How are our changing ways of networking changing the way NGOs develop and expand globally? When I was writing about organizations increasing their international engagement for the book Going Global for the Greater Good  in 2003 the concept of networking globally was still confined to a fairly small group of organizations, and connecting an individual’s networks to how it might benefit their organization’s was not as obvious or as nearly seamless as it has become.

Although traditional ways of building relationships, strong bonds and trust still remain important, our networking options to identify those with similar interests around the world has greatly expanded. We now of course have new tools (especially a growing variety of online ones such as social media platforms), more organizations dedicated to networking, and more and varied approaches one can take to networking (such as network visualization techniques and networkweaving). However, while much attention has been placed on how individuals can enhance their own networks, less focus has been placed on how organizations have changed their approaches to the global arena in this new ‘networked environment’.

One of the effects of the increase in networking tools is the speed and ease by which those looking to start new organizations that will work globally, or expand the reach of existing ones can find new partners. This has led to a more rapid expansion, as well as a decentralization, local adaptability, and fluid structures of organizations engaging or operating internationally:

  1. Flexibility and local adaptability – Many in the business world have learned that “the most effective companies allow their business units to tailor their organizations to local conditions” and NGOs have also moved in this direction. More traditional organizational structures focused on what their allied parts in different parts of the world needed to have in common, with just minor allocations (if any) made for local context. Newer structures reverse that mindset with the core components often being a smaller part of how any individual entity operates. This kind of adaptability allows for faster growth as local organizers can use the local approaches, resources and partners available to them.
  1. Decentralization – More traditional organizations led from the center. As networking leads to more personal connections fueling expansion, and as global communication is more accessible, it seems like a natural progression for the founders to have a comfort with more decision-making authority being placed locally.
  1. Fluidity – Whether through strategic planning or organic growth (or a combination of both) many newer organizations allow for flexible structures to incorporate different partners and their needs and expectations. As some of these partnerships will happen organically through a networking contact that is interested in pursuing a more formal relationship, it can be a different approach than a more traditional one that sends out the message that ‘this is the way we are structured and operating, if you want to join us as is’….

This is the first in a series of blog posts exploring how organizations have used new and enhanced approaches to networking to expand or increase their global presence. Follow-up posts will include the experiences of organizations which have used their networks and new approaches to organizational growth over the past few years.