Adelaida Entenza / Nicole Bidegain / Cecilia Fernandez

Born in the aftermath of de-colonization, uprisings against dictatorships, social movements against the violation of human rights, and civil unrest in many countries in varied shapes and forms, the international Council for Adult Education has become the global representative of the interests of Adult Educators around the world. It is the organization that speaks for everybody’s learning interests at all global conferences, notably the CONFINTEAs and the major climate conferences such as Rio+20. Originally based in Toronto, Canada, it now works from Uruguay. Adelaida Entenza, Nicole Bidegain and Cecilia Fernandez are members of its dedicated Montevideo office.

1. Networks as a Way to Overcome Isolation

As Manuel castells says, network organisations constitute the morphology of the main organisations of contemporary societies. the possibilities that information and communication technologies offer have enabled this organisational modality to be extended to situations and institutions that were unimaginable a few decades ago (castells, 1998).

They are a dedicated space to meet the needs of individuals who want to be part of a community, to have a place of reference for the exchange of knowledge, not just on an intellectual level, but knowledge that is acquired from experience, sensitivity and collective action. therefore, these organisational forms emerge from the need and desire to come together based on common interests or identities. there are different kinds of networks, which work in different ways and the fact is that some of them are important agents of change and social transformation. For example, the IcAe is consolidated as a global network for the right to education that joins educators and activists in all parts of the world. As expressed in the declaration of the VIII Assembly of the International council for Adult education (ICAE),

”...we believe in a world that is worth living in, and express our collective determination to work in this manner to make it a reality everywhere... A world where we can also learn from our differences, strengthen solidarity and build communities where we can all participate as part of society on equal terms.”
(Malmö, June 2011)

the explosion of information and communication technology (ICT) in recent decades has made the strengthening and transnationalisation of networks possible. these are made up of platforms that allow access to expertise and knowledge; they are channels of contact. It is necessary to have individuals or institutions that operate as “nodes” and that make sure information reaches all parts of the network and new members are brought in (Zaffaroni, 2006). despite the fact that there continue to be obstacles in terms of access to Ict, the gaps have been decreasing and the variety of tools increasing, accompanying and influencing the transformation in this area.

2. Networks as an Effective Mechanism for Organisation and Advocacy

Participating in public policy advocacy at the local and global level is an activity that is usually done more effectively through networking. the global networks are like tightrope walkers who try to maintain balance between the local and global. they transfer the existing needs at the local level to the global spaces of decisionmaking and afterwards return to the local level to monitor and follow up on the commitments made at the global level.

Through networking, alliances with organisations and networks can be formed more quickly and the exchange of information can be fostered between the members and their allies. the alliances enrich networking and lead to other topics related to the specific topic of the network. the IcAe has actively participated in alliances and coordination, contributing from a position that incorporates different perspectives: the education of young people and adults, gender, non-discrimination, building citizenship, the ongoing battle to eradicate poverty, the right to decent employment and for a peaceful world, in which development is sustainable.

The positive impact that networking has for individuals and organisations in terms of mobilisation, lessons and social transformation is evident; however, there is still a question about the advantages for a person or organisation to become part of a network. this question could be asked the other way around: why do people and organisations want to be a part of networks? the answer is clear: Because it is necessary to combine efforts, experiences and dreams to work collectively.

Thinking about networking in terms of costs and benefits not only commodifies the relationships created on networks and the impact they have, it also does not allow the richness of the collective experience and its implications to be captured.

Being part of the ICAE allows its members to implement advocacy actions at the global and regional level, to exercise influence on the international discussion and policy debates regarding the education of young people and adults. the network also operates as a link for cooperation and solidarity between national and regional members.

The ICAE is a space of many learning experiences, reflection and the development of skills that contribute to the regeneration of the movement dedicated to the education of adults and their networks. IALLA – the Academy of Lifelong Learning Advocacy – as well as virtual seminars are some of the privileged opportunities of intercultural and inter-regional learning for the members, other networks and social movements.

