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The International Journal
of Not-for-Profit Law

Volume 15, Issue 1, March 2013

A publication of the International Center for Not-for-Profit Law

Table of Contents

Letter from the Editor

Changing Legal Environments for Civil Society Organizations

The South African NPO Crisis: Time to Join Hands
Ricardo Wyngaard

Bill on Societal Organizations (RUU Ormas) and Freedom of Association in Indonesia
Eryanto Nugroho

What’s New in the Governance of Canadian Not-for-Profit Corporations?
Terrance Carter


Responsible Investments by Foundations from a Legal Perspective
Dominique Jakob and Peter Picht

My Brother’s Keeper: Challenges in Gifting in the Kenyan Context
Henry Otieno Ochido

The Role of NGOs in Independent Tajikistan
Firdoos Dar

A Network Approach to NGO Development: Women's NGOs in Mongolia
Byambajav Dalaibuyan

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Editorial Board

A Network Approach to NGO Development: Women's NGOs in Mongolia

By Byambajav Dalaibuyan[1] 


Even though the network metaphor is widely used by civil society scholars and activists, there has been surprisingly little research on the actual structural configuration of interactions and transactions among NGOs, especially in transitional countries.[2] Few would disagree with the idea that the institutional core of civil society is overlapping networks of NGOs, associations, and grassroots groups, especially in a sense that they articulate and channel different interests and concerns and facilitate public campaigns. Major civil society theorists have argued that horizontal networks of communication and collaboration are essential for vibrant civil society. NGOs themselves have acknowledged the importance of networks between them as they provide opportunities for NGOs to share information and material resources. Grant makers have often supported NGOs’ coalition building efforts as well. One reason is to prevent project duplication and to scale up the impact of their assistance.

What are the net results of these ideas and practices? What kinds of networks actually exist in the NGO sectors? How can we measure them? 

This article presents results of a social network survey of women’s NGOs in Mongolia, which was conducted during the spring of 2010. The main objective of the survey was to understand the structural properties of collaborative interactions among women’s NGOs.[3] Among Mongolian NGOs, women’s organizations have been most active to form and join networks among NGOs, which have taken different forms, such as umbrella organizations and issue-specific coalitions, since the 1990s. We present the main findings of social network analysis (SNA) and discuss its broader implications for NGO development.[4]

Women’s NGOs in Mongolia

Women’s NGOs have been so visible and active that some write of “matriarchal civil society” in Mongolia.[5] As in other post-Soviet countries, Western-style NGOs established and led by women have been the leading force in the Mongolian NGO sector. The “feminization” of the NGO leadership was determined by a set of interrelated factors. First, the collapse of state socialism and the subsequent radical changes in the country left many educated, middle-aged women in unfavorable working conditions. In addition, political struggles through male-dominant political parties did not allow women to access power centers in government and business. For some women, civic organizations presented a promising opportunity. Second, women have traditionally had an interest in and “responsibility” over social problems, like education, health, and children’s issues, that attracted special attention from donor organizations. The resonance of the concerns of women’s NGOs with donor priorities provided them an opportunity to receive continued technical and material assistance, which allowed some NGOs to have a relatively stable organizational capacity.

The first NGOs formed in the early 1990s in Mongolia were women’s NGOs. Their roots were in the newly formed opposition political parties. Unlike in other transitional countries, the former communist party, the Mongolian People’s Revolutionary Party (MPRP), won two consecutive elections in 1990 and 1992. Most female leaders of the newly emerged political parties were not able enter formal politics. Connectedly, some leading female members of the opposition parties formed the first NGOs in Mongolia.  

The Mongolian Women’s Federation, a former socialist-era organization, has retained considerable influence. The federation kept its former ties to the MPRP. Until recently, the leaders of the federation were the leading female members of the MPRP. Unlike the NGOs formed after 1990, the federation had local member committees in all provinces and dozens of other member organizations.

Women’s NGOs have pioneered in efforts to create formal NGO networks. In 1995, the Mongolian Women’s Coalition was established, consisting from 15 NGOs. One of the main objectives of the coalition was to support female candidates participating in the parliamentary election. The Coalition was reorganized in 2000 as the National Network of Women’s NGOs, and adopted a more formal structure with a president, two vice presidents, and five standing committees, with member NGOs obliged to pay an annual membership fee.[6] The activity of the network was managed by the member NGOs on a rotating basis. In 2007, the network was restructured again, and it established its first regular coordinating organization. The network, an acronym of which is MONFEMNET, claims that it is “open to any civil society organization that is committed to gender justice, human rights and freedoms, and democracy.”

