|GATE - 4/92 - Networking: Lessons and Hopes (GTZ GATE, 1992, 56 p.)|
The Experience of "Development Innovations and Networks" (IRED)
by Fernand Vincent and Marcel Furi
Ever since it was created in 1980, IRED, an organization based in Geneva, has consistently pursued a single aim. It has tried, both through and with a network of 1,000 partners (aid and training organizations and centres, men and women), to help associations, federations, organizations and popular movements of farmers, to fishermen, and women to form, to organize themselves, to evolve, so that by taking their destiny into their hands they can change the conditions and the world in which they live.
At present, IRED's international network is active in some 60 countries. Thus, directly or indirectly, the joint action of the network and its partners has an effect on several million men and women. IRED's objectives have been achieved thanks to an impressive number of activities relating to the following issues:
Strengthening of institutions
IRED has earned itself an international reputation in this field, and in particular as regards alternative financing. In order to advance as quickly as possible towards financial and political independence, every development organization must improve its management, and cope with the growth of its internal organization and its capacity for self-assessment. In addition, such independence presupposes promotion of economic activities and the creation of funds and capital capable of generating new income.
In the course of the last ten years, 22 seminars have been held on alternative financing and credit in 22 countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. As a result, it has proved possible to introduce new systems of alternative financing in several Southern countries. IRED was actively involved in the creation of the RAFAD foundation (Research and Applications of Alternative Financing in Development). This is an international guarantee fund at the service of local groups which have no chance of obtaining credit from their own banks. In South-East Asia, business consortiums and national investment systems or guarantee funds have been set up following these IRED seminars. In West Africa and Latin America, partners of IRED have devoted their efforts to establishing better sales networks for their products, giving preference to exchanging their products among themselves.
In addition, IRED has organized training workshops and assistance projects, in order to provide instruments of more efficient management together with its partners. It has devised training systems and published management guides and manuals. This training also includes planning, so as to incorporate the activities better into an institutional and political environment - not only at local, but also at national and international level.
Information, documentation, publications
The periodical IRED-FORUM is the network's extremely popular
Published in French (2,500 copies), English (2,500 copies) and Spanish (1,000 copies), it enables IRED to reach more than 20,000 readers, most of them in Third World development organizations. IRED FORUM has greatly facilitated the development of the network, in particular through a very large number of direct contacts between partners, to exchange experience or obtain tools, information or advice. Among the tools, two management manuals have sold well and have been translated into French, English, Spanish, Portugal and the Asian languages Sinhala, Tagalog, Chinese and Thai. Almost 50,000 copies have been sold.
During the last few years, IRED has established documentation and resource centres on every continent and at international level. These centres are regularly consulted by the network's partners.
Founded in 1980, Innovations et Reseaux pour le Developpement (Development Innovations and Networks; IRED) has a network of groups in 60 countries, whose common aim is to create a more just society. IRED helps the socially underprivileged to form groups, shows them how to obtain finance, and establishes direct links between them via information and documentation. It promotes South-South exchanges, e. g. of farmers and fishermen. IRED has links with all multilateral development aid organizations.
L'organisation IRED (Innovations et Reseaux pour le Developpement) cree en 1980 s'engage, avec son reseau de groupes instaure dans 60 pays differents, en faveur d'une societe plus juste. Elle apporte son soutien aux personnel socialement defavorisees lors de la formation des groupes et leur indique des moyens de financement. L'IRED etablit des contacts directs entre les differents groupes par le biais d'informations et de documentations. L'echange Sud-Sud est encourrage a l'exemple de paysans et de pecheurs. L'IRED est en contact avec toutes les organisations multilaterales d'aide au developpement.
La organizacion IRED (Innovations et Reseaux pour le Developpement/Innovaciones y redes pare el desarrollo) enfoca con su red de grupos en 60 paises la creacion de una sociedad mas juste. Apoya a personas socialmente perjudicadas en la formacion de grupos y les indica vies de financiacion. Con informacion y documentacion, la IRED establece contactos directos entre los grupos. Se apoya el intercambio sur/sur, por ejemplo entre agricultores y pescadores. Existen contactos con sodas las organizaciones de ayuda al desarrollo multilaterales.
