Article first published March 14, 2011 on Social Work and Development.
Networks are defined as units, institutions, agencies or organizations united for a free flow of information and resources between members without any established hierarchy or structure (Third World Studies Center, 1990).
Forming networks and umbrella organizations is advantageous to organizations for varied reasons.
Aldaba (1990) cites six benefits in this regard, namely: (1) Greater economic and political impact; (2) Access to and sharing of resources; (3) Sector Protection; (4) Effective relations with governments; (5) Establishing sector standard; and (6) Linkage with other sectors for social transformation.
Alegre (1996) cites the following strategic concerns addressed by establishing networks: (1) Sharing and exchange of resources, such as information, funds, technology, and expertise; (2) The coordination and complementation of programs and projects; (3) The formulation of common agenda or plans of action for purposes of advocacy, participation in governance, and resource mobilization; (4) Consciousness raising and development education, especially on the relations between developed and developing countries and between the NGO and PO communities in these countries.
John Clark in his book Democratizing Development: The Role of Voluntary Organizations, presents six schools for the historical evolution of Northern NGOs after the First World. He associates the emergence of networks with the development of advocacy group. It was during this period when NGOs, particularly those who were dependent on government or conservative constituency for funding, faced a dilemma because the culprits that victimized the poor were most often Western based.
The NGOs who continued with advocacy work for the poor suffered a declining support when they opened up to their supporters. Those who continued advocacy but made little effort to communicate the dilemma to their supporters, have lived with the contradiction ever since.
An important leap in advocacy work happened in the 1980s. Influenced by their staff, some of the Northern NGOs with overseas programs became expressive and active in their advocacy work. Likewise, Third World advocacy groups started to make waves. As a result, North-South networks of advocacy groups started to take shape and to gain authenticity, strength, and power that made them a force to reckon with.
The first network to make a name was the International Baby Foods Action Network. Set up in 1979 by seven NGOs, it grew to about 150 NGOs from all parts of the world and led the successful campaign for international governmental agreement on a code of marketing for baby foods.
The more progressive Northern NGOs with Third World program have supported the evolution of these networks, have often funded them, but have tended to take a backseat role. This is partly because, according the Clark (1990), of a residual concern about their public image and legal status, partly because they have a few staff strong on the skills needed for advocacy and networking and partly – in spite of the rhetoric- because of an organizational half heartedness