Through the IcAe’s communication strategy, the members gain access to information of other regions, can “internationalise their work” and relate their local experiences to those taking place in other continents at the same time, which would be very difficult to do without the existence of the network. therefore, the network allows its members to be part of a community that advocates the same issues in different parts of the world, to monitor their governments to make sure that commitments are fulfilled and to carry out mobilisations and petitions of civil support in all of the regions and at the global level.

3. Networks as a Learning Environment

In order to transform itself into a global actor capable of thinking and behaving collectively and globally, the network has to become a learning environment. In this process, the means of reaching the objectives are as important as the objectives themselves.

As Boaventura de Sousa Santos points out, “recognising the limitations of our ignorance”, as well as recognising that knowledge comes from different sources which are all valid, encourages us to think in archipelagos of knowledge rather than a construction of knowledge based on a logic that is hierarchical and pyramidal. coordinating the different forms of knowledge and providing its members with tools for developing skills in cultural translation represents a challenge for the global networks.

In order to achieve networking that recognises and becomes strong through the different forms of knowledge, processes of profound transformation should be carried out in ways that enable the members of the networks to understand the knowledge. the Bolivian proposal of decolonising and depatriarchalising knowledge and education can provide some clues along this path.

Networking makes it possible to deal with multiple identities, intersect agendas and learn through diversity.

Therefore, the network is not only a space of unique learning for the members; it is a place to expand our vision, as well as to create alliances with other people and networks – apart from education – from which we have so much to learn.

4. The Challenges of Working in Global Networks

Global networks that combine functions at different levels are particularly useful, but this is not easy to do. At the local level, the members of a network, movement or organisation can see and get to know each other. they are able to meet face to face and understand the position of the other person. they count on having a mutual context within which to operate and can develop a joint analysis of the strategies that work in this situation. they can also develop common standards and guidelines, like rules for debating and reaching a consensus regarding controversial issues.

Working on the global level is complex and requires having the capacity to develop a complex way of thinking. the members of the global networks and international organisations have the privilege and responsibility of thinking on a large scale from a geographic perspective and a time frame that is also very extensive.

Participating in a network with these characteristics is an exercise of educational value in itself.

International networks are places where norms are negotiated. no single actor can expect his world view to be the prevailing one. this also constitutes an ability that we should learn in order to be able to live on the same planet. to this end, we should unlearn the old culture of hegemonic thinking and the use of traditional strategies of power and accept the truth that exists in different views.

Some of the challenges facing global networks in the current context are as follows:

  • Having one or many centres where the relationships between the actors are intense, frequent and relatively permanent.
  • the importance of analysing the “formalisation and informalisation of the processes of the networks”, linked to the horizontal process and the development of new creative democratic forms of operating.
  • combining flexibility with the continuity of the network. the structure of the network needs to evolve along with it; that is why one talks of “networks in motion”. the ideal is the minimum structure necessary to allow democratisation, diversity, decentralisation and dynamism of the network.
  • the intensity and level of participation of the members have a direct impact on the influencing capacity of the network and its weight as an actor locally and globally. It is essential to encourage participation and sustained commitment over time.
  • the necessity of constructing a collective memory of the network that gathers the lessons and processes beyond the individuals and organisations that pass through the network.
  • updating communication with the new information and communication technologies and promoting citizen access to them.
  • And finally, it is a priority to ensure sustainable financing. According to the last official report of the department of economic and Social Affairs (deSA) of the united nations, development assistance does not meet the needs of the countries and the commitments to provide greater support have yet to be fulfilled. In the context of financial difficulties, many donor countries have cut back on development aid. For the first time in many years, the flow of development aid was reduced in real terms in 2011 (deSA, un, 2012). this context has strongly affected the work of the networks and has forced them to develop innovative strategies to maintain it. this includes appealing to the collaboration of the members and working in a more coordinated way with other institutions in order to combine resources and efforts. In any event, these initiatives in and of themselves do not appear to be sustainable in the medium term.

5. Some Ways of Demonstrating the Impact of Networking

From the beginning, the IcAe has used local and global networks to carry out advocacy and coordination efforts for the right to education. In the following, we share three experiences developed in the past few years which show that through networking, processes of strong citizen participation are generated in which activists in all parts of the world agree on concrete objectives and attain significant achievements in terms of commitments from governments and mobilising/creating public awareness.

