Community Networks

CODI’s demand-led facilitating structure touches the lives of people across Thailand, in all the country’s urban and rural areas.  A crucial role in working at this scale is played by community networks.  Since the very beginning, CODI has supported the establishment and strengthening of new networks and the linking together of existing community networks across the country.  Networks now exist at just about every level:  77 province-level networks, five regional-level networks, hundreds of active city-level networks, several issue based national-level networks and more than 6,000 ward-level community councils.  Besides all these area-based networks, there are issue-based community networks that bring together communities around common issues such as welfare, housing, a common landlord or tenure situation or organic farming.

Communities in Thailand are now linked into a crisscrossing web of area-based (at city, ward, district, provincial and regional levels), and issue-based networks at a quite dramatic scale, and these networks provide innumerable platforms for sharing, learning, mutual supporting and negotiating about a whole range of holistic development issues.  That space allows people and networks at scale to get together, talk, plan, do things and collaborate with other key development agencies.  In the process, they are unlocking a real big change.

As a structure which allows individual poor communities to move from isolation into collective strength and which helps them to develop solutions to the problems they face, the community network has become an important development mechanism in the country.  Besides providing a means of idea-sharing, asset-pooling and mutual support, networks have opened channels for communities to talk to their local development agencies and to undertake collaborative development activities of many sorts.

Why Community Networks?  As a platform for large scale development which involves a synergy of learning, experience-sharing, morale-boosting and mutual inspiration, community networks have given Thailand’s poor enormous confidence and created a development mechanism which belongs entirely to them.  Community networks have emerged at many levels and in many forms and have become the main community-driven development mechanism of CODI, in its work to develop a national-scale development process.

  1. Networks offer a platform for dealing with any issue:  The network system is an ideal platform for dealing with any development issue, because it draws together people and groups around any issue of importance to them.  And when these networks connect with CODI’s various credit and development grant funds, it gives a big boost to their capacity to tackle these issues, on their own terms.
  2. Networks build collective capacities at scale: The sharing and learning which is at the core of the networks process creates a new culture of togetherness.  The stronger status of networks makes it possible for the poor to deal with larger, structural issues related to their problems – issues that are beyond the capacity of isolated community organizations.
  3. Networks are learning platforms: As an information channel, networks allow people to learn from each other and to transform the experiences of a few into the learning of hundreds.  Whenever one community has developed some alternative which works, all the others in the network – and in other linked networks – will learn about it as a matter of course.
  4. Networks open up community processes: When networks link many communities or several small networks together, they create a process with a life of its own, in which lots of people are involved, meeting all the time, discussing things and taking on a lot of different activities.  More activities mean more space for more people to get involved in different ways.  .
  5. Networks are internal support systems for people’s processes: The horizontal support, friendship and problem-solving expertise that is part of networks provide a huge support system for individual communities, and have given Thailand’s poor groups confidence, negotiating power, information, and many more tools to deal with pressing problems around them.
  6. Networks are internal checks and balance systems: The network system gives communities many tools to resolve internal problems and provides the checks and balances vital to sustaining a balanced, equitable community-driven development process.
  7. Networks act as a bridge to the formal system: Community networks have strengthened the negotiating status of poor communities and initiated all kinds of innovative collaborations with other stakeholders in city, province and country-wide development projects which affect the poor.  Networks have also joined forces with other civil groups to influence the broader directions of city development.  In these ways, networks are demonstrating ways of bridging the gap of understanding which exists between the urban poor and the formal system, and to help balance this crucial political relationship.