ideas can develop and then be shared in ways which pass on the thinking of many people. Because of this, in Uganda and elsewhere there is now an increase in new HIV/AIDS networks – for sharing support services; for people living with HIV/AIDS (PLHA); or Christian networks such as CANA (Christian AIDS Network Association of India), ICAN (International Christian AIDS Network) and many others.
Information exchange and co-ordination Exchanging information is a key benefit of networking. Other members of the network gain useful information which they may not have had access to. Sharing information also helps to decrease the duplication of services, either in the same geographical area or in targeting the same group (while others may be ignored).
Homecare networks were formed in Uganda to increase the co-ordination of organisations providing similar services. For example, clinic days are held on the same day to avoid patients moving from one clinic to another to get similar treatment. Lists of patients, experiences in good practice, identifying and treating various symptoms are among the information shared. Such information exchange leads to synergy – where the efforts of the network are greater than the sum total of individual organisations put together.
Increase in impact When organisations or government officials exchange visits, this is likely to increase the impact and quality of their work. Over the past few years, a number of countries have sent delegates to visit AIDS projects in Uganda. At government level, the visits have helped motivate political leaders to take action, while exchange visits among NGOs have led to ideas being shared, and encouraged good practice among their members.
Building on shared knowledge Networking along similar themes or issues such as AIDS or homecare, helps to bring together people of various disciplines and experience to work together. This kind of networking helps to bring a variety of experience to the problem.
Better use of limited resources Networking may lead to better use of resources. Instead of an organisation insisting on doing everything separately, networking may allow people to work together in partnership with different resources. For example, one organisation may already be working with young people. Instead of another organisation looking for its own groups of young people, they could work in partnership with the same young people and concentrate their efforts. This sort of relationship requires a mature approach to networking. However, many organisations are beginning to try this out.
Forms of networking
There are various forms of networking which organisations and communities may carry out in order to increase their efficiency and their ability to achieve their aims and objectives. Here are some examples.
Exchange visits Visits between countries, organisations and community groups are a good way of sharing experience and skill.
Meetings or workshops Regular meetings which bring together similar groups of people to share information, ideas and experience are an inexpensive way to form networks.
Newsletters or e-mail links For large networks, shared newsletters or e-mail updates can help to keep members aware of the activities of other members.
Research studies Research into the different approaches being used can benefit from increased collaboration between interested organisations, the sharing of experiences and an increased capacity to extend the research.
David Kabiswa is Director of ACET, with many years experience of supporting people with HIV/AIDS. His address is: ACET Uganda, PO Box 9710, Kampala, Uganda.