On 15 December 2017, a lecture and interaction opportunity with students and faculty of the Department of Development Studies of Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE) was arranged under the research component of SUCCESS programme. Mr Khaleel Ahmad Tetlay, Chief Operating Officer RSPN, and Dr Abdur Rehman Cheema, Team Leader Research met with the faculty where Mr Tetlay delivered a talk titled “People’s organisations and their federations – the Asian experiences: Advantages and challenges” at PIDE’s auditorium. Mr Tetlay briefed the audience about the evolution, experimentation, growth and spread of the idea of Community Driven Development (CDD) through the social mobilisation process in Europe, Japan, South Korea, Bangladesh, Pakistan, India and Central Asia.
Mr Tetlay shared that the late Dr Akhter Hameed Khan, the founder of the Comilla Project and the Organgi Pilot Project, had analysed the global CDD experiences going back to the 19th century. One particular experience of mid-19th century Germany seemed more relevant. There was a small town whose Mayor, Raiffeisen, was very concerned about the poverty ridden lives of his rural constituents. His prognosis demonstrated that the poor rural people were suppressed by three giants: the land lord, the money lender and the shopkeepers. In order to have any hope of improving their own lives, Mr Raiffeisen proposed that the poor people must be mobilised and organised into their own organisations, they must mobilise and access capital and gain new, relevant skills to manage livelihoods and organisations. Dr Akhter Hameed Khan adapted these three key principles at the Comilla Project in former East Pakistan, now Bangladesh.
After the completion of the Karakoram Highway in 1978, the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) sent a Mission to Gilgit Baltistan to explore new opportunities for rural economic development. Based on the Mission’s report, the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme was set up in 1982 in Gilgit. Mr Shoaib Sultan Khan, a disciple of Dr Akhter Hameed Khan and current chairman of RSPN, was asked to lead the new organisation. AKRSP’s key objectives were a) to contribute to doubling of the income of the people of Gilgit Baltistan and Chitral (GBC), and b) to develop replicable approaches for future adaption in rest of Pakistan as well as in regional countries. Mr Khan implemented the three principles of organisation, capital and skills at scale across GBC. Over 90% of the rural population was mobilised into Village Organisations (VOs), and later these VOs were federated into union council level Local Support Organisations (LSOs).
During community dialogues, Mr Khan consistently gave one key message; that AKRSP will support people to undertake activities that they themselves identify, prioritise and can undertake. This was known as the diagnostic process. Villagers’ identification and priorities led to the development of AKRSP’s programme activities, e.g. Community Infrastructure Section, Natural Resource Management Section, Micro Credit Section, Micro Enterprise Section, Human Resource Development Section, etc. These sections worked to support the newly established VOs to implement their own priorities in agriculture, horticulture, forestry, livestock, irrigation channel repairs and construction of new ones and land development, provision of micro credit for agricultural inputs and micro enterprise development, and training of large number of community cadre.
The first World Bank evaluation of AKRSP in 1985/6 recognised the importance of developing people’s own organisations. The 1992 Work Bank evaluation validated that the incomes of the people of GBC had doubled. In 1989, the replication of AKRSP approach to CDD began when the Sarhad Rural Support Programme was set up in Peshawar. In 1992 with support from the Federal Government, the National Rural Support Programme was set up in Islamabad with a mandate to work in selected districts of all provinces and Azad Kashmir. Later other RSPs were set up, and some existing NGOs changed their approach to the RSP approach. In 2000, the RSPs set up the Rural Support Programmes Network in Islamabad. Today there are 11 RSPs working across the country in 138 districts/agencies. RSPs have mobilised over 7 million rural households into 410,000 Community Organisations and nearly 1,500 LSOs.
Over past few years, under an agreement with the Federal Government, the European Union (EU) is supporting the scale up of RSPs’ approach to CDD in three provinces of Pakistan. In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, the EU has supported the ‘Programme for Economic Advancement and Community Empowerment’ (PEACE) in six districts, the ‘Sindh Union Council and Economic Strengthening Support Programme’ (SUCCESS) in eight districts of Sindh, and the ‘Balochistan Rural Development and Community Empowerment Programme’ (BRDCEP) in eight districts of Balochistan.
