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Untitled Document
NGOs And Local Government: Up-Scaling
Dr. Akmal Hussain
Newspaper: The Daily Times
Dated: Thursday, 21st August 2003

In my first article in this series (DT, August 7, 2003), I had examined alternative management approaches for NGOs and some of the specific features that underlie the success of NGOs that have grown from small to medium sized ones. Typically, the successful NGOs started work in one hamlet a decade ago, are now working in scores of villages. In this article I will identify seven key changes within such NGOs, which could enable them to up-scale further to reach a district level size with full coverage of all Union Councils. Such district level NGOs based on Community Organizations of the poor could play a crucial role in enabling the existing local government structure at each tier to link up with the poor in the process of resource allocation, project identification and implementation. At the moment in the absence of an institutional link with autonomous organizations of the poor, local governments are not in a position to involve the poor in the process of decision-making.
Seven key initiatives can be identified for enabling NGOs to up-scale to the District level and make local government more efficacious:

  1. The single leader at the top (variously called Chairman, President or Chief Executive Officer) would need to build a team of at least three or four leaders who can work independently at the top level. This is necessary in a situation where programme operations become so geographically diversified within a district that overall programme management would need to get decentralized to the Union Council and Tehsil levels.

  2. For a major up-scaling of small NGOs to successful district level NGOs, it would be necessary to receive grant funding for institutional strengthening and growth. The Pakistan Poverty Alleviation Fund that has recently been established, could provide such funding after careful evaluation of the concerned NGOs and assessment of their expansion plans.

  3. As the organizational structure of the NGO changes from a centralized to a geographically decentralized one, within a whole district, the methodology of work would also have to change to enable introduction of procedures for monitoring and strategic planning. As full autonomy is granted to Union Council and Tehsil level regional programme heads, each of them would be expected to report and evaluate on programme performance within an agreed format and in consultation with community organizations and the regional programme team. This evaluation could be done on a monthly basis and could feed into the process of developing regional programme plans on a quarterly and annual basis. These tehsil level regional programme plans prepared initially at Union Council level regional programme offices, would include issues such as the number and locations of new COs to be formed and the deepening of existing COs. It would also include facilitating the preparation of participatory village development programmes for infrastructure, social sector services, and off-farm enterprises, as and when such services are identified by COs. The deepening of existing COs in the regional programme plans would include devolution of organizational responsibilities to Union Council and then village activists for managing village level or village cluster level apex organizations of the poor. Such devolution of responsibility would, on the one hand, enable self-managed community organizations to develop, and on the other hand, enable the NGO to keep its overheads low as it enlarges its coverage within the district. The regional planning exercise could be conducted at the Tehsil level office on a quarterly basis. However, this process could also involve annual plenary planning sessions at District level Head Office where village activists, key members of regional teams and Head Office personnel in planning, monitoring and human resource development, would interact with each other.

  4. One of the necessary conditions for successful NGOs that up-scaled to medium-sized level, was the development of a nascent middle level management in their team, although still tightly supervised by the top leadership. As small NGOs up-scale to district level size and achieve geographic diversification, such middle level management would have to be brought to maturity, allowed greater autonomy and considerably increased in number. Such middle level management would play a key role in coordinating social mobilization, training of Union Council level managers and teshil level managers and village level activists, and accessing technical support and credit. The middle management Union and Tehsil level cadre by virtue of its proximity to the field would also be important in collecting data necessary for monitoring, evaluation and planning.

  5. The challenge to NGO up-scaling is that unlike RSPs, they must keep overheads costs to a minimum level. In order to achieve this, it is necessary for the NGO to be able to withdraw from those villages where COs have achieved adequate maturity and have developed the capacity to form apex support organizations of their own. The critical factor for enabling NGOs to devolve organizational responsibilities to apex organizations of COs, is the development of a cadre of village activists with training in the following fields: (a) community management skills, (b) ability to interact with donor organizations and government line departments, (c) expertise in a range of basic skills such as, livestock management, agriculture, soils, irrigation, natural resource management and micro-enterprise development. Such a cadre could constitute a core management team in an independent apex support organization.

  6. As the NGO up-scales to a district level size it would generate a variety of training needs for CO members at the village level, as well as career development and professional training needs of NGO personnel. Consequently, a human resource development programme within the NGO may be necessary to identify the human resource and career development needs specific to the internal dynamics of the NGO’s work. The human resource development section within the NGO would need to be a lean unit which should network with diverse specialized institutions to access the required training services.

  7. As the NGO reaches a district scale, there would be a quantum leap in the range and complexity of financial flows within the NGO programmes and also between the NGO and macro level institutions (such as PPAF, commercial banks, donor agencies and government departments). It would, therefore, be essential for the NGO to have a high quality professional finance and accounts division, with the ability to develop and operate MIS, finance, accounting and statistical software packages. Members of this division, while having the best available skills as chartered accountants and finance managers would need to be sensitized to the methodology of Participatory Development and their work integrated with field operations. It would be necessary to develop accounting procedures that while meeting the auditing requirements at the most rigorous level, would also have the innovativeness and flexibility to cater to the unique nature of development NGOs credit operations.

Local governments are now in place and functioning. However, currently, they suffer from such a severe shortage of financial resources and of professional expertise, that they are incapable of making a significant impact on the provision of basic services or on poverty reduction. If autonomous NGOs of the poor could replicate and reach district level size, then an institutional link could be established with local government in each district at various tiers. Such an institutional link would not only broaden the base of resources and technical expertise for local governments but would also enable them to involve the poor in the identification and implementation of development projects.

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