Cooperation Offices and Networks – The Pretoria Story

April 24, 2013 | bit-wartung | SDC Experiences, SDC Networks |


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In the perspective of the Swiss Cooperation Office Southern Africa the networks did arrive. Reto Wieser, Director of Cooperation summarizes how networks make a difference for his team. And he points out some suggestions how networked learning and collaboration can be further strengthened trough the active implication of the Directors of Cooperation and the members.

By Reto Wieser, SDC

This post is the first in a new series on the network experience of the Cooperation Offices. Further posts will follow in a loose order.

The Cooperation Office Southern Africa is engaged actively in four networks. The National Programme officers participate at the face-to-face meetings and quite some energy goes into the preparation case studies. Additionally we are observing six networks. This is considerable for a team of altogether 20 staff.

The SDC networks were launched in 2008 with the following remit (extract from

1. Promote learning and pass on professional and methodical knowledge
2. Provide theme-related operational advice to the organisational units within the network
3. Capitalise on experience and formulate good practices.

The networks are a useful vehicle for connecting and sharing

Connect with peers and different viewpoints: The networks gatherings are an invitation for the Programme Officers to step out from the familiar operational work environment and connect with colleagues. This exchange brings a fresh look at familiar topics and approaches and makes think.
Information update: Programme Officers are informed on news from Headquarters and on trends and insights in their professional field of work and expertise.
Identity: Being a network member gives the Programme Officers a sense of belonging to SDC and to see the big picture of its strategy.

These reasons are fine and legitimate. But are they enough?

Learning and transfer of learning

SCO network membership is a pillar in the networks’ structure. Who mandates the networks? The mandate comes officially from the directorate; effectively it also has to come from the practitioners’ side. The “raison d’être” of the networks are the programmes and projects. Networks are the vehicle for sharing knowledge, ideas, inspiration, know-how and to feed insights and key learning back into the operations. Networks are hinges between Knowledge/ Research and operations. Here I definitely see a potential for SCO to engage stronger.
Stronger implication in the agenda setting. The networks agendas are defined mostly at Headquarters in Switzerland. Focal Points and most core group members are sitting in Berne. There are consultations and participatory approaches. I see that a stronger drive from the side of Cooperation Offices would allow the networks to be “Network for practice”.
Value of peer learning. The National Programme Officers have to play their leadership role. They are experts in their field of work. Learning from peers and practitioner and through networks is true and valuable learning. In the Cooperation Offices we have a mix of staff, local experts join expat experts; local knowledge joins international knowledge. The combination is our force.

Pathway forward

Network membership matters. It can really bring about key learning for our operations. And this force we have to bring in:
Director of Cooperation: I will make networks a priority and include the network planning and follow-up discussions into our management meetings.
Practitioners: My staff and every staff in Cooperation Offices should make proactive use of the network connections: Use the phone more often and ask: “I am looking for…” or “Do you have any experiences with…”
Networks: Get your second mandate from the SCO and put the operations in the centre of the network planning and discussions.

This is the first contribution in a series of blog posts on Cooperation Offices and Networks.

What do you hear, see and read from the networks? How do you – the SCO and your staff – make use of the networks? How useful are the networks? What is the networks’ impact? How is the learning from the networks transferred to the operations? What are your observations?



Comments to“Cooperation Offices and Networks – The Pretoria Story”

  1. Riff Fullan says:

    Dear Reto, It’s great to see such enthusiasm about SDC networks from a Cooperation Office! In repeated discussions about the networks, I am often struck by the fact that SCO staff value the networks highly, but they are not so visible or engaged in agenda-setting for those networks.

    I believe a push from both sides is required to change this situation: first, as in your case, support and validation from SCO management is essential (including facilitation to fit network engagement into existing workloads), and; second, the core drivers of the networks need to reach out on an ongoing basis to make participation from various countries and regions easier.

    If such participation can be integrated with ongoing work, individual network participants will benefit directly, and the networks will become increasingly dynamic and central to SDC’s evolution.


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