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Challenges for State Partnership with Grassroots Nongovernmental Organizations in India

Abhilaksh Likhi's picture

Local participatory development is a strategy that is being deployed by governments in developing countries to achieve a variety of socio-economic goals. These include sharpening of poverty targeting, improving service delivery, expanding livelihood opportunities and strengthening the demand for effective governance. Without doubt, an engaged citizenry involved in achieving these goals, especially in rural hinterlands, could hold the government more accountable.

According to the World Bank there are two major modalities for inducing local participation- community development and decentralization. While the former supports the efforts to bring villages, neighbourhoods or household groupings in the process of managing resources without relying on formally constituted local governments, the latter refers to efforts to strengthen village and municipal governments on both the demand and supply sides.

However, what is critical for effective as well as inclusive governance is a state- nongovernmental organization partnership wherein the ‘demand side’ enables citizen participation through access to information and empowerment. Further, that it fosters outcome oriented mechanisms for deliberative decision making at the grassroots.  

In the above context, India’s 12th Five Year Plan (2012-17) envisages strengthening of state- nongovernmental organization partnerships to scale up approaches that are innovative both in terms of programme content and strategy. Innovations could focus on technology, social mobilization, local institutional building, architecture of partnership, management techniques etc.  Imagine the possibilities of generating synergies for both dialogic empowerment and programme implementation in rural areas with over 260,000 Gram Panchayats (rural local self governance institutions) in unison with over 2 million nongovernmental organizations! 

The Union Government’s setting up of the Bharat Rural Livelihoods Foundation (BRLF) to facilitate such partnerships for one million poor households at the grassroots is, thus, a step in the right direction. Each project (whether for link roads, market yards, electrification, school building, health sub centre, drinking water facilities etc) facilitated by BRLF (with private sector philanthropic organizations as well as public and private sector undertakings) will attempt to leverage the vast resources being made available by the central government to Gram Panchayats for centrally sponsored flagship/special area programmes on food security, rural employment guarantee, livelihood security, health, education, sanitation, power, rural housing etc. Support (both financial and non financial) to be provided to nongovernmental organizations would focus on the human resource and institutional costs besides building a large pool of ‘barefoot’ development professionals. But there are several partnership challenges to be tackled vis-a vis the often ‘clogged implementation space’ in rural hinterlands.   

Before outlining those challenges in India’s diverse agro climatic and regional equity context, it is pertinent to highlight a few examples of innovative interventions by dedicated nongovernmental organizations in the rural- urban continuum. Myrada (Mysore Resettlement and Development Agency)  is presently managing 18 projects in 20 backward districts that aim at securing the rights of women and children to develop livelihood strategies leading to food security and sustained incomes. It is using Community Radio, in consonance with the Government’s 2006 National CR Guidelines, as a major development communication tool for community empowerment and behavioural change in its projects.

On the other hand, CINI’s (Child In Need Institute) nutrition projects’ focus on the issue that the problem of malnutrition is not a straightforward case of lack of food. Many families, who have limited amount of food, do not always share it equally. Mothers and infants, therein, are the worst sufferers. CINI, thus, educates pregnant and lactating mothers through local health workers. In addition, it also runs Nutrition Rehabilitation Centres for severely malnourished children in conjunction with state governments. Herein balanced food is provided in small but   frequent amounts in order to increase a child’s weight safely over a period of several weeks.

Besides, Pratham (First) provides education to children in the slums of Mumbai city. Effective monitoring and evaluation is integral to Pratham’s endeavours in child education programs. Given the large expanse of their programs and the sheer number of people involved, it ensures that the grassroots impact can be measured. This enables them together with state governments to make changes in their strategy and model to increase scheme/project efficacy. For instance, ASER (meaning impact) is the largest household survey of the organization that measures the enrolment as well as reading and arithmetic levels of children in the age group of 4-16 years.

The diversity and quality of  innovative social mobilization skills through which dedicated nongovernmental organizations like the above (there are approximately 80,000 development nongovernmental organizations working with poor and marginalized communities in India) make an impact at the last mile is undisputed. The first big challenge, therefore, to strengthen their cutting edge partnership with Gram Panchayats (over 260,000 comprising approximately 600,000 villages grouped together), is capacity enhancement of approximately three million elected representatives and related official functionaries at the grassroots every year. In the above context, schemes such as The Rashtriya Gram Swaraj Yojana (RGSY) and the Backward Regions Grant Fund (BRGF) of the Union Ministry of Panchayati Raj should be efficiently used to strengthen the training needs of these target groups while plugging crucial gaps in local infrastructure (of connectivity, both digital and physical).

In addition, what is also needed to be pushed and scaled aggressively is   ‘activity mapping’ and the consequent provision of backbone 3 F’s (funds, functionaries and functions) to Gram Panchayats by the provincial governments through legislation (activity maps prepared by Kerala could be a good reference point). Simultaneously, a supplementary impetus is required to be given to the Mission Mode Project for E-Panchayats (through broadband connectivity) that can enable Gram Panchayats to electronically track flagship/area programme funds, improve internal management processes and infact supervise converged flow of funds efficiently.

A good example of the state-nongovernmental organization partnership is the use of ‘Cluster Facilitation Teams’ under the flagship programme MGNREGA (Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act). These teams are to address, on priority, the locally relevant needs of community blocks of dense populations with landless agricultural labourers, Scheduled Caste, Scheduled Tribes and other vulnerable groups. They also serve clusters of Gram Panchayats to fill the gap assessed on account of non availability of requisite expertise in land development activities at the local level and the availability of the same with NGOs (states of Tamil Naidu and Kerala have successfully benefited from such a partnership under MGNREGA and BRLF could further enable convergences in backward states).

Infact, intensive intervention, during the next five years, in such community blocks needs to focus on synergies with NGO supported Self Help Groups (SHGs). Such groups are being nurtured through the reinvigorated livelihood collective approach under the National Rural Livelihood Mission (NRLM).This synergy could be extremely useful in disseminating relevant information through innovative social mobilization strategies by NGOs on, for example, entitlements under MGNREGA and The National Food Security Act (NFSA) to vulnerable groups’ especially rural women in tribal communities.

The state- nongovernment organization partnership faces a major challenge from intra state inequalities in the specially designated rural local governance structures  of the mountainous  North Eastern States  as well as the ‘Schedule Five Areas’ of nine backward states in the heart of the country including Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand  and Orissa (with areas affected by left wing extremism). Besides, the partnership is also faced with the socio- economic backwardness of individual districts several of which are interestingly located in states that are doing well economically (for instance Mahendragarh and Mewat in Southern Haryana). The latter is a major bottleneck that BRLF has to address since it specifically targets extremely vulnerable tribal communities for inclusive and sustainable growth.

Photo Credit: Simone D. McCourtie / World Bank
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