The Role of NGOS in Poverty Alleviation

Apart from emergency relief operations, there are several approaches to poverty alleviation, helping those, that cannot help themselves, distribution of alms, food, clothing, shelter, dowry, healthcare, which is the traditional welfare approach, e.g. Edhi Welfare Trust, Fatimid Foundation and thousands of smaller welfare organisations, support for self-help mobilisation through government policies of providing productive assets (agricultural land, livestock etc., tools and implements), employment through large public works, through development support organisations, e.g. micro-credit (Grameen, OPP, Network Leasing, AKRSP), housing, drinking water and sanitation (OPP), micro and cooperative enterprise development (OPP, ECDI), healthcare & nutrition, education & vocational training, advocacy, legal aid and unionism (PILER, BLLF), and the organisation of solidarity networks or risk insurance, to guarantee a minimum standard or cover against decline into destitution, with individual or group contribution according to wealth and income, e.g. committee system, neighbourly help, community funds and service institutions, private, company and public insurance systems.

Depending on how one views the role of the state and the constituent elements of society (individuals, family, clan, etc.), one would differ on whose job is it to look after the poor or fight poverty, the one of the state and its organs, which could be a federal, provincial or local government, or appointed or elected council, or a state fund or insurance system at national, regional or local level, or purely individual, family, clan, cooperative or other private welfare responsibility. Monopolies are nearly always bad and the mix of sharing the responsibilities should depend on the capabilities of each sector at the point of time and place. Private sector initiatives need to analyse the situation, identify the deficiencies, that is lack of services, as well as inefficiencies and compete with or remove through political pressure wasted public revenue for private or government services where they can be provided more efficiently by others and try to offer them, where they are missing.

The globalisation process due to development in technology and capital’s need for larger markets for realisation of profit, denying an option for autonomy to any national economy, accompanied by the process of privatisation and shrinking role of central government due to the need to shift capital from the public to private consumption and investment, can be met by a country’s economy and polity either by fragmentation or decentralisation of decision-making depending on the system of governance in a country, that is leaving it largely to the market (fragmentation), or decentralised governance setting and maintaining the rules of the game of fair competition through monopoly control and empowerment of the weaker section of society and backward regions, to participate more equitable in the national economy, that is to share the benefits, as well as responsibilities, through education, vocational training, facilitating infrastructure and  access  to  information,  legal  aid,  agricultural  land  or  other productive assets, credit and the market.

Pakistan’s political system is presently not prepared to decentralise government, despite a recognition of a need for it. Just witness the [difficulties in the] process of separation of judiciary from the executive, the lack of intra-party democracy, the lack of autonomy of the judiciary and public audit, the PPP’s failure in the implementation of its election manifesto for a ‘new social contract’ and holding of local bodies elections, their inability to live with a federal system, the NFC drama, the failure to hold the census, nor for effective land reform, and in the absence of an effective monopoly control and judicial system, the shrinking presence of government will lead to a fragmentation of decision making, exposing the majority of its citizens helplessly to the vagaries and volatility of the market, where powerful multinational companies, local oligopolists and international and a few local financial speculators will dominate.

The growth of the NGO movement worldwide is a response to the centralisation of decision-making in the private and away from the public sector. The weakening of the government to continue to perform all those functions of organising social welfare and economic development they took upon themselves in the wake of the socialist and communist revolutions, leaves more and more to private decision-making, leading to demand for private business services and the organisation of self-help through nonprofit organisations. Many governments have recognised this and are facilitating the growth of private services and offer public revenue to support the citizens’ effort in the promotion and organization of self-help, as these ease the burden of the public sector, besides having become powerful lobbies, which pressurise legislators and governments for imposing civic rules on the economy and polity and redirection of public revenue.

As pointed out earlier, the government and private initiative for poverty alleviation takes place, when growing poverty threatens to destabilise the political system or limits sufficient demand for consumer goods in a market, and for poverty elimination, when the destabilisation process is succeeded by a revolution or a sufficiently secure middle class has been created, having the freedom to consume and produce culture beyond custom and folk-culture and be active in civic affairs/politics beyond narrow class interests, taking up issues on behalf of or with others (human rights, environment, etc.). This factor is important, because it alters the social scenario, adding compassion, satisfaction to the economic and material animal the economic and biological science has tended to reduce human beings to. Profit optimization seems not only to follow the pathological path to greed and inflated egos, but towards the satisfaction of sharing, although mostly as an opportunity arising from privilege of education and relative social security. That the donor-inspired and NGO antipoverty programmes therefore tend to promote middle-class values of thrift, self-help, discipline, merit, etc. is not surprising and in the direction the poor’s wish to progress, but most of these programmes hardly ever reach the poorest sections of society and tend to mobilise the more upwardly mobile of the lower and lower-middle classes, active in the micro-enterprise and informal sector, which has by now been recognised as the most dynamic economic force in the underdeveloped countries, in Pakistan with an estimated annual growth rate of over 8 percent, accounting for almost 80 percent of the non-agricultural labour force and 48 percent of the non-agricultural GDP or 36 percent of GDP, dynamic due to sheer necessity and a certain level of education.

The reasons for this are not only the class-background of most of the development — and NGO-professionals and social workers — but the difficulties and dangers inherent in the mobilisation of the poor. Living precariously on the edge in their struggle for survival, they have little time for meetings, awareness raising, training, etc., can hardly invest their time nor take additional risks in new untried ventures. Others dare not confront the urban and rural land mafia, the police, the Chaudhari, Khan or Sardar, showing off any attempt at advancement. The game is similarly dangerous for the support-NGO motivator, risking his/her life or health, or imprisonment through false cases. Analysts have even advanced the view, that the only help the already dynamic growth of the informal sector requires is protection from the minions of the state, working hand-in-hand with local powerbrokers, more freedom to unleash their productive power.

Now after having outlined the structural and functional framework in which NGOs operate in Pakistan for poverty elimination, the potential and opportunities should be outlined.


Source: Poverty Alleviation in Pakistan: Present Scenario and Future Strategy, Mohibul Haq Sahibzada. Republished with permission.
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