Nepal: Self-Help Organizations and the Poor

Heinz Bongartz-Germany and Dev raj Dahal, Nepal

Since the self-help approach emerged from poverty-oriented development strategies, the basic question to be answered is whether self-help organizations really contribute to the improvement of the living conditions of the rural poor. From the experience and analyses available regarding these organizations, it seems commonplace that the self-help approach--though actually thought to be an optimal instrument for giving the poor population a greater say in the development process of their own societies-is again predominantly adopted and utilized by the better-off parts of the rural population. It has not yet been apparently possible to operationalize the concept in such a way as to achieve its goals and objectives.

The possible explanation to that might be that most of the development agencies, governmental as well as non-governmental, concentrate only rhetorically on the rural poor, preparing project proposals and working papers based on those concepts, whereas, in reality, their activities are mainly determined by other concepts like modernization . That would imply that there was no real role to be played by the poor and deprived, but that the more ‘dynamic’ strata of the society were given greater attention as before. The former must be developed into ‘modern’ entrepreneurs by means of skills, knowledge and technology transfer. In the following, an attempt has been made to outline a possible set of actions which could ensure the active participation of the rural poor in developmental efforts.

To encourage economic development in the poorer sections of the society, it seems necessary for poorer members of the village communities to have their own organizations which serve their own economic needs and interests exclusively. These organizations should be set up without destroying the existing, socially based village-level organizations with a vital role in the non-economic areas of village life. But due to a number of constraints, for example, a poor educational background, low status, limited resources in all fields, etc., the underprivileged members of the local communities may not be able to initiate and carry out the actions necessary for setting up their organizations.

Therefore, we believe that there is a need for external assistance to be supplied to the poorer sections of the communities. This in turn means that there is a vital need for developing a self-help promotion concept that deals in particular with the promotion of self-help activities among the rural poor. First, the concept has to be according to the needs and wishes of the poor themselves, rather than as being only a theoretical tool, developed in the headquarters of development agencies.

The need for a special self-help promotion concept for the poorer sections of the rural society arises from the fact that the largest benefit from most development programs and projects, both those initiated and operated by government institutions and those run by private and non-governmental organizations, was predominantly absorbed by the better-off sections of the rural society. Modernization of agricultural production or the so called ‘Green Revolution’ resulted in further deterioration of the socio-economic position of the rural poor. Besides this, most of the credit programs, aimed at supporting the rural petty producers and run by governmental institutions, did not reach their target groups-for example, the ‘have-nots’-but were grabbed by the rural rich and those who already had at least something The main structural reasons for such maladies have already been extensively discussed in many places and at various times. Hence we will here only repeat two of the main constraints barring the participation of the rural poor in development activities:

The rural poor do not have their organizations, which can become the direct counterparts of the promotion agencies at the village level. Widely influenced by the socio-cultural and socio-political background, which is still on the whole paternalistic and hierarchical, most village organizations are highly dominated by the local better off sections of the rural communities.

# Sufficient knowledge of and information about the needs and wishes of the rural poor have not yet been supplied to the self-help promoting organizations. It must also be pointed out that there are no homogeneous groups of rural poor, whose characteristics differ from area to area, and from group to group.

One might, therefore, suggest that a poverty-oriented self-help promotion program be developed which should try to achieve the following general objectives:

• Assist the rural poor in organizing and operating self-help groups at the village level, ‘owned’ and managed by the rural poor themselves.

• Increase awareness, knowledge, and skills of the rural poor.

• Assist the rural poor in the field of income-generating activities that contribute to higher family incomes.

• Assist the rural poor in strengthening their socio-economic position, so that they are enabled to participate more actively in village life and activities.

To achieve the above-mentioned long-term objectives, a set of concrete activities has to be undertaken, both at the village level and on the level of the external self-help promotion institution. The process of target group identification and the planning of concrete activities or the so called ‘micro-projects’ for the benefit of the poor need to be improved in particular. In the following, we will try to outline the necessary activities to be undertaken. On the level of self-help promotion institutions:

• Establish a special study and evaluation team, which will be sent to local areas to assist and to cooperate with the local fieldworkers, the leaders and members of self-help groups and with the local community.

• Increase the knowledge and skills of the fieldworkers in the areas of planning methods and evaluation studies through ‘training-on-the-job’ and ‘learning-by-doing.’

• Develop a set of practical manuals that can be of benefit to the fieldworkers and other staff undertaking planning and evaluation studies (that is, a constraint analysis, a study of resources, socioeconomic village studies, and the like.)

• Organize a number of village workshops to increase communication and cooperation between fieldworkers and local community.

• Develop coordination and cooperation with government institutions and with other private organizations to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the self-help promotion system.

At the village level:

• Involve the target population in all activities from the very beginning of the planning process.

• Carry out local socio-economic studies to identify the local target population and target groups.

Assist the local target group in organizing and operating their own local self-help organization.

Assist and promote the local self-help groups in all aspects where assistance is needed. Assist the local target groups, especially in the field of planning and establishing income-generating activities.

• Provide the local target groups with credit facilities for establishing and developing economic activities.

Unless these measures are successfully carried out, addressing the question of poverty will continue to become a single most compelling challenge. Particularly the non-governmental development organizations, which stressed the importance of the participation of ‘local target groups’ in the process of rural development, adopted basic ideas and methods of the new development approach.

Next week to begin with NGOs. Thanks NEFAS publication and the distinguished authors. Some more to follow: Ed.

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