Beyond The Buzzword: Creating Linkages

“Creating linkages” is one of the favorite buzzwords amongst NGOs, social enterprises, and corporations alike. A concept that seems quite simple connecting people to the resources they need from across programs, organizations, and sectors has become a development field in itself with its own set of experts, grants, and conferences. Linkages are a way to take advantage of the work already being done in a given area and to not reinvent the wheel. They?re about dividing the work and letting each organization focus on their core capacities to offer the most complete services to the community.

A piece about creating linkages may seem like stating the obvious, but linkages are often tricky and do not occur as much as they should. Developing linkages, whether they are internal connections or involve bringing in a new partner, requires dropping egos and a willingness to cooperate and share credit. International development is a competitive field where we’re all fighting for funding and clients. Yet, in strained economic times, organizations have to realize that it’s neither possible nor practical to try and provide all required resources to their target popu-lations themselves. Instead by linking to other on-going initiatives whether corporate, government, or NGO we can provide for the overall betterment of our communities with little extra cost.

Linkages in Action – Real Medicine Foundation

Take the example of the Real Medicine Foundation?s Childhood Malnutrition Eradication Program in India. We?re working across 500 villages in Southwestern Madhya Pradesh where childhood malnutrition soars at 60 percent for children below 5 years of age. These staggering rates, while linked to extreme poverty, are not caused by famine or a lack of nutritious food.

Malnutrition in Asia is a problem of allocation, access to resources and awareness of how best to use the resources available. The goal of our initiative is simple: to use education, awareness building, and referrals to connect the resources available to the families who need them. We use local networks that already exist to provide education about proper infant and young child feeding to mobilize rural families to the services already offered by other organizations and local resources that can be better utilized. When the government is giving out discounted grains and free mid-day meals, why spend our funds on these services which every citizen is entitled to? While malaria affects our populations, why provide malaria treatment when we have neither the expertise nor funding? We link our villages to government schemes, NGOs small and large, and private organizations to help lift up our communities with everything from livelihood generation to schooling to free surgeries. It often takes a fair amount of work and there have been roadblocks along the way, but partners have begun to appreciate that our efforts are complementing and enhancing their work.

We started our linkage activities by making a simple chart, mapping the overall needs of the communities we work with; the capacity we have to address those needs; other organizations working in the area who offer relevant services; and gaps where partners need to be brought in or where we might need to step up. We have our staff brainstorm about where our beneficiaries can be immediately linked and keep the gaps we?ve identified in the back of our mind as we network and look for opportunities to fill those gaps.

RMF’s linkages are not just external: We try to use existing program capabilities in new ways. We also run an HIV/AIDS Care and Support program in the same region and a hospital facility for children with severe acute malnutrition. As our staff are in the field, they’re encouraged to cross-refer within our programs. All HIV staff attend all nutrition staff trainings and vice versa, so that our staff not only increase their knowledge base, but so that they can also contribute to the rest of our programs. We now treat HIV+ children who are severely malnourished and have a few HIV+ individuals earning an income by being employed as community nutrition workers.

All linkages do not necessarily affect our programmatic end-lines. It would be difficult in the medium, donor reporting period to quantitatively measure how linkages to livelihood generation programs affected family nutrition practices. Linkages do, however, have an immediate public relations affect between our organization and the communities we work with. By connecting communities with more resources, any resources, we?re fostering trust and stronger relationships. In the long-term we’ll see that every linkage helps by lifting up our target community.

Win-Win

Linkages don?t have to be parasitic relationships. Instead, both organizations should benefit from linkages. RMF opens our staff trainings to other NGO staff, so that they can replicate our work in their regions. We share our baseline data with other organizations interested in working in our communities, greatly reducing their costs and helping us ensure that the communities who need services the most are getting them. Many organizations have targets they need to achieve – by helping connect your population to one of these organizations, you?re getting your beneficiaries free services and helping said organization make their bottom line.

And the possibilities for linkages go on and on. Organizations don’t need to write proposals about linkages, start separate programs to promote them, or hire new staff specializing in linkages they should just happen when staff are encouraged to be resourceful and creative. By looking at each of your organization?s beneficiaries or clients as a whole person and by being aware of what is happening in the development space around you, your organization will be well-position to make mutually beneficial linkages.

    Author Information

    Caitlin McQuilling is Director Programs, South Asia for the Real Medicine Foundation, a non-profit organization working on sustainable, innovative, and integrated solutions to postdisaster, post-conflict, and high poverty challenges around the world. Spending most of her time living and traveling throughout rural villages in India, Caitlin is interested in applying international best-practices to find local solutions to today's development problems.

    2 Responses to “Beyond The Buzzword: Creating Linkages”

    1. Walking in the pesnrece of giants here. Cool thinking all around!

      April 27, 2011 at 11:37 pm Reply
    2. By far the best articles I have read in TBL. Great insight Caitlin and your work seems really impressive. Wish I could take a look some time. Would have been great if there was a link to RMF’s website.

      Wholeheartedly agree with your comment on dropping egos and sharing credit important to forging effective linkages. This reminds me of something similar John Perkins wrote in ‘Hoodwinked’ about competition and cooperation. He said something to the effect that competition is usually an operating philosophy of teenagers, the world needs to grow up and cooperate and spare the planet from immense waste created in the name of competition.

      October 5, 2010 at 1:00 pm Reply

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