Meike Pasch

The article is based on a study commissioned by DVV International to learn about the success of the networks that it supports in various African and Latin American countries. The findings of the author, though derived from the study of particular cases, bear relevance for the work of networks in general, and in particular for North-South cooperation projects. The study was carried out by the German Development Institute. The author Meike Pasch has in the meantime moved on to work as a programme analyst for the United Nations Development Programme in Tanzania.

Support of Networks and Associations


Network structures that bind together individuals, organisations, regions and nations play an ever more important role nowadays. well-organised networks and associations are able to change existing structures and to initiate and drive forward transformation processes. effective communication and information dissemination are usually the core business of a network/association. In order carry out this function effectively, a permanent secretariat is necessary, which – especially in developing and transition countries – can rarely be financed from membership fees alone and is thus generally dependent on external financial support. However, there are few donors like DVV International who institutionally support this kind of organisational structure in Adult education in developing countries. this may be mainly because it is difficult to measure the effectiveness of the support of institutions in development cooperation and structural changes are often only visible in the long term. However, in order to ensure that adults are allowed access to education, development policies should increasingly focus on supporting institutional transformation processes.

Clarification of Terms

groups of organisations that join together and cooperate to achieve a common goal call themselves networks and associations, but also, among other things, movements, coalitions, alliances, committees, platforms, forums, campaigns and councils. there are no clear definitions of the various organisational structures that apply across different cultures, and different groups of organisations cannot be unambiguously assigned to a terminological concept. compared to networks, associations often show a higher degree of formality and stability. In Adult education, the term network is often dominant, since the functions and objectives of the network and the exchange of information usually play a central role. A level of formalisation is usually necessary when money is involved. once groups of organisations are financially dependent on donors, they develop particular types of structures. the establishment of a Board of directors, which is elected by the members in the general Assembly, and a secretariat seems to be very typical for networks/associations that receive financial support. even registration of the organisation is often necessary in order to obtain access to funds and to be accountable. A formal structure is also important as soon as a network starts growing: It helps to manage resources, to avoid interpersonal and power conflicts, to make decisions, to develop a vision and a strategic plan, etc. By formulating conditions for the acquisition of funding, donors often make demands on organisations that promote formalisation.

what is important is that the functions and goals of a network match its structure. How a network/association sees and names itself should not be crucial. It is important to realise that the terms and definitions are different in different cultures. the structure of a network/association is primarily dependent on local conditions, resources, functions and objectives and is subject to constant changes.

Forms of Development of Networks

networks and associations have different forms of development that are influenced by local, national, regional and international stimuli, or a combination of these. networks/associations that arise from within the society are often made up of individuals and/or organisations that want to work together for social policy objectives. the motivation, which is guided by social activism, often arises from an ideology and can lead a network/association to turn into a social movement. the driving force of networks/associations may also arise through historical developments. In Latin America, for example, developments of theories and philosophies about education methods in the 1960s and 70s had great importance for the

Spider’s Web                                       Source: Stebra

In addition, there are also networks/associations which exist mainly due to international stimuli and which are driven by the prospect of financial resources. thus, for example, at the time of the world education Forum in dakar (2000), many networks/associations came into being, especially in Africa. Many of the networks of this era were or are the direct result of the conviction of donors that such networks and organisations are desirable and they are therefore the result of “donor fabrication”.

The driving force and form of development of networks/associations have an impact on the expectations and objectives of its members especially, but also on their donors. networks/associations that arise from within the society mostly have members with motivation which stems from an ideology. In a positive sense, within these networks/associations there is often a great deal of discussion. there is also the risk that people are so deeply involved in their own “social movement” that there are disagreements and people or organisations in the same field work against each other. In endogenous networks/associations members often work with little or no salary. the contributions of members are often large enough to push a network/association through a financially bad period. A network that is initiated by financial resources from donors often has members that are driven not only by ideology but also through financial incentives, or join the network because they hope to get resources for their organisations. this does not mean that networks/ associations that arise mainly through external stimuli cannot be successful.

Benefits of Networks/Associations

Networks/associations represent an added value for their members as well as their donors. Members benefit from networks/associations, especially from the fact that they can speak with one voice and work together for their goals. For many individuals/organisations it is important to feel they are not alone and are working together for something. In addition, individuals and organisations often benefit from networks/associations because they offer access to financial resources, information, and often also development opportunities. the international donor community sees the role of non-governmental organisations (ngos) more and more as functioning in an advisory, supervisory and oversight capacity. In this sense, donors expect ngos to participate primarily in policy dialogue, to speak with one voice and to understand national budget plans in order to demand accountability. In order for civil society to be involved in national development plans as well as processes on the international level, such as forums and uneSco conferences, it must be organised in networks/associations. when donors support networks/associations that are active in lobbying and in the field of advocacy, they benefit through legitimacy. Moreover, the transaction costs for donors are lower if they work together with networks/associations.

