Friday, February 13, 2009

Networks for Humanitarian Aid

On Saturday I did a session about networks and communities of practice for the alumni of the NoHA masters. The NoHA masters is an eighteen months course in international humanitarian assistance, co-organised by 7 European universities. Since their interests in networking were very broad; including personal networking strategies, network facilitation and working with networks in the field of humanitarian aid, I started with an exercise about self-organisation and an introductory presentation. In the exercise I asked 10 volunteer to line themselves up according to ascending age. This was easy for them to do, and shows the self-organising power of humans. If you understand this, you will work differently with networks.

After this, we discussed in smaller groups on the basis of various questions. How are we using networks in our work for humanitarian aid? How could we leverage them more? What are the pitfalls? And what are our personal network strategies? In my group, I noticed that not everyone is convinced that you can learn how to network. I don't consider myself a natural networker, but I've learn to network professionally. An interesting case was shared of a coordination meeting between humanitarian aid organisations that continues for years, and doesn't not seem to yield much value to the participants in terms of learning and innovation. Ofcourse, coordination is necessary, but it would be an interesting challenge to see how we could make more of those routine/boring gatherings that all participants see as an obligation.

Afterwards I had nice discussions with the leading committee of the alumni association. Their biggest challenge is to foster ties between the different years and to focus on the practice when members are working at many different levels, varying from field to policy level. Miguel from Spain raised the cultural differences at national level. Cultures (at national but also organisational levels) differ in their inclination towards professional networks and associations and the types of networks you invest in. In Spain for instance, the kinship networks (families) are very important and people invest quite some time in those. In the Netherlands, associations thrive and it is common to take up a voluntary position.


Mark Turpin said...

Hi Joitske! Nice post. I am interested in the idea that different cultures may have different approaches towards networking. Is this connected with Hofstede's cultural differences, or some other research (pls forgive my ignorance!)?

Joitske said...

Hi Mark, I didn't connect it with Hofstede (yet), but it might work- I guess it is the individualist versus collectivist orientation? Though it is not exactly the same because we also discussed the type of networks- assuming humans network anyhow in any culture.

Simon said...

Hi Joiske. Thanks for sharing the slides. We've also noticed the difficulty that some networks have in trying to be active at the policy level and at the operational level. We find that focussing on functions of networks help to clarify this balance. See here:


Joitske said...

thanks Simon, that completely matches my experiences. Trying to do everything is hard for small and starting networks!