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Role of NGOs in the social sector

By Dr Mustaghis-  ur- Rahman


Socio-economic development society is the prime duty of the state in resource-constraine d countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Bhutan. This can be achieved by participation of all segments of the society. The limited capabilities of the governments have made it difficult to respond effectively to the growing needs of population at grass roots level.

Although, the Saarc's platform is a priority, the social scenario of the region has rarely changed during the last five/six years. It is difficult for both-,people and governments- to catch up with the rest of the world. Not only does the Saarc lag behind in per capita income and growth, but also in its social and Human Development (HD) indicators, particularly in respect of those relating to gender equity.

'India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan and the Maldives continue to lag behind in meeting basic needs like education, health, and access to safe water, food security and elimination of gender disparity.'

A comparison of the socio-economic indicators of South Asia with the developing world in the table-1 endorses the above expressed grimness by the extracts from the two Human Development reports published at an interval of six years.

The HD Report 2003 focussed on employment challenges, maintains that the donor-driven economic reforms may have spurred the growth in the seven South Asian nations that host 22 per cent of the world's population, but they have failed to reduce poverty and increase employment. This reflects the declining performance of these states. There may be numerous reasons for the grim socio-economic scene but there must also be made some very serious efforts not only to halt the declining standard of living but to improve the scenario.

The question is what other measures should be adopted besides, the good governance. A practical approach is to develop partnership with NGOs. In this regard about one million NGOs working in the South Asia can play a vital role in achieving the social objectives.

The NGOs are growing quickly in numbers and areas, but their potentials Have remained unutilized because of the scepticism towards their role. These are becoming vital players in rural development and poverty alleviation through their microfinancing programmes, while playing important roles in lobbying in the field of environment and developmental policy-making.

The NGOs are of varying types such as cmmunity-based organizations, intermediaries and support/internation al NGOs. They have basically, the same agenda of helping people to come out with self-sustainable socio-economic programmes with the difference of levels at which they work. Similarly, in Pakistan, the Rural Support Programmes(RSPs) and other NGO contributions in the Northern Areas and in all the four provinces are visible.

Hence, these NGOs at their own levels, without state's open-arm policies are playing important roles in achieving social targets, though at micro level. Grass roots organizations and intermediary NGOs are making numerous contributions to the sustainable development. They are mobilizing local people and resources to support projects with a motive to enable people to improve quality of life.

As a result, people may link all the elements of sustainable development including ecology, economics, politics and culture, and enable individuals to cope with change. The NGOs of all levels are playing a role in uplift of society in general and poorest of the poor in particular. Especially, the intermediary NGOs have the agenda of providing help in resolving the economic and cultural differences among local people, at the grass roots.

They bridge the gap between local and technical knowledge in the efforts to find long-term solutions, which are widely accepted by target groups. In this way new approaches are being applied in solving problems and disseminating knowledge to other organizations through connecting them with local organizations by way of joining networks or building links with international organizations.

The NGOs serve as international lobbyist to tackle the policies of governments, corporations and multilateral institutions. International NGOs also link up disconnected global communities, share similar problems and increase awareness of global issues, such as deforestation, loss of bio-diversity and global warning. NGOs are thus the product of the perceived and demonstrated inadequacies of the state-tied traditional model of development partnership.

The need for NGOs and the potential they have in mitigating the problem arising from this inadequacy is evident, yet the NGOs have emerged as a better alternative in tackling some of the basic issues facing human kind today.

Another vital question is, although the NGOs have proved their effectiveness throughout the region in implementing donor-driven small projects as isolated development actor, whether they will be able to make significant contributions in poverty alleviation and changing social indicators at national level in collaboration with the other two sectors; state, and business? The answer to this strategic question can be found in the performance of the existing model NGOs in the region. We can refer to the BRAC, the Grameen Bank; the State-NGO partnership model, Gono Shastha Kendra (GK), SARVODAYA, SEWA, and the AKRSP.

In Pakistan hundreds of local NGOs are doing well, just to put an example, by many measures, the Aga Khan Rural Support Program (AKRSP) is a highly successful NGO-run rural development programme. It reaches some 900,000 people in about 1,100 villages in the Northern Areas and Chitral District of Pakistan, near the Afghanistan border.