In 1994, Mr Khan was asked by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to lead the South Asian Poverty Alleviation Programme (SAPAP) in the South Asian countries. SAPAP was the replication of the RSPs approach. It was in the Indian State of Andhra Pradesh that SAPAP was most successfully implemented by the Society for the Elimination of Rural Poverty (SERP). Within 10 years, 11 million rural women had been mobilised and empowered. Seeing the success of SERP, the Indian Government set up the National Rural Livelihoods Mission (NRLM) to replicate SERP in 13 poorest States with the objective to reach out and mobilise a population of 350 million people through women’s social mobilisation at community, village, sub-district and district level. Today, NRLM is the largest poverty reduction programme in the world.
In 1998, Mr Tetlay joined the Aga Khan Foundation Tajikistan/Mountain Societies Development Support Programme (AKF/MSDSP) as a Social Development Advisor and adapted the RSP model in the context of post-Soviet Tajikistan. Today AKF/MSDSP work in all regions of the country. In 2011, Mr Khan and Mr Tetlay were invited by UNDP Myanmar to support their community development strategy making. UNDP adopted the proposed approach of federating community level Self-Reliance Groups in to township level groups. After, 2001, the new Afghanistan Government launched the National Solidarity Programme (NSP) using key principles taken to scale in Pakistan and India. AKF has also adapted the social mobilisation approach in 10 countries in Africa.
Mr Tetlay concluded his discussion by mentioning some of the challenges that these community federations face, e.g. sustainability, inclusion of the poorest, role of these institutions in local governance, accessing public services, etc.
Apart from students, three Faculty members also attended the talk. Faculty members participating were Dr Usman Mustafa, Dr Tallat Anwar and Mr Muhmmad Aqeel Anwar.
The participants took keen interest and raised several questions. Some of these questions and their responses are given below:
Question: What is the nature of the role of these Rural Support Programmes as many of the functions they intend to perform are responsibility of the government?
Response: The Rural Support Programmes intend to perform a complementary and supplementary function in relation to the government. No organisation can replace the role of the state. The state has two pillars: the administrative pillar and the political pillar. Dr Akhter Hameed Khan argued that without the third pillar, the social pillar, these two pillars cannot reach out to each and every household. Poverty after all is at the household level. Therefore, RSPs foster organisation of the people and foster linkages with the administrative and political pillars. In this respect, there is no overlap between the government and RSPs; if anything, RSPs complement and supplement the government to extend their outreach to the households.
Question: What is the difference in the role of Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP) and Rural Support Programmes (RSPs)?
Response: BISP is the largest social protection programme in the history of the country. It provides unconditional cash transfers to targeted poor families through ever married women. BISP essentially is meant to provide monthly cash assistance to the targeted poor families. Each month Rs 1,800 are provided and payments made on a quarterly basis. Evidence shows that over 80% of amount goes into consumption, its main purpose. RSPs on the other hand work on the development and strengthening of the social pillar, i.e. supporting the development of people’s own organisations and their federations. Other RSP interventions are to build poor people’s productive assets, increase their skills for employment, income generation and increase their access to social sector services so that the poor can graduate out of poverty. Under the SUCCESS programme in Sindh, many BISP beneficiary women are also members of COs fostered by RSPs. BISP and RSPs are currently in discussion to sign an MOU, to build greater synergies between the two organisations for the benefit of the people of Pakistan.
Question: The Aga Khan Rural Support Programme was successful because of the presence of the Ismaili community. Is this true?
Response: Gilgit Baltistan Chitral regions are heterogeneous in terms of ethnicity, languages, and various Islamic sects. Overall, the GBC region comprises one-third of Sunnis, one-third of Shias and one-third of Ismailis. The Baltistan region has no Ismaili villages, Chitral has Sunni and Ismaili villages, whereas Gilgit has all three of these sects. Therefore, the success of AKRSP is that it has worked successfully with all three communities, including with the Noor Bakhshi community in Ghanche district of Baltistan. The replication of RSPs in rest of Pakistan has meant that they work with all major and minor ethnic groups of Pakistanis, e.g. Punjabis, Sindhis, Pakhtuns, and Balochs, etc. Today, RSPs are a true national movement and many have commented that ‘RSPs are a national asset’.
Question: Why did AKRSP not expand to rest of the country? Why were other RSPs set up?
