Competence Sharing Amongst NGO partners in South and East Africa
Southern and East African NGO partners of PYM Aid Norway
Kenya, Uganda, Somaliland, Swaziland, Mozambique, Rwanda
The CSNP is a learning initiative amongst 13 African church partners of PYM Aid Norway. Highly participatory annual meetings, complemented by visits between partners, have enabled considerable learning to take place and more importantly be applied in practice. This has had catalytic knock-on effects on networking outside CSNP. This case study shows the value of strong local ownership and facilitation in South-South learning.
CSNP was conceived at a PYM-organised seminar on financial management in 2004. The PYM partners from Southern and Eastern Africa felt that their interaction had been so beneficial that it would be valuable to have an annual event to exchange learning amongst themselves. A proposal was developed and approved by Bistandsnemda (BN) for NORAD funding for Phase I, 2006-8 and then for Phase II from 2009 – 2013.
The proposal outlined four intermediate objectives:
a) Exchange ideas and information related to project management.
b) Share the valuable experiences among projects in different countries with the purpose of learning.
c) Meet and discuss pertinent matters affecting the management of our projectsd) Visit each other to see and learn what others are doing and how they are doing it to increase awareness and competence.
The annual week-long meetings for about 30 participants have been the prime activity of the network. So far there have been four annual meetings: in 2006 in Kenya; 2007 in Mozambique; 2008 in Rwanda and 2009 in Kenya. The annual meetings are planned by the steering committee based on topics that have been suggested by members. The initial focus was on administration and finance, but over time broadened to include strategy, planning monitoring and evaluation, Rights-Based Approaches, sustainability and volunteerism. Task forces amongst members are asked to prepare presentations and facilitate discussions around the chosen topics.
Although organised discussion fora by email or internet were planned, to date these have not yet taken place. A yahoo group is currently being experimented with to see if it can generate on-going exchange between meetings. Some of these exchanges have taken place at least between individual members. Different members have visited each others' projects providing advice, training and learning from others' experiences. These professional exchanges have occurred naturally from relationships that have developed through the meetings. They have been paid for by the organisations themselves from their own budget lines.
The membership of the network has been consistently more than 50% women. Currently 55% of participants are female, far exceeding the 30% target in the 2006 proposal. Projects have been explicitly encouraged to send women to participate.
The nature of that engagement, however, is as important as the numbers. As one observer commented:'It has been very inspiring to see how actively the women have participated in the meetings, in contrast to what I have been used to see in other seminars where they often are few. The same women who are quiet in other seminars, are incredibly active in the network meetings'.
As with any learning network, the CSNP faces a number of on-going challenges. It is currently working on developing more formal management roles and structure and making member responsibilities more explicit. It would like to increase and improve the communication and learning that takes place between meetings. It recognises the need for continued investment in the physical meetings and the facilitation of the group so is considering how it can become more sustainable.
The project intended that "at least 75% of member projects should report that they have increased own capacity" as a result of the project. 100% of respondents felt that the network had increased their capacity to run a project considerably (70%) or reasonably (30%).
Clearly without an exact baseline or control group it is not easy to measure exactly the difference that this network has made. Perfect attribution is impossible. But it is clear from responses that there are a number of changes at a number of levels that can be plausibly associated with the learning network. These levels include changes in:
• relationships between members
• others outside the network
Changes at individual level
Individuals participating in the network highlighted how much they had learned personally. A number of respondents identified learning in management knowledge and skills. As well as these skills, individuals have gained confidence. One said: 'We are now more open and less threatened by our weaknesses. Another said: 'I'm more confident in doing my task and more flexible as a result of what I learn in strategic management.' As one observer states:
'We did not forsee the increased self confidence before we started, but is something observed in the networks meetings. By celebrating and sharing people's own experiences, members have gained confidence in their own expertise.'
But most important is whether participants have been able to apply their learning from the network once they are back in their organisation.
