From coffee to conference

Emilia Torrisi Gender

In this blog, Shekhar Anand and Emilia Torrisi share Oxfam’s learning on building influencing networks, how we are achieving it and why it is crucial to creating sustainable change. 

At Oxfam we know how crucial is to work with and influence others to enable changes in the life of poor and vulnerable communities.  By bringing people together to find common solutions to problems we can increase Oxfam’s impact. We make sure our programmes support the establishment of connections between governments, businesses, local NGOs, international organisations, media and research agencies and women’s organisations. Coordination is vital, and Oxfam often plays an important role in getting all the stakeholders together in a common platform known as multi-stakeholder network.

In some cases the coordination can start with simple coffee meetings, the conversations can then move to the next level leading to the establishment of a network. The activities of a network can grow depending on the needs and interests of its members.

The nature of the meeting is agreed by the stakeholders: they might decide to meet more formally, in conferences, roundtable meetings or workshops. On the other hand, if they wish to keep the network informal, they can also choose to gather in informal meetings. Oxfam programmes support both formal and informal networks as long as they enable social and economic change and the influencing of others.

Our learning from the programmes in Armenia and Georgia has shown that starting with coffee meetings can lead to the setting up of a solid network. The programmes in both countries helped start these informal get togethers which developed into national networks with regular dialogue with the national governments with the aim of improving food security policies. Both networks operate at an informal level but are recognised by their governments. The network members and their sub-groups are able to advise and influence the relevant government departments on matters related to food security and the empowerment of women and men farmers.

In fragile and protracted conflict situations the networks proved to be vital

Farmers engaged in berry production in Bosnia developed a coordination network among market actors such as buyers, processors and suppliers of agricultural inputs. Farmer groups were able to communicate directly with these people to negotiate better access to markets. The networks helped service providers like banks to connect with poor communities. Various examples of financial inclusion showed that, through networking, our programmes were able to link farmers with mainstream financial services. These examples were small scale but can be replicated to benefit others. In fragile and protracted conflict situations the networks proved to be vital as well. In Jordan Oxfam helped develop an alliance with four international organisations to work together in supporting refugees and host communities affected by the Syria crisis. This network was useful in pulling resources to develop joint projects for poor and affected communities.

In Iraq coordination with religious and community leaders increased women’s participation in our programmes. The urban and peri-urban network in Gaza was established to improve coordination among various players in the dairy sector. This network is still in its early stages but the communities are already starting to see the benefits. Our food security programme in Gaza improved coordination with local businesses and suppliers to increase efficiency of the delivery of services to communities and linked to local networks. Oxfam supported the development of coordination networks with government and private sector to support the olive oil producers in the West Bank. This effort has strengthened the sector by making it more resilient and it has also increased local investment. The networks established in these examples have been helpful in influencing attitudes, policies and practices in both stable and fragile contexts. As a result country programmes in the South Caucasus and Middle East have become stronger and gained useful insights.

The achievements can be shared widely and we are sure other countries might benefit from these experiences.

Further reading:

Didier Jacobs

Didier Jacobs is Senior Policy Advisor at Oxfam America (email