5.1. The experience of the International Civil Society Forum at the Sixth International Conference on Adult Education (CONFINTEA VI)

As a way to prepare the work of the IcAe and its allies for the conFInteA VI, the IcAe led a process of mobilisation of the activists for the right to education of young people and adults at the national, regional and global level.

It is of note that in the preparatory stage of this process, the IcAe promoted the strong involvement of the organisations of the civil society in the elaboration and socialisation of the national reports by way of a vigorous campaign. At the same time, the service list with more than 3000 subscribers managed by the IcAe constituted an effective tool for circulating up-to-date information regarding the process of conFInteA and the activities of the organisations of the civil society. At the international level, the IcAe organised a virtual seminar with its members and associates to define the advocacy strategies, as well as to conduct analyses and assessments.

Through an initiative of the IcAe, a group of movements and international, national and local (Belém) networks decided to organise the International civil Society Forum (FISc, for its Portuguese acronym) during the three days prior to the official conference. the purpose of this forum was to provide a space for the exchange of ideas, to build alliances and prepare advocacy strategies for the official conference. the forum brought together more than 500 ngos, syndicates and activists from 80 different countries. After three days of debates in Belém, the forum agreed on a package of ten basic points that were necessary to guarantee the commitments made by the governments. those points were used in the negotiations with the delegates of the governments at conFInteA VI. Finally, of the 144 delegations present, 22 approved all of the points proposed by the civil society and 14 gave their partial approval.

As a result of this process, it can be said that the strong voice of the civil society was felt and that an impact was made at the official conference; in addition, a solid platform of experts and activists in the area of Adult education was created for the follow-up process.

5.2. “Adding Up Knowledge” to link networking at the global and local level

The gender and education office of the IcAe has participated in different international conferences of the united nations by influencing the language of official documents for governments to adopt commitments for quality, non-sexist education. women from different regions of the world, and of different ethnic origins and ages, have represented IcAe at the global level and have monitored the commitments made by the governments at the local level.

For example, in the period from 2010 to 2012, the geo/IcAe carried out a process of training and participatory advocacy in uruguay at the local and global level geared to 130 female activists, educators, politicians and communicators from the interior of the country called “Adding Up Knowledge”. In 2010, two representatives of the group were part of the delegation of geo/IcAe in the eleventh Session of the regional conference on women in Latin America and the caribbean which took place in Brazil, with the objective of ensuring that the right of women to education be included among the commitments undertaken by governments in the resulting document (Brasilia consensus). the first version of the document did not propose any specific measures with respect to the education of women in Latin America. However, after the advocacy work carried out by geo/IcAe with the governmental delegations, especially with the uruguayan, Brazilian and Mexican delegations, the seven amendments on education and gender were included in the Brasilia consensus [see following articles of the Brasilia consensus: 1.p); 2.s); 5.a); 5.b); 5.c); 5.e) ConsensoBrasilia_ESP.pdf].

The advocacy work at the global level was accompanied by simultaneous advocacy work at the local level, which was carried out by the other participants of “Adding Up Knowledge” through the administrative mechanisms for women of the departments, authorities of the local governments and the media. the experience provided the women with a concrete learning experience on how to do advocacy work at the global level, developing their capacity to act and follow up at the local level by coordinating with other organisations and movements.

In 2012, another group of women participated in the initiative and four representatives of the group participated in the delegation of the IcAe in the thematic Social Forum, in preparation for rio+20 Porto Alegre. Here, they were able to develop their coordination skills with other social actors at the global level, as well as their skills in influencing and working with the resources when they returned home.

upon returning, the geo/IcAe organised roundtables for a citizen dialogue with local authorities, where the women had the opportunity to interact with departmental authorities and the press. As a direct result of the roundtable developed after Porto Alegre, the participants of “Adding Up Knowledge” were able to set up a meeting with the head of the department to carry out their proposals towards the economic autonomy of the women of the department, especially the victims of domestic violence and the women who sort recyclables.