It engages itself in strengthening of Panchayati Raj institutions and municipalities, promoting environmental and occupational health, facilitating a network of strong civil society organizations, promoting citizen leadership, monitoring policies and programmes of bilateral, multilateral and government agencies, to achieve an agenda of 'governance where people matter.'

These NGOs are having impact of interventions on national level in their respective countries, albeit by donor funding. Being foreign funded, the NGOs in South Asia are widely condemned. The donor dependence of the NGOs for local development cannot be appreciated, but, still the states in the region are responsible for this state of affairs of the NGOs. Since, the state is primarily responsible for social development it has funds and development plan, which can be shared with the other two sectors.

The NGOs can be involved at planning and implementation levels, which is still lacking for which, the governments in the region carries greater responsibility. However, it seems, the issue of donor dependence has been exaggerated in media as the research on indigenous philanthropy conducted by the Pakistan Centre of Philanthropy (PCP) in 1998 did not verify the impression of donor dependence for the sector. The research revealed that in Pakistan individuals gave estimated Rs70 billion in cash and goods while, foreign aid for 1997-98 made up for Rs6 billion in grants.

Comparing indigenous grants to foreign grants, Pakistanis gave 30 billion in money alone, more than 5 times of foreign aid. Although the figures for indigenous philanthropy in other countries of South Asia is not available but the magnitude of this will not be much different in the other countries of the region because of the faith-based social structure across the region.

The road map for working of the two sectors together can be touching the following factors:

1. Choosing right projects: There is no shortage of potential projects for working together. The key is to choose the right project; one that meets the criteria set out earlier, and has real commitment from the two sectors to make it a success.

2. Committing the best: Ideally in fact, every project needs commitments from the sectors involved. High-level local political commitment is particularly important. For example, the progress achieved by the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh owes much to the fact that it had a high-profile commitment shown by the Grameen Trust.

3. Identifying local support: This is extremely important to the success of a project. The local NGOs have great potentials in leading on the ground by advising on local priorities, contributing contacts, and offering a link to government and the local NGOs. The collaboration with the NGOs have proved particularly fruitful for the people of rural Malir, Karachi, Pakistan when Darsano Channo Union Council, Malir, and HANDS; an intermediary NGO, built partnership to run the Jamkando Hospital.

4. Small packages: Small or medium-sized projects need to be packaged to attract investor interest. Larger projects have their own dynamism. Smaller ones have disproportionately higher transaction costs and political risks.

5. A balance between process and result: There are no short cuts to a government-NGO partnership project. The public sector administration culture, being procedure/process driven and the NGOs' voluntary culture, being missionary zeal driven, are fundamentally different. Therefore, the culture and working style of the two sectors should be reconciled in the greater benefits of masses 6-Mutual trust: The government and NGOs have little experience of working together except they have the reference of regulators and regulated. Partnership having the basis of shared ownership, as well as responsibility makes a project successful.

The state and the NGOs have immense potentialities in their respective fields in South Asia, however, due to some inbuilt weaknesses, the masses of the region are still waiting to get their expectations fulfilled by them. The NGOs have special ability to reach the poor; they facilitate local resource mobilization, and have programmes of local participation in development. Besides, service delivery at low cost and innovative solutions to intricate social problems is some of their strengths.

The NGOs are also not without weaknesses: they have limited ability to scale up successful projects to achieving national or regional impact without government's support. On the other hand, the state or public sector is extremely important legally, financially, and functionally, both in the value of the public goods and the services that it provides. It has legitimacy to supervise and monitor the public and private organizations' course of action, free to choose action plan, possesses huge structure and have national and international resources.

However, the state has some weaknesses, such as, often it has ambiguity in its thought and actions, and it has administrative culture - believes in process, virtually enjoys limited penetration in masses and suffers political instability which is true in the majority of the South Asian countries. Their collaboration for social development can be built on the both - their strengths and weaknesses they have. Their weaknesses provide a reason for them to come together in enhancing their effectiveness, while their strengths provide meaningful collaborative opportunities to the two sectors for social development.

As state can provide enabling environment for the NGOs and the NGOs can implement the development agenda of governments more economically and efficiently by applying flexible and innovative methods at the grassroots levels. The above discussions and suggested points in this article can be viewed as building blocks for working together, further there is a need to develop a shared vision to promote the formulae of being a supplementing force to each other in order to have socially secured society in South Asia.