The network has organized more than 250 exchanges at local, national, regional, international and sometimes even intercontinental level. But considering the low level of finance obtained this is not enough. The principal goals of these activities are to exchange technologies, to adopt and adapt them with a view to creating jobs and income and thus free women from their exhausting work; and to strengthen local institutions through visits to other organizations and groups which have found answers and also organized themselves. The following exchanges are typical examples:
- an exchange between Thailand and Sri Lanka involving six leading farmers, coconut producers, to transfer technologies associated with this product and create jobs in rural areas on their return to their respective countries;
- an exchange between traditional fishermen from Madagascar, Mauritius and Reunion for the purpose of establishing a local traditional fishing network, improving the techniques used and coping better with methods of obtaining loans;
- a study trip by Sahelian farmers to Sri Lanka and India to deepen their understanding of how Asian farmers' movements are organized.
Research and action
In NGOs, research always plays second fiddle to action. But for IRED, capitalizing on experience has always been a priority. It has produced a large number of publications, in particular on exchanges and alternative financing. Many case studies are available and have become tools for training and assisting development organizations. In Asia, on the initiative of its Colombo office, IRED has carried out numerous studies which have enabled it to consider, and publish on a wide range of topics, including relationships between governments and NGO's; networking as a development tool; the financial independence of development organizations; and the consequences of creating economic activities within public organization and NGOs.
A major research and action programme was recently implemented in West Africa. Via a number of actual projects (credit, marketing) a team of researchers with links to local development organizations is investigating how farmers associations and federations can best promote their interests. The programme will probably result in the establishment of a local foundation to provide institutional support to farmers' organizations in the region.
IRED maintains close links with other major NGO networks working towards similar goals on every continent. Some of these networks have developed with substantial support from IRED. As far as international relations are concerned IRED is in permanent contact and is well known by the majority of international organizations in the UN system UNDP, World Bank, ILO, HCR, UNICEF, WHO, FAO etc. IRED is under contract to some of these agencies to carry out studies and prepare plans of action, above all in Asia. It is represented in international debates, at the 1992 UNCED (the Rio conference), the World Bank, UNCED, the Commission for Human Rights, regional development banks and in most of the forums with which its activities are concerned. It maintains close relations with international cooperation and financial aid agencies. Thus, in the course of time, IRED has taken its place in the world and is recognized as an active partner representing development organizations working in the field in the South.
For IRED, change "towards a different society" is possible thanks to the combined efforts of motivated and competent individuals who have a vision and a knowledge of the problems that cause injustice. The people have committed themselves - in organizations, networks and movements - to help make this change happen. Today, the men and women of the association appear to represent a valid alternative for a democratic society. IRED offers them a convivial platform where everyone enjoys freedom of expression and an opportunity to work constructively.
In this context, IRED's fundamental role is to further strengthen local associations, federations, unions, networks and popular movements in both the rural and urban spheres, so that they are in a position to pursue their own development, better able to negotiate with the authorities in power, and can have a say in decisions which concern them. By doing this, IRED also strengthens the leaders of these organizations, men and women alike, who are ultimately responsible for these changes in attitude, mentality and structure.
This process of strengthening institutions covers the following areas for action: access to information, which constitutes a new power; independence and the creation of the financial instruments needed to achieve it; participation in savings and loan operations and new mechanisms for accruing capital; a better knowledge of the macroeconomic problems and mechanisms which dictate action at local level; new forms of solidarity, so that communication everywhere is improved, networks are created and have the support and sympathy of strong organizations. Thus, practicable alternative proposals will emerge.
The goal of institutional strengthening (empowerment) is to consolidate the training and negotiating skills of leaders so that these organizations will in turn be strenghtened. At the same time, IRED is developing a networking strategy: the creation and development of networking to put an end to isolation. This will be a progressive strategy, starting with individuals: leaders, men or women who seek change, who dedicate themselves to a new activity and gradually gather a group around them which will take initiatives, create an association and then, more formally, a union, a federation, and a movement.
The success of networked action depends on the strength of the partners, their capacity for playing the game and establishing direct links with one another without passing through the centre, whose role is that of a service supporting the action taken by the partners.
Address: IRED P. O. Box 116 3, Rue de Varembe CH-1211 Geneva 20 Switzerland