Many participants expressed that it helped them “develop an awareness” of the many injustices and discriminations that are engendered in the society through education. they also mentioned that they learned new concepts, realities and approaches that combine a local and global perspective. Many participants said they confirmed that they “are not alone” since there are other women like them, who are struggling day by day for a more just society and gender equality. Based on this, “they feel supported” by the networking done by the IcAe and thus mobilise and exchange. For many, “Adding Up Knowledge” represented access to a world of information and opportunities previously unknown to them through the information and opportunities provided by the IcAe.

5.3. A group of networks for participatory advocacy: the Education Working Group

A strong alliance of global and regional networks of the civil society was created for the process leading up to the conference on Sustainable development – rio+20 that took place in rio de Janeiro in June 2012 with the purpose of advocating for the right to education at the official conference and the Peoples Summit.

This group is made up of the International council for Adult education (ICAE), the world education Forum (FME), the Latin American campaign for the right to education (CLADE), the Latin American council for Adult education (CEAAL), the conference on environmental education for Sustainable Societies and global responsibility, the Latin American Social Sciences Institute (FLACSO), education International, the Latin American and caribbean women’s network for Popular education (rePeM), and Acao educativa.

In the name of the education working group, the IcAe organised a virtual exchange:

“Education in a World in Crisis: Limits and Possibilities facing Río+20” with more than 2000 subscribers (see contributions to the virtual seminar by going to this link: prior to the thematic Social Forum of January 2012 in Porto Alegre. In the thematic Social Forum, around 200 people per day assisted the activities of the education working group. this consultation process helped create positions with respect to the activities of the united nations conference on Sustainable development, rio+20.

As a result of this process, the education working group has developed a position paper for rio+20. this document is available in english, Spanish, Portuguese and French for general distribution among the members of the IcAe, its alliances and official delegates.

In June 2012, at the united nations conference on Sustainable development, rio+20, the education working group implemented a twofold strategy organising the activities of the Peoples Summit and at the same time organising the education caucus within the official conference in order to lobby with the official delegates for the inclusion of the positions of the education working group in the final document. the networking strategy made it possible to contact official delegates in different parts of the world, as well as different media outlets. Finally, the education working group and the participants of the education caucus issued the position paper at the end of the negotiations and it was widely distributed and used as a reference by many organisations for an analysis of the results of the official conference. this form of organisation, which includes debating and the presentation of proposals between many actors through Icts and direct advocacy efforts in a coalition of allies, is a very effective way of extending the area of influence and using the limited existing resources with a significant impact in terms of the agenda and in building the movement.

All of the lessons learned about networking contribute to the new process that the IcAe has planned in relation to education as the main focus of the debates on the development agenda post – 2015.


castells, Manuel. (1998) La era de la Información. economía, Sociedad y cultura, Vol. I: La Sociedad red, Alianza editorial, Madrid.

ICAE. (2011) declaración final de la VIII Asamblea Mundial del ICAE en Malmö. document available at:

DAES onu (2012) encuesta mundial económica y social 2012: en búsqueda del nuevo Financiamiento para el desarrollo. document available at:

Zaffaroni, Cecilia. (2006) redes: contexto y caracterización. “Proceso preparatorio hacia la Asamblea Mundial del ICAE. Virtual seminar: 6–24 March 2006. Anderson, Jeanine. “Las redes y su rol en este siglo globalizado”. Virtual seminar: rePeM, July 2000. Anderson, Jeanine. “Redes y organización en red”. IcAe virtual seminar: “Proceso preparatorio hacia la Asamblea Mundial del ICAE en Nairobi” 2006. Haddad, Sérgio. Participación de la Sociedad civil en conFInteA VI. Adult Learning, September 2011; vol. 22, 4: pp. 34–39.

Sousa Santos, Boaventura (2008): “La gramática del tiempo. Para una nueva cultura política”, capítulo 2 “Una sociología de las Ausencias y una Sociología de las Emergencias”, San Paulo, cortez editora.

Adult Education and Development


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