As a survey of women’s NGOs conducted in 2003 shows, the network was seen as an effective effort to coordinate overlapping activities and have a substantial impact on gender politics and public attitudes.[7] The network has contributed to some important public campaigns over the past decade, such as establishment of the National Council for Gender Equality, increasing the number of women candidates in the 1996 parliamentary elections through promoting quota methods, and lobbying the Law on Domestic Violence.[8]

The network has also encountered difficulties. Until recently, it did not have a coordinating body that operated on regular basis. The loose network of NGOs had rarely been mobilized when external funding opportunities available were available. It had been unable to create inclusive, coordinated, and collective action.[9] Key factors that inhibited the effectiveness and legitimacy of formal networks among women’s NGOs were posited by insiders as partisan polarization, animosity, and differences of views on feminism among NGOs.[10] 

Mapping and measuring inter-NGO networks

NGOs can be connected to each other in different ways. In the case of NGOs in advanced Western democracies and transnational NGOs, for example, interlocking board memberships often serve as a basic measure of their interconnectedness. In the case of developing and transitional countries, this measure of connectedness may not work well because of the relatively small size of NGOs and the minimal role of board members. As better way to explore NGO networks in Mongolia, we examined collaborative interactions and transactions between NGOs, such as information sharing, joint project implementation, and pooling of resources.

We use two key measures that are commonly applied in SNA: network density and centralization.[11] The density of a network is the proportion of (a) the number of ties actually present in a network to (b) the number of possible ties in that network. It indicates the extent to which nodes (NGOs in our case) connect to each other. Dense networks may indicate high levels of social capital, fast information diffusion, and high capacity for collaboration. Centralization describes the extent to which a network is organized around particular focal points (leading NGOs in our case). The centralization of a network is the ratio of (a) the actual difference between the centrality of the most central point and that of all other points, and (b) the highest possible difference.[12] Centralization measures indicate the direction of interaction and flow in a network, and relative order and coordination. Relatively centralized networks are more likely to facilitate mobilization and generate collective action.

The combinations of these two measures produce four different patterns of networks among NGOs. As shown in Table 1, high density and high centralization of a network may embody clique-like communities, in which all nodes connect to each other. Extremely strong ideological and cultural affinities between member NGOs may result in such a pattern. In contrast, low density and low centralization reflects many “single doers” and a diverse, atomistic style of action. Low density and high centralization or a centralized but segmented network resembles a wheel-shape. It has one central NGO as a linking point between peripheral NGOs that are not directly connected to each other. We might find that some umbrella NGOs and NGO support centers serve as central actors among disconnected NGOs, while those NGOs contribute a considerably low level of investment to building ties with others. Last, decentralized, dense networks have several and sometimes competing leaders or centers of influence and considerably segmented sets of peripheral organizations. This pattern, which is also called “polycentric,” could be the most effective structure for NGO networks.

Table 1. Four Potential Patterns of NGO Networks











segmented, centralized


dense, decentralized

segmented, decentralized


Sampling and data collection

According to the Directory of Mongolian NGOs, there are 104 women’s NGOs. Of them, 73 had an address in Ulaanbaatar, which we define as the total population of women's NGOs. The core sample of women’s NGOs consists of the 27 NGOs in the Network of Mongolian Women’s NGOs (MONFEMNET) and the 14 NGOs in the Mongolian Women’s Federation. These two groups together represent the majority of women’s NGOs in Ulaanbaatar. We were able to reach 26 NGOs from this initial sample. We tried to include other NGOs that were not members of these two coalitions, too. Our sample comprised 30 women’s NGOs. We then excluded from analysis one new NGO (one year old) and three NGOs representing women’s organizations of political parties.

The questionnaires were filled out by representatives of the participant NGOs. Of them, 69 percent were NGO leaders or executives; the others were program officers and secretaries. Three of the research participants were men. For 73 percent of the research participants, the NGO was their primary occupation.

We asked respondents to in the past two years. Then we asked whether they have had the following types of interactions with the organizations they listed: personal ties, common values and attitude, pooling of resources, sharing core members, joint organization of public events, sharing information, and conducting joint projects.

Main findings

Organizational characteristics

Prior to discussing the results of SNA, we present organizational characteristics of women’s NGOs. There is little recent research that reports on the organizational capacities of Mongolian NGOs. Although our sample is modest and may not be generalizable to the NGO sector in Mongolia, it can well represent the field of women’s NGOs.

The mean annual budget of women’s NGOs is 72.2 million tugrik. However, it should be noted that most budgets fall between one million and six million tugrik, which means there are relatively few big NGOs and many small ones. According to the survey, 92 percent of the NGOs have own office spaces, 96 percent have telephones, and all of them have email addresses. The mean age of NGOs is 12 years. About 63 percent have registered members.

Women’s NGOs work on different issues, such as women’s rights, health, empowerment, girls’ rights, family, promoting women’s business, and democracy and human rights in general. While some NGOs seem to have specific domains that they exclusively focus on, some have heterogeneous activity areas. The main forms of activity that women’s NGOs undertake are organizing training sessions (mean score is 4.3 of 5.0), working with or via mass media (3.5), participating in international campaigns (3.1), initiating new policy documents (3.0), initiating or supporting petitions (2.7), and joining direct action or demonstrations (2.0).

Network properties

The density of the network of women’s NGOs was 0.1262, which means 12 percent of all possible ties were present in the network (Figure 1). For the relatively small number of organizations working in a common field of activity, it indicates relatively low rates of interaction and flows. However, it in part contradicts a view that young, resource-scarce NGOs in transitional countries lack collaboration.

