BACKGROUND: In India, since the 1990s, there has been a burgeoning of NGOs involved in providing primary health care. This has resulted in a complex NGO-Government interface which is difficult for lone NGOs to navigate. The Uttarakhand Cluster, India, links such small community health programs together to build NGO capacity, increase visibility and better link to the government schemes and the formal healthcare system. This research, undertaken between 1998 and 2011, aims to examine barriers and facilitators to such linking, or clustering, and the effectiveness of this clustering approach. METHODS: Interviews, indicator surveys and participant observation were used to document the process and explore the enablers, the barriers and the effectiveness of networks improving community health. RESULTS: The analysis revealed that when activating, framing, mobilising and synthesizing the Uttarakhand Cluster, key brokers and network players were important in bridging between organisations. The ties (or relationships) that held the cluster together included homophily around common faith, common friendships and geographical location and common mission. Self interest whereby members sought funds, visibility, credibility, increased capacity and access to trainings was also a commonly identified motivating factor for networking. Barriers to network synthesizing included lack of funding, poor communication, limited time and lack of human resources. Risk aversion and mistrust remained significant barriers to overcome for such a network. CONCLUSIONS: In conclusion, specific enabling factors allowed the clustering approach to be effective at increasing access to resources, creating collaborative opportunities and increasing visibility, credibility and confidence of the cluster members. These findings add to knowledge regarding social network formation and collaboration, and such knowledge will assist in the conceptualisation, formation and success of potential health networks in India and other developing world countries.