The Pathways to prosperity

Rural development programs in Pakistan need objective analysis from the perspective of their role in helping the rural poor become key stakeholders of the socioeconomic change

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By Amir Hussain
The visible disconnect between researches, practice and policy of social development can be bridged by exploring the best cases and highlighting them through mainstream media for public debate and for the wider understanding of the complexity of local development. Social development is not a monolithic process because it engages people and their institutions like donor agencies, government departments, NGOs and local civil society initiatives. The best cases are the ones which strive to build a coherent relationship between these varying stakeholders for the optimal impact on the quality of life of the poor and marginalized people. Rural development programs in Pakistan need objective analysis from the perspective of their role in helping the rural poor become as one of the key stakeholders of the process of socioeconomic change.
Rural development programs in Pakistan have played an instrumental role in transforming the mindsets about the relationship between the institutional structure and human agency of the poor. Investing to build social, human and financial capitals have resulted into long term change even in the remotest, hard to reach and physically isolated regions like Gilgit-Baltistan. Despite their impressive record of transforming lives these programs do not seem to have much bearing on our development policy making. It is, therefore, important to highlight the significance of these programs for practitioners, researchers and the policy makers of social development at large. Furthermore for effective results of rural development the debate of poverty alleviation must be streamlined through evidence-based advocacy of the issues of the rural poor, in particular the women who suffer dual exploitation of poverty and patriarchy.
Lasting relevance and evolving transformative paradigms of rural development will continue to shape the future of Community Driven Development (CDD) in Pakistan. In recent times we have seen tangible impacts in empowering the rural women through people centric public-private partnerships of which the government of Sindh funded Union Council Based Poverty Reduction Program (UBPRP) in Sindh is a prime example. It is also important to note that government driven rural development programs like Citizen Community Boards (CCBs) model could not lead to transformative change in KP and elsewhere due to lack of downward accountability, weak quality monitoring and its bureaucratic structure. Contrary to CCBs model the UBPRP could generate lasting impact in improving the quality of life of the rural women as primary actors of change. In last 3 months I have had chance to undertake thorough assessment of UBPRP program and its successor , the ongoing one funded by European Union to Rural Support Programs (RSPs) in Sindh with technical backstopping of Rural Support Programs Network (RSPN).
The EU funded Sindh Union Council and Community Economic Strengthening Support (SUCCESS) has four key impacts on the lives of rural women. First, the program allows articulation of development needs at the grassroots by the poor rural woman. Second, it links the women to the ecosystem of economic and political life by facilitating their engagement with district authorities and elected representatives for development planning and access to services. Third important part of this program is the transfer of knowledge and skills to local woman in that local Community Resource Persons (CRPs) are identified and trained who play pivotal role as local champions of durable change. The program is intrinsically designed within RSPs’ framework of three tiered social mobilizations in that it is mandatory for the communities to form their own organization at the settlement, village and Union Council levels to access resources of this program and beyond. Four, the key feature of the program is that it assists the Government of Sindh, to develop a Poverty Reduction Strategy and Community Driven Local Development policy. The Government of Sindh has approved the Poverty Reduction Strategy and will use it as a strategic framework for future interventions in poverty reduction.
Contrary to the widespread perception of social development as a mechanism of doling out the welfare money SUCCESS seems to have influenced the understanding among the government officials of its transformative potential. Government officials in district administration know the role of UCBPRP and SUCCESS as fundamental to help the government improve its poverty targeting. This was the impression I could draw from my meetings with the officials of district administration in Jamshoro and Tando Mohammd Khan in Sindh last month. SUCCESS program being implemented by National Rural Support Program (NRSP), Thardeep Rural Development Program (TRDP) and Sindh Rural Support Organization (SRSO) in 8 districts of Sindh has been able to build on the successes of UCBPRP both to empower the poor rural women and to influence the policy discourse of poverty reduction.
The program strives to ensure that 100% of poor households are organized into a community organization at the hamlet or settlement level. These community organizations then federate into a village organization where the communities undertake a thorough development planning. The elected representatives of village organizations form a union council’s level organization to help access the resources to execute their village development plans. This UC level representative structure of community institutions is called Local Support Organization (LSO) where all village development plans are consolidated into a UC Development Plan (UCDP) as a coherent charter of demands of the poor communities. These UCDPs are most authentic development planning documents which represent the challenges, potential, opportunities and threats for local development, and they identify the potential venues to access required resources to execute these UCDPs.
Under SUCCESS programs all LSOs are governed and run by the rural women themselves where the leadership is rotated through elections after a defined period of time. Last month I had opportunity to interact with the women representatives of LSOs in the districts of Jamshoro, Dadu and Tando Mohamad Khan of Sindh and I was deeply touched to see the women speaking without fear about their journey of transformation. It was a highly rewarding learning process for me to interact with these empowered and liberated women who shared some incredible stories of their success.
There has been little coverage of transformational stories of the poor rural women in the mainstream media of Pakistan. Inspiring but the unsung heroes of transformational stories in the rural areas of Pakistan are beacons of hope and optimism in these tumultuous times where there is not much to celebrate in this country.
The mystery of rural development programs will unveil when you start journey into the feudal rural Sindh to the areas where these organized poor rural women will always continue to impress you. They will speak louder than their male partners with an empowering tone as they have taken charge of their lives. These empowered women have been able to bust the myth that men are the breadwinners and women are the baby givers. They have transformed the socially segregated gender roles by becoming the leaders of household transformation from poverty to wellbeing.
UCBPRP and SUCCESS are great examples of people centric public-private partnership which could be ranked as bedrock of poverty reduction if implemented in letter and spirit. People-centric rural development programs have international recognition and endorsement in South Asia. The report of Independent South Asia Commission on Poverty Alleviation in 1993 gives continued legitimacy of people centric rural development. The journey from then on continued to earn the laurels of well-placed national and international institutions including the World Bank and in recent time by the European Union.
It is of utmost importance for the lasting impact of such initiatives that the mainstream media, policy makers, development analysts and practitioners join hands to take forward this real mission of a new Pakistan. Beyond the shenanigans of politicians and statesmen, the real new Pakistan will only emerge if we start investing in these wonderful community institutions so that the poor have voice and means to transform their lives. This journey of SUCCESS must continue with patronage, support and real time investment from the incoming governments in Pakistan. UCBPRP and SUCCESS are only demonstrations of how rural poverty can be addressed effectively, the real success will lie if the newly elected government in Sindh continue investing in and other provincial and federal governments also adopt such well-designed initiatives.

Amir Hussain is a senior development professional and one of the leading columnists of English language newspapers in Pakistan.

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