Networking: A development strategy

My fondness for the concept of networking began while conducting a study on the subject as development strategy of non-government organizations (NGOs) for my Master of Social Work thesis in the University of the Philippines- Diliman. Since then I have internalized the learnings and live with it in my whatever development endeavors I engage in.

Networking has been used by development workers and organizers as a strategy to strengthen their ranks especially during the times they were faced with the problem of either co-optation or reprisal from the government and other traditional power holders that want to maintain the status quo. Moreover, they have to deal with the proliferation of pseudo NGOs that undermine the sector’s credibility. Set up to take advantage of funding sources for dubious or narrow purposes, they are fly- by- night organizations.

Faced with such problems and threats to their credibility, NGOs have seen the need to establish linkages and networks among themselves and with other sectors of society. Melgrito (1994) has defined networking as coordination among people, groups or organizations of various interests and orientation, working together as in a chain so as to function in a specific manner. It takes place when organizations link up together and make concerted efforts for mutual advantage and greater effectiveness towards the achievement of a common goal.

As a strategy, networking has been used by many sectors in pursuing development endeavors. Networks link local efforts for more effective lobbying and advocacy and provide venues for the exchange of experiences and resources between similar NGOs. A proper coordination of NGO activities, in networking, helps prevent unnecessary duplication or overlapping of development effort. NGOs are also protected from any form of threat because of their collective nature, while they police their own ranks through common code of conduct.

In the Philippines, NGOs have reached the highest level of unity in networking during the launching of the Caucus of Development NGOs (CODE NGOs) in 1990. This solidarity, however, did not happen overnight. It was a culmination of decades of common struggle similar to what other NGOs in other countries experienced in the course of historical development characterized by diverse intensity and highlights.

It is interesting to note the participation of our pastors and churches in networking in the Philippines. Historical record shows the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) and the Ecumenical Center for Development (ECD) were among the pioneers in the formation of CODE NGOs. Alegre (1996), in his book Trends and Traditions; Challenges and Choice, acknowledged the significant role of pastors and churches during the Coping with Repression, Carving a Niche (1972-1978) stage in the history.

This is the time when the late President Marcos used a hard line stance to establish a New Society. Subsequently, the NGO community was included in a systematic crack down on opposition groups. All legal attempts at organizing for popular empowerment were paralyzed. NGOs responded to the situation in various ways. While some went underground to wage armed struggle, others were either coopted or forced to lie low. After an initial wave of repression, those that did not join the underground movement continued with their commitment through institutional work, which eventually came to be known as NGO work.

Three significant developments in the networking took place during this period. In 1974, the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) came together and adopted a statement defining the priorities and strategies of the development work of the church and its related organization. This development resulted to the formation of a body similar to NASSA- the Commission on Development and Social Concerns. Four years after, as an offshoot of the split of PECCO, a fellowship of pastors and lay workers to assist churches in development efforts was organized into a network known as the Ecumenical Center for Development (ECD).

The united effort of Philippine NGOs evolved from relief and reconstruction work to welfare activities geared toward anti- communist inspired social reform. Affected by the social context, which witnessed worldwide questioning of development approach, Philippine NGOs found themselves doing grassroots organizing for transformation. Such approach, however, faced a momentary halt when confronted by a repressive regime that used an iron-fist policy in dealing with oppositions.

Overcoming the threat, NGOs became instrumental in the qualitative growth of the organized mass movement, which culminated in the EDSA phenomenon. Thereafter, NGOs have maintained their legitimacy and prominence in Philippine society. The gains of networking in the national scene inspired the NGOs to translate it to the regional and provincial level.

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