Response: Dr Akhter Hameed Khan used to say that you do not replicate organisation, you replicate leaders. He also used to say that while RSPs or NGOs can devise good approaches/models, these can only be taken to scale with government support. Thirdly, setting up of the social pillar means that it has to work closely with the local government. Therefore, Mr Shoaib Sultan Khan, sought the setting up of RSPs at federal and provincial levels. With the 18th Amendment in place, this strategic decision has an even greater relevance. Now leaders of individual RSPs work closely with provincial governments. Indeed, it was the government of Sindh that supported Pakistan’s largest women social mobilisation programme – the Union Council Based Poverty Reduction Programme (UCBPRP). Today, with EU’s and government of Sindh’s support, rural poor women are being mobilised in 18 districts of the province (10 districts are with GoS support, and 8 with EU support; GoS will also support the remaining districts of the province).
Question: Are RSPs sustainable organisations?
Response: RSPs will remain sustainable as long as the community members value their work and services and as long as they innovate and remain relevant to the existing and emerging potentials of the community members. As regards institutional sustainability, all RSPs have built up reserve funds to manage their core work. In case of six RSPs, the government has provided endowment funds to ensure sustainability, i.e. NRSP, PRSP, SRSO, BRSP, SRSP and GBTI.
Question: What are the career opportunities in RSPs?
Response: RSPs offer excellent career opportunities to bright young people, both men and women. The only requirement is that they should be committed. All RSPs advertise new job opportunities on their websites and sometimes also in newspapers. Over my long association with RSPs I have seen many youngsters join RSPs, work hard for a period of five-seven years and then move on to join other organisations, i.e. Asian Development Bank, World Bank, universities, etc.
Question: These days there is lot of discussion about unemployment in rural areas. What are RSPs doing to foster rural employment?
Response: All RSP interventions in the economic sector create employment opportunities. When the CO member household access income generating grant (IGG), community investment fund (CIF) loan, and micro credit loan, or when their young men and women access vocational and technical skills training (VTST) they become more productive. This creates self-employing micro enterprises. Some RSPs, e.g. SRSO and SRSP, have set up value chains that create employment opportunities for others. In Sindh, hundreds of COs have set up Business Development Groups where thousands of women are involved. Some of the CIF and micro credit borrowing members have seen their micro businesses grow and now they employ others. In conclusion, RSPs are quite active in promoting employment in rural areas.
Question: It has sometimes been observed that RSP fostered community institutions cause a conflict among the local people. What do you say about that?
Response: Disputes and conflict are natural in any social setting, and we cannot deny this. RSPs, through their long experience of working with communities, have learnt conflict management. In the first dialogue with a community, we seek their willingness to partner with RSPs for their own development. As under any partnership, each partner has certain responsibilities. The community has the responsibility to organise themselves into a CO, elect an honest and committed leader, agree to meet regularly at meetings where each member is encouraged to save some money according to their capacity, and keep records of meetings and of CO activities. On the other side, the RSPs are responsible to train CO leaders and support them to prepare micro investment plans (MIPs) for each household. In these MIPs, the households identify an income generating activity that they themselves can undertake and also the constraints that are stopping them from undertaking this activity. Two of the most general constraints the COs identify are a lack of capital and/or lack of skills. RSPs then provide support for the implementation of these MIPs. When COs federate into VOs, they devise Village Development Plans (VDPs) that they focus on a broader level for the village, including access to public services. When the VOs federate into LSOs, they focus on supporting member COs and VOs, local governance, accountability, and fostering linkages with the administration and political pillars.
When thousands of members get together into a network of their own organisations, i.e. CO/VO/LSO, they gain greater confidence to deal with their own local issues, including conflict management. For example, in case of Kashmore district, one women LSO mediated to resolve a tribal feud that had cost lives of 32 men, and the local men could not resolve it. LSO leaders took the initiative and forced the men to meet and to resolve the long and costly dispute. In Haripur, one LSO worked with local religious leaders to reduce growing sectarian tensions. In our experience of over 30 years, people’s own organisations are the best forum for dealing with local disputes and conflicts.
Dr Usman Mustafa thanked the RSPN team for their presentation and discussion. He also thanked the students for participation in the talk.
In order to build a longer term relationship between PIDE and RSPN/RSPs, the students of MSc Community Development will be facilitated to undertake field visits to nearby rural areas to meet with members and leaders of CO/VO/LSO. Students will interact with the members of community institutions and record their observations to prepare their assignments under the supervision of Mr Muhammad Aqeel Anwar, Lecturer in the Development Studies Department. NRSP is in contact with PIDE to further facilitate the students’ visit to rural areas of Islamabad and Rawalpindi.
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