Figure 1. Network Map of Women’s NGOs

NGO Network Map

Note: The size of nodes and thickness of lines represent degree centrality and strength. W19 is an isolate or a disconnected organization.

NGOs were asked what types of collaboration and flows have occurred between them and their partner organizations. Information exchange among NGOs and their joint organizing of public events each contributes much to the overall connectivity. In contrast, linkages between NGOs created through implementing personal ties, joint projects, and pooling of resources were minimal or essentially nonexistent (Table 1).

Table 2. Density of networks based on different ties


Density   (SD)


0.0295   (0.1691)


0.0426   (0.2020)


0.0109   (0.1036)


0.0473   (0.2123)


0.0109   (0.1036)


0.0357   (0.1854)

Personal ties

0.0062   (0.0785)

A measure of network centralization shows that the women’s NGO network is organized around multiple focal nodes (Figure 1). The most focal node in the network is W11. As a focal node, W11 has an important role in the network, bridging some isolated organizations, such as W13. Multiple focal nodes in the women’s NGO network imply that despite the fact that W11 is the most focal node in the network its absence in the network may not significantly fragment the entire network because there exists alternative focal nodes, such as W18 and W4.

Women’s NGOs have their own specialized domains, such as reproductive health, gender education, human rights, family, and community development. Most of the efforts to initiate issue-specific networks and advocacy action have tended to occur among NGOs operating within the same domain. In a number of formal networks of NGOs, such as the Reproductive Health and Rights Network, the Child Rights and Safety Network, and the Anti-Sexual-Harassment Network, women’s NGOs are actively involved alongside other NGOs. Furthermore, the majority of women’s NGOs have ties to multiple transnational women’s networks and coalitions, and some of them are members of the same organization.

Participation in civic events presents an additional opportunity for NGOs to forge ties with other organizations. It also may generate a sense of collective concern and an NGO community. It was found that the types of civic events that NGOs participate frequently are meetings/forums (81 percent), training seminars (81 percent), joint festivals/celebrations (69 percent), international meetings/forums (69 percent) and protest campaigns (23 percent).[13]

Conclusion and implications

Overall, women’s NGOs in Mongolia constitute a decentralized and relatively dense network. This network shows potential for collective campaigns and effective coordination, though other factors need to be considered too. It should be borne in mind that networks are dynamic; maps reflect a specific time-frame.

The network map shows that the density of collaborative interaction is higher among some NGOs located in the center. This core group of NGOs (but not necessarily a coherent group) connect to each other by relatively many ties; NGOs in a periphery connect to those focal NGOs but not so well to their peers in the same position.

The diversity of issue areas allows women’s NGOs to have collaborative interactions with organizations in different issue areas. It has allowed some NGOs to gain public awareness and support. This is not necessarily the optimal organizational model, but the existence of such organizations benefits the sector as a whole.

SNA can be used in research on various aspects of the NGO sector. SNA provides a better assessment of the actual collaboration among different actors than a traditional survey. It has a potential to be easily incorporated in the knowledge and technique of donors, NGOs, and scholars.


[1] Byambajav Dalaibuyan is a PhD candidate at Hokkaido University in Japan. This article is part of his dissertation on the transformation of civil society in Mongolia. His previous policy research paper on NGOs’ participation in public policy making was published by the Open Society Forum in Mongolia in 2007.

[2] Petrova, Tsveta, and Sidney Tarrow. 2007. “Transactional and Participatory Activism in the Emerging European Polity: The Puzzle of East Central Europe.” Comparative Political Studies 40(1).

[3] In this article, women’s NGOs include NGOs that deal with “women’s issues”: women’s rights and well-being in society, community, and family.

[4] For more on the application of SNA, see Helmut Anheier and Hagai Katz. 2005. “Network Approaches to Global Civil Society,” in Helmut Anheier, Marlies Glasius and Mary Kaldor (eds.). Global Civil Society 2004/5. London: Sage.

[5] Fish, M. Steven. 1998. “Mongolia: Democracy Without Prerequisites.” Journal of Democracy 9 (3). p.137

[6] This structural change was in accordance with the membership regulation of the International Women’s Council.

[7] MFOS (Mongolian Foundation for Open Society). 2003. Feasibility Study for the Transformation of the Women's Program of MFOS. Ulaanbaatar.

[8] Helen Jones. 2006. “Working together: local and global imperatives for women in Mongolia.” Asia Europe Journal. 4 (3).

[9] MFOS, p. 19

[10] T. Undarya and D.Enkhjargal. 2009. “The Field of Women’s Organizing in Mongolia: Possibilities of a Feminist Movement.” Report of a Qualitative Study Commissioned by the Mongolian Women’s Fund (MONES). Ulaanbaatar

[11] Mario Diani. 2003. “‘Leaders’ or Brokers? Positions and Influence in Social Movement Networks.” In Social Movements and Networks, Relational Approaches to Collective Action, edited by Mario Diani and Doug McAdam. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

[12] John P. Scott. 1992. Social Network Analysis: Handbook. London: Thousand Oaks. p. 93.

[13] NGOs jointly celebrate some holidays, anniversaries, and special days, such as the Civil Society Day on January 31 in Mongolia.

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