One of the most surprising elements of this evaluation was the extent to which participants were able to attribute significant organisational changes to the network. As one said: 'When I got that knowledge, I immediately put it into practice'. Some of the major areas of organisational impact include:
- Sustainability - Many of the respondents felt that their organisations had become much more sustainable as a result of the learning network. As one said in stark terms: 'Without this network and discussions on sustainability I am not sure we would still be here today".
- Financial Systems and accountability - Many respondents pointed out that their agencies managed their finances better now.
- Policies developed - Members have now developed organisational policies as a result of learning from the network, including car policies, HIV policies, human resource policies and gender policies.
- Improved programmes - There were clear improvements in a variety of technical programmes of partners as a result of the network meetings. These areas include better implementation of rights based approaches (RBA); female genital mutilation (FGM); HIV; child rights; and micro-enterprise development.
- Collaborative working - There was a clear shift towards more collaborative working as a result of being part of the network. Pentecostal churches are not noted for their engagement with government, but many network members are now actively engaged with government.
Changes in relationships between network members
The network has also changed relationships between members. A sense of 'sisterhood' and solidarity is developing. People are now able to look for help from each other: This has helped members become less isolated and enclosed. They are more committed to working together.
Impact on others
The CSPN has also had an impact by catalysing other networks. One member, inspired by CSNP, has helped initiate another network for NGOs working with children (TRACSEN). Other networks for child development organisations are also developing in Uganda. In addition the Anti-FGM project has started partnering with two other organisations in Uganda to form the beginnings of an East African Network of Anti-FGM Campaigners.
This case study of CSNP was not a direct response to the Paris Declaration of Accra Agenda for Action. But it does provide an interesting micro-example of the principles of aid effectiveness. We see that some of the principles proved critical to its success. Others were absent and it did not seem to matter. In terms of the five key principles, we observe with the CSNP:
- Ownership – leadership was undoubtedly exercised by the developing countries. The donor let the members from Africa lead the CSNP. This was critical to its success;
- Alignment – this project was clearly aligned with members' priorities ensuring its relevance;
- Harmonisation – as there was only one donor to this project and almost all of the members of the learning network received support from this donor, harmonisation was naturally present;
- Managing for results – this was not an explicit part of the CSNP design. While the CSNP needs to improve its monitoring and evaluation systems, a managing for results approach was not essential to its performance.
- Mutual accountability – this was an area of slight tension in the project between the donor and the steering group. More mutual accountability was desirable, but in this case not essential.
In this particular example we see that the five principles for aid effectiveness do not carry the same weight. Some proved essential to the performance of the CSNP; others merely desirable; and still others not really relevant.
There are a number of lessons that other networks can learn from CSNP:
- Leadership - The success of any learning network is dependent upon a champion at the centre. CSNP has been helped by a remarkable Kenyan who has been supported by a committed and engaged steering committee. The challenge in replication more an issue of leadership than costs.
- Ownership - Members have owned the project since its inception and PYM the donor has done extremely well to let the members drive the network.
- Physical meetings - A community of practice is helped by face-to-face meetings. The annual CSNP meetings have been cost-effective in sharing experiences, generating learning and establishing relationships of trust.
- Bi-lateral professional exchange – the exchange of experiences with members visiting each others projects is impressive, particularly as it is unfunded. Others may need to explicitly encourage such methods for learning.
- Investment – The CSNP shows that a learning group requires time and therefore money. Learning does not just keep going on own momentum.
- Measuring impact - the impact of learning networks can be seen at different levels: individuals; organisations; relationships between members; others outside the network. But intangible changes such as individual self-confidence; relationships of trust; and a sense of belonging and mutual support may be even more important. Monitoring and evaluation of learning networks can be done, but it needs particular attention.
The CSNP started in 2006 and is still continuing (48 months so far). It has secured funding until 2012
The CSNP is generally low cost. It costs about $50,000 per year to operate. Meetings are kept to a small budget, with cheap and simple venues. The coordination and facilitation of learning network group is largely voluntary. For example, the current Coordinating Chair estimates he spends approximately 60 days per year (25% of his time) on the network. He receives $100 per month as recompense. Given the undoubted impact of the CSNP, the costs are relatively small compared with other learning networks or capacity building interventions such as consultancy and training.
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