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What Role Does Civil Society Play in Economic Development?

Sabina Panth's picture

I recently came across a fascinating initiative where civil society organizations have played a lead role in building public-private partnerships in economic development activities.  The USAID-sponsored Education for Income Generation (EIG) program has brought together local, national and international partners in galvanizing disadvantaged youth to partake in income generating activities toward increasing economic activities and peace building process in post-conflict Nepal. 

The NGO Winrock International has been contracted as the lead agency to implement the EIG program in Nepal.  The NGO liaises with a diverse set of partners at local and national levels, including private sectors, government line ministries and civil society organizations to assess market opportunities and prepare youth for the market needs in the designated program districts.  The NGO works with community based organizations to identify program beneficiaries and mobilizes private firms to assess market opportunities and provide training in the identified market areas to the program beneficiaries.  The training follows a business literacy curriculum that provides the semi-literate clientele with basic record keeping and math skill development, which serves as a foundation for specialized training (vocational skill, agricultural productivity or enterprise training), depending on the interest and aptitude of the program beneficiaries as well as market needs. 

The lead NGO contractor has played an important role in forging partnerships and creating synergy among different stakeholders in connecting youth with training providers and potential employers and in reinforcing market-driven principles in disadvantaged regions of Nepal.  To ensure that the EIG activities are aligned with national development planning and prioritization, the NGO has instituted national and local advisory committees that include representatives of government ministries, planning commission, private sectors and civil society organizations.  The NGO is also responsible for regularly monitoring performance and suitability of the training to program clientele and whether the graduates of the program are meeting the employment or income generation goals of the program.  For wider outreach of the program, the NGO is working with communication and media partners through newsletters, radio and TV programs.  The NGO is in the process of visually documenting the impact of the program in each of its 15 project districts for national telecast.

According to the project brief, the impact assessment conducted in the 3rd year of the 5-year program indicated that more than 80% of trainee graduates have jobs or have become self employed with monthly income of 2,400 rupees or above (meeting the project goal).  Similarly, more than half of the target population have been trained in high-value agriculture production and are linked to private sector agriculture input and output market as of date. The program claims that on average, participants have doubled their income and increased their access to nutritious food (vegetables and animal source-protein) . Additionally, the program has lead to increased food security in food insecure districts, according to program claims.

By recognizing the strength of civil society organizations in mobilizing public and private sectors to reach out to and support the disadvantaged youth around income generating opportunities, the EIG program has rightfully designated an NGO as a lead contractor in implementing an economic development program.  Based on the apparent success of this program, I expect to see more coming online in the near future.

Photo Credit: EIG Program, Winrock

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Everywhere one looks in the world today, it's the steady, predictable societies that are able to grow their economies. Some, like China, may represent a less democratic framework than some in Europe and North America would like to see, but the perception that the society itself is not about to collapse has enabled great economic progress. Especially in the case of extreme poverty and seriously disadvantaged populations, it seems to important to establish and maintain reliable governmental, financial, and conflict resolution systems. And when people in their community take an interest in working on a case-by-case basis with disadvantaged youth, according to their interests, some serious economic development can occur.

Submitted by Suhrid Chapagain on
In Nepal, there has been such projects from past 60 years and everytime we have successful stories when project is working .. and when project phases out there will be another project and so on ... I feel enterprise is private sector work and NGOs like Winrock and other has to closely look on the approaches to be cost effective and provide packages to private sectors .. EIG does that to some extent where it provides private sectors with a package to provide training with private sector guaranteeing the jobs .. The approach is still new ...and much lesson has to be learnt from the field ... Anyway for sure EIG approach is in evolving process and we need more critical and constructive assessment of this project ... Finally we need to see how much cost is there for developing ONE JOB or ONE ENTERPRISE .. this will suggest whether the project is efficient or not ...

Dear Surhid, Thank you for emphasizing the value in analysing cost-effectiveness of civil society engagement in enterprise development. Sabina

Submitted by John on
Sabina, Thanks for pointing out the growing role of civil society in promoting development. We often assume that the "private" in private-public partnerships is only the private sector, but CSOs are also private, albeit with a non-for profit nature, and have traditionally partnered with governments to promote development. As a matter of fact, the Bank estimates that CSOs receive some $2 billion dollars a year through social funds and community-driven development funds to either partner with govenments or deliver social services at the community level. And these relations can be scaled-up even further. John


thanks for the clarification, so far civil society has showed us that its the peacemaker between the have's and the have not's,as it tries to cover the gap left between the two (rich and poor).

Submitted by Never Mhako on

Thank you for the clarification

l agree with you that a vibrant civil society is sine qua non to the sustenance of any
nation‘s development. Studies have shown that the role of civil society
groups is vital in the political, social and economic development of
African countries

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