Conditions for Successful and Sustainable Networking

The following conditions must be satisfied in order for networks and associations to be and to remain sustainably operational:

  • there must be a network vision and clear goals and plans. Members must identify with the vision and the objectives of the network and the plans need to be developed together.
  • the benefits of the network must be clear to all network partners.
  • the added value of the network must be seen by all network partners to allow them to actively participate in the activities of the network and contribute to the achievement of the objectives of the network.
  • communication and the flow of information must be guaranteed.
  • there must be a social base. especially when a network is heavily active in the field of lobbying, it has to have legitimacy through a base and the number of its members.
  • the composition of the network partners must be well balanced. A very homogeneous composition of individuals and/or organisations leads to the addition of effects, but to little constructive exchange. A very heterogeneous group of people and/or organisations, however, can quickly lead to the members not working well together.
  • the coordination of the network must be functional.
  • the expertise of the members to be able to hold discussions and debates, and the relationships between the members and persons in key positions must function.
  • donors need to trust the members of the network, and the skills to write proposals and to acquire financial resources must be present in order for a network to work sustainably.

These conditions should be set as preconditions in order to evaluate what ratio between institutional support and project funding makes sense.

A long-term and institutional support that allows a degree of predictability of funding is particularly important for the effectiveness and efficiency of networks and associations in comparison to ngos because networks and associations, in order to fulfil their functions and duties, have different conditions than ngos. unlike ngos, networks and associations are not organisations that implement projects and have activities to perform. therefore they require a different type of support, which enables them to carry out the core activities of a network, such as the dissemination of information and exchange of experience. when a network attains a certain size, this task is a full-time job. For the networks and associations funded by DVV International, there are additional tasks like lobbying and the diversification of fundraising which are often time-consuming. the effectiveness of a network/association is generally determined by a secretariat with capable and active personnel. even if there are many people who do voluntary work, in the long run a secretariat can only work with competent and paid staff. As one interviewee put it, this is also a “kind of appreciation for the work.” without a structure and without institutional support, an organisation cannot effectively carry out activities.

the diversification of funding for the partner organisations is the key element that needs to be supported in order to ensure the success and sustainability of the networks/associations. It is important to recognise that networks and organisations in Adult education – a non-profit sector – can never fund themselves through membership fees alone and there is no alternative to dependence on external funding. there should be a mix of institutional and project funding from various donors, as well as membership fees and income from the offer of services and consulting.


From all this come the following recommendations for the partnership relationship between donors and recipients in international cooperation:

Networks and associations in Adult education fulfil important functions in the area of policy-making at the local, national and international level. they give civil society “one voice” and enable it to formulate clear rules and criteria and to articulate clearly defined realistic interests and to participate in decisions of public policy. In addition, networks and associations can contribute through the exchange of experience, information and ideas to helping improve the skills of their members, to avoiding duplication, to increasing efficiency and to generating synergy effects. In short, networks/associations bring an added value. In other words, the whole is greater than its individual parts. networks and associations play an important role in bringing about structural changes.

The networking of governmental and non-governmental, local and international players in the field of non-formal Adult education plays an important role in the effectiveness of lobbying for the positioning of non-formal education policy at the international level as well as synergies resulting from the networking and exchange of experience, information, methods, etc., of Adult education organisations. nonformal Adult education has a key role in sustainable and social development and the improvement of living conditions. In order to function effectively and efficiently, networks/associations require long-term institutional and flexible funding. For a working partnership between donors and recipients it is important that donors develop a clear funding policy for networks and associations and thus take into account the different needs and ways of working of ngos and networks/associations. A specific funding policy for networks/associations that is distinct from the funding policy for ngos and takes into account the individual needs and ways of working of networks/associations is essential for successful networking. the proportion of institutional funding in comparison to the project funding may well be up to 100% of the funding. However, it is important that the networks/associations have functional organisational structures and fulfil certain requirements and conditions. In addition to that, measurable evaluation criteria should also be created and be regularly reviewed. the choice of networks/associations must occur on the basis of demand, and existing structures should be encouraged. there should also be no fixed, limited funding period, since long-term institutional funding allows organisational structures to grow and expand and access to resources to improve. through long-term relationships between networks/associations and donors, they can work together in partnership on an equal footing and mutually benefit from each other.

Adult Education and Development


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