Elidia María Novaes
Rosa María Fischer
FEA-USP Sao Paulo
This case describes Corrente Viva, a network built by thirty civil society organizations (CSOs) that provide social assistance in several Greater São Paulo areas. Created in 2000, this network intended to strengthen its member institutions by means of experience and insight exchanges. Network participants were organized in regional links or geographical divisions. Corrente Viva also sought to design projects to serve the needs of participating CSOs, building work groups to carry out new initiatives.
A network premise hinged on shared responsibility –that is, the network had to remain fully feasible as a result of participants’ contributions, with no formal structures or legal formalization. Arising needs would be addressed by participating CSOs themselves and by forging alliances with other organizations, thus preventing the emergence of centralized power and decision-making hubs and a complex, costly administrative scheme.
However, in time, the solutions used to remedy Corrente Viva’s emerging administrative demands did not match its original scheme. Eventually, a demand surfaced to create an informal structure under the supervision of a network member, Núcleo Maturi, which exceeded this organization’s original intent when it was invited by funders to support network creation. Participating organizations seemed ill-prepared to take over network management, as they were not likely to secure management and governance autonomy in the short time. In late 2004, Corrente Viva’s construction funding support would come to an end, and the network would have to ensure its survival on its own. At that time, Corrente Viva was also trying to find an organizational setup that guaranteed its sustainability and autonomy.
As presented in this case, the challenge faced by Corrente Viva involves building a new institutional and governance scheme that does not undermine its shared responsibility principle and the decisions that drove network creation, including collaborative decision making, power centralization and resource concentration avoidance. This dilemma encompasses a number of dimensions, namely:
This case may be used in courses discussing organizational format design and the use of collaborative management schemes in civil society organizations. A number of studies reveal that third-sector organizations tend to build networks to drive CSOs’ institutional strengthening and organizational development. These networks often adopt a cross-sector setup to incorporate additional resources and organizational attributes.
Students should ponder the contradictions and challenges that emerge in network building and development, when greater management complexity propels a need for more structural formalization and governance procedures.
This case may also prove useful in courses on change process management, institutional organization, and third sector sustainability and legal framework –in the latter case, with adjustments to accommodate local specificities.