What We’ve Been Reading: The Value of Networks

What We’ve Been Reading: The Value of Networks


APC celebrated its sixth birthday in July 2021, which prompted some reflection on our role and place within the sector. As a network, we know that the relationships and interactions between our members forms the core of APC and sits at the heart of the work that we do.

Recently, we came across Ilona Haslewood and the Carnegie UK Trust’s report, which offered a framework to understand how networks support policy and practice development to foster social change. This framework, known as Network Functional Analysis, was designed to assist humanitarian networks to strategically reflect and assess their own work. There are four key components to this approach:

  • Purpose: the objective of the network to justify its existence
  • Role: the way the network adds value for members
  • Function: the activities of the network to achieve its purpose
  • Form: the structural and organisational characteristics of the network to support its function

This has encouraged us to look at APC’s work against this framework, since a network is only as good as the value it adds to its members. This reflection also gives us the opportunity to think about whether APC is being effective as a network and how we can apply these elements to achieve sustained social impact in the region. 

The report listed five broad categories of functions within this approach. Below, we introduce each of the functions and share how APC has explored them in recent years, in our role as a network for philanthropists.

  1. Knowledge management: A network can find, filter and share the most important information with members to prevent information overload. This can include identifying key stakeholders to engage or passing on meaningful stories.

    APC is launching a Climate Collective in September. Climate philanthropy is a huge field and can encompass many different geographies, issue areas, and approaches. For APC members, some of whom are just starting out their journey in this space, APC is curating a collective experience for them to learn from climate experts, peer funders and one another.

  2. Amplification and advocacy: A network can extend the reach and influence of constituent parts (e.g. members, ideas, initiatives) through events and campaigns.

    During the COVID-19 pandemic, the migrant worker population in Singapore was particularly affected and APC members provided emergency funds for a number of migrant work non-profits. Some members wanted to explore additional strategies that could tackle the more systemic and structural labour issues that migrant workers face. In 2020, APC conducted a feasibility study on the Employer Certification Scheme (ECS) concept based on labour standards proposed by an established migrant worker advocacy charity in Singapore. This scheme aims to promote and recognise ethical recruitment and employment of migrant workers at the private sector level.

  3. Community building: A network can build social capital by building relationships and trust between members. This is a necessary step for further collective learning and action.

    Every event APC organises aims to bring together members to learn from each other. Over the last five years, APC has organised its annual gathering venn, dialogues, learning journeys, country roundtables, and social events for members to connect, explore relevant current affairs and regional matters, have open discussions, and create opportunities to collaborate with others.

    In early 2021, as Singapore began to relax its restrictions on gatherings, APC introduced a dinner dialogue series. Each dinner dialogue is hosted by members hosting other members in their homes, with conversations based on a topic of their choosing, touching on society, family, and more.

  4. Convening: A network can bring together heterogeneous actors to stimulate discourse and collective learning. Bridging across sectors, stakeholder groups or geographies can also identify and connect new or emerging ideas.

    APC has taken advantage of the uptick in virtual conferencing to bring together both members across countries, as well as experts from around the world, such as in our recent Early Childhood Development (ECD) Forum—which brought in experts from Australia, Sri Lanka, Netherlands, and Denmark. This convening of early childhood specialists, researchers and policy makers provided members with the valuable opportunity to learn about emerging trends and innovative practices in the field of early childhood development, care, and education. Several APC members and partner organisations left the session with new cross-continental relationships and prospects for potential collaboration.

  5. Resource mobilization: A network can oversee and manage resources to increase the capacity and effectiveness of individual members. In doing so, it can also stimulate further knowledge creation and innovation.

    APC organised a Mental Wellness Workshop in April 2021 as youth mental health and well-being is an area of concern for a number of our members in Singapore. We soon realised that there were few population-wide initiatives to promote youth mental wellbeing and reduce the risk of future mental illness. Hence, the APC Mental Wellness Collective was formed, consisting of practitioners, non-profit leaders, and funders, to address these gaps in the youth mental health landscape in Singapore. A number of initiatives were conceptualised by the group during an initial brainstorming session. Through regular working sessions, APC and the group continue to design and activate solutions for Singapore’s most pressing needs in fostering youth mental wellness.

Over the past five years, we have seen how intermediaries and networks are increasingly regarded as valuable ecosystem builders by collaborating with others for better ideas, stronger connections, and greater impact. This report encouraged us by providing a clear framework to better understand how we have supported our members and the ecosystem.

This framework also applies to the other organisations in the sector which function as networks. Hopefully this report can also serve as welcome point for reflection mid-way through 2021, as well as help to identify how our functions overlap and potential areas for collaboration to further foster social change in the region.