Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) are organized voluntary non-state institutions which mostly operate on non-profit basis. They are formed and led by the citizens to champion their collective or common interests and concerns of the members, specific target groups or the general public. The governance arrangements and interventions undertaken by the CSOs is defined by the leadership, members or the target constituency without significant government-controlled participation or representation.
The main focus of the CSOs is often service delivery particularly access, quality and accountability. They play integral roles in the successful functioning of democratic governance systems, and are active stakeholders in the social, economic and cultural activities
CSOs can be diverse in purpose, governance structure, size and serve an important function in society. For example, CSOs can be community-based organisations, village associations, environmental groups, women’s rights groups, farmers’ associations, faith-based organisations, labour unions, and co-operatives.
There is an established regulatory framework governing the registration and coordination of the CSOs that includes Non-Governmental Organizations Coordination Board, Registrar of Societies, Ministry of Culture and Ministry of Social Services. Combined, these bodies have registered thousands of CSOs whose coverage and scope range from local e.g. county to national and international. There are however thousands of active CSOs that are not registered such as the grassroots women savings and loan groups commonly referred as chamas.
When CSOs come together and coordinate their efforts as a network they can become even more effective actors in county governance.
CSOs with shared objectives often work together or collaborate towards realization of the common goal. Through networking, a process of initiating and maintaining contact with individuals and organisations that share common goals, CSO often agree to work together to reach those goals. Networks are also referred to as coalitions, movements and alliances. While some CSOs networks may be formal and long term in nature with well-defined partnership documents that capture the vision, objectives, strategic interventions, membership and leadership. Others are informal or loose with no rules of engagement apart from commitment to the issues of focus. Still, there are others that emerge on need basis mainly to address specific issue(s) and only exist while the issue(s) is active.
Networking enables CSOs to work collaboratively to pursue common goals, individual members in network usually retain their autonomy and identity. When the CSOs come together and pool their efforts towards certain issue(s), they can become even more effective and achieve bigger outcomes.
The potential benefits of networking for the CSOs are:
- Enhanced availability of resources both financial and human which enables the members to pursue higher goals.
- Access to local and broad-based knowledge resources and evidence from the diverse members.
- Strengthens voice and legitimacy, enables sharing of responsibilities and risks for organizations that work advocacy issues such as anti-corruption and human rights.
- Ability to maximize impacts because of strengthened bargaining power.
- Establish a clear governance structure, terms of reference (ToR), rules of engagement, guiding principles, decision making and conﬂict resolution processes, strategic and operational plans and tools so that the obligations of each member and expectations are clear, and work is not haphazard.
- Consider a ‘collective contribution’ strategy from member organisations, so that your network can be financially sustainable.
- Being representative is a key source of legitimacy and inﬂuence. Strength in numbers, lends greater political weight to a cause or policy issue.
- Have a clear focus on the issues you are seeking to address; and ensure you have the requisite capacity to be effective.
- Quality of evidence affects both credibility and legitimacy. Proper packaging of the evidence is crucial to effective communication.
- Persistence over a period of time is often required for policy inﬂuence.
- Informal links are important and can be critical for achieving the objectives.
It is also important that members appreciate that networking does not necessarily guarantee success. Similarly, conflicts can often emerge in networks which can affect realization of the intended objectives, some members may joyride but claim the benefits. In some cases, network management and administrative issues can take a lot of time away from the focus on the main objectives.
- Create partnership and respectful engagement with county governments as opposed to an ‘adversarial’ approach. A memorandum of understanding (MoU) between your network and the county government outlining areas and processes for engagement and expectations can facilitate an effective relationship.
- Nurture the relationship by maintaining engagement with the county governments, partner and participate where appropriate, provide timely input and feedback, share information which can help duty bearers to understand the issues at hand.