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Happy New Year! Looking ahead…

Hello friends,

First, I would like to wish you all a wonderful new year. I hope you have been able to take some time to reflect on your accomplishments during the past year and celebrate your work and your contribution to a better, more just and peaceful world.

As you know, GFW receives funding from the Nike Foundation to support and strengthen adolescent girls programming, better understand the challenges and best practices of organizations working with adolescent girls, and increase the visibility of girls’ programs and issues in order to increase donor attention and investment. In addition to investing in GFW, Nike also supports five other grantmaking organizations working on girls’ rights: American Jewish World Service; EMpower; Firelight Foundation; Global Fund for Children; and Mama Cash. Through support of these six organizations, Nike is hoping to get current, on the ground information about grassroots organizations focused on girls programming, as well as the girls they serve. They will use this information to make the case for continued funding, as well as to help shape their own grantmaking. As such, at the last meeting in New York In October 2011, two learning objectives were developed that all six peer organizations will focus on over the next three years. These objectives are:

1. Learn how amplifying girls’ voice inspires action
2. Learn how grassroots organizations network with one another to maximize impact

In regards to the second question on networking, it seems that some of you are active in formal networks and most of you have worked collaboratively towards shared goals with other organizations. I would like to invite you to share any advice or lessons learned from participating in or managing networks or partnerships with other organizations. What have been the benefits of networking with other organizations? What have been the challenges? What should groups know or clarify before forming or joining a network or partnership?

Warmly,

Iris

Comments

Dear Friends and Partners,

Thank you to Iris for raising these important and thoughtful questions. What can a partnership bring to our work that individual organizations cannot? This is a question that guides us often in our membership within a partnership. Some of the lessons we continue to learn and have learned over the years are:

1. Lessons learned from participating in or managing networks or partnerships with other organizations
a) Have written terms of reference - Participation and management of networks should be based on a very sound understanding of what the partnership is about. This requires a clear articulation of common goals, vision, mission and roles & responsibilities of each organization. Written terms of conditions/reference help in clarifying expectations and create a safe space to address challenges and difficulties, which are inevitable when individuals and organizations come together. In our experience, we have also found that this very space/forum also allows us to bring our shared joys and common vision to fruition.

b) Recognize that partners are competitors and collaborators - partners often come with conflicting values and visions. It becomes ever more important to bring partners together to share these openly. During the formative stages of the coalition, it's essential to spend time building community and partnership, laying out guidelines, and nurturing strong roots for the coalition to thrive.

c) An example - in our experience with networks, we need to begin with a common understanding of how we define incest and child sexual abuse, how we view perpetrators, how we define survivors and their rights, how our work fits within the movement for gender rights, how our work honors the rights of children and survivors, and so on. Being a member of a partnership requires that one has to move beyond individual emotions and expectations. Yet having guiding principles in place ensures boundaries and non-negotiables for individual partners and the network as a whole.

2. What have been the benefits of networking with other organizations?
a) Collective expertise and resources - our goal is not to reinvent the wheel through a coalition, but to bring our individual energies and strengths to mobilize something into action that an individual organization may not be able to accomplish alone.

b) Collective voice - a collective voice always has more impact on policy and social advocacy.

c) Peer support group and learning circles - Just as survivors of incest need to know they are not alone, in our advocacy work of being exposed to trauma amongst adolescent girls, solidarity is important to us. In the work that each of us in the forum do, the impacts of our work is often not visible immediately. In that sense, having a supportive forum such as this forum by the GFW and Nike Foundation, reduces our sense of helplessness and reminds us the power of our communal work to give a voice to adolescent girls all around the world.

d) An example - For us at RAHI, working on issues that are cruelly and consistently silenced, having a partnership also means we're not alone and there are more people working towards a common goal. We have observed that issues often carry more weight and voices retain more leverage when they are endorsed collectively, whether through a protest, petition, dialogues, or other media. This collective action is prefaced on a strong common understanding of goals.

3. What have been the challenges?
a) Sustainability - an honest evaluation of limitations and resources is essential and can also be very challenging. As we mentioned in the point about creating clear terms of reference, having a safe space to articulate limitations and challenges without being thought of as "opting out" is necessary. Ensuring sustainable networks that are historically and culturally relevant is not an easy feat. However, a balance between flexibility, adaptability, and strong guiding principles and non-negotiables is very helpful. We want networks to last and having a clear understanding of common goals, solidarity and vision has shown to be critical to celebrate differences and bring our visions to life.

b) An example - In our work, at times, we have had to openly and honestly question our place and the place of other organizations in a network. For instance, in our work to end incest, we have had to ask what if organizations have differing values, such as, an organization that embraces homophobia? What place does it have in the coalition? Being prepared for differences such as these to arise and having clear guiding values and principles in place can help address such challenges.

4. What should groups know or clarify before forming or joining a network or partnership?
a) Groups ought to know everything possible about the network, such as, its members, their roles/contributions, expectations, why they want to join the network, how much they need to invest, criteria for membership, member guidelines, reasons why the partnership exists, practicalities and modalities of functioning (logistics of meetings, money and time investment), resources of the network (is it a funded/non-funded network?), how the network will benefit them in the work they are doing and in the fulfillment of their mission.

b) Groups should be aware of sleeping partners - there has to be clarity and a willingness to invest from individual members and the coalition as a whole. The main goal of building and sustaining something together cannot be overstated.

Looking forward to reading everyone's thoughts and learn from each of you,
-Suparna

Suparna Kudesia
Peer Educator, RAHI Foundation
www.supportrahi.com // www.rahifoundation.org

INFOTEKA Zenica's picture

RAHI's lessons learned

Thank you Suparna for sharing your lessons learned.
Could you also respond on your ways of communicating between network members? We would love to hear your experience on that as well. Warm regards from Bosnia!!

Suparna Kudesia's picture

Ways of Communicating

Thanks for the warm regards and apologies for the delayed response.

Thanks also for bringing up this very important question. We believe that clear, direct, honest and regular communication is the backbone of any network. Having said this, we know this is a challenge and despite best efforts, does not always happen. We have learnt from our experience, gaps in communication can lead to misunderstandings, resentments and collusions between members and tend to weaken a network. It is also a loss because a network allows members to draw energy from each other and this can only happen through regular communication. Gaps are however also an indication that maybe all is not well and can be used as opportunities to strengthen the network. Understanding that in a living, breathing group, this is likely to happen, practical and effective systems and guidelines of communication need to be collectively agreed upon and written down in the formative stages itself. For example, if two or more members begin a collaboration, are they required to inform the other members? What are the rules of confidentiality regarding certain information shared in the network? Members communicate with each other on network issues as well as what is happening in their own work. This is done increasingly through emails/e-groups, skype calls, social networking sites, online forums and sharing of newsletters.

Hope this was helpful!

Warm regards,
-Suparna

Suparna Kudesia
Peer Educator, RAHI Foundation
www.supportrahi.com // www.rahifoundation.org

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