International aid: towards a responsible partnership for development

[Originally published on FutureChallenges.org]

The eighth of the 2015 United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) states that the international community is to take measures to increase cooperation and encourage a partnership between the developed and the developing world. With a Human Development Index (HDI) of 0.49, and with 40% of its population living below the poverty line, Pakistan continues to fall under the category of developing nations. Hence, it is also one of the largest recipients of international aid, receiving $ US 5 billion in 2010-11 alone. Such a large amount of aid has created a plethora of foreign

Photo credit: usaid.gov

non-governmental organisations (NGOs), as well as foreign-funded local NGOs. Just how efficient and effective this seemingly ubiquitous presence really is, however, merits consideration. We need to examine a variety of factors including the sectors impacted and the sectors that need more attention given their importance in development, the strengths and weaknesses of international support, and the role of Pakistani civil society in strengthening democratic governance, both on its own and with help from abroad.

According to an Asian Development Bank (ADB) report, NGOs in Pakistan can be divided into four broad categories:

1. Those involved in advocacy and lobbying,

2. Those involved in policy issues and debates,

3. Emergency, rehabilitation, and relief organisations, and

4. Those involved in implementation of development projects and programmes, including service delivery organisations and community-based organisations (CBOs).

The first two types are more concerned with government and other large scale organisations while the latter two involve increased engagement with large numbers of people. To achieve their goals, it is important for organisations to involve the locals of the target area as much possible in the various stages, especially in the planning and development of these projects. Many NGOs are starting to realise this, but progress has been slow.

The Rural Support Programme Network (RSPN) has had considerable success in penetrating otherwise ignored communities in rural Pakistan by devising community-based mechanisms for furthering development through its large network of organisations. According to their website, “The Rural Support Programmes (RSPs) involve poor communities (mainly but not exclusively rural) in improved management and delivery of basic services through a process of social mobilization. RSPN is a strategic platform for the RSPs: it provides capacity building support and assists them in policy advocacy and donor linkages. Currently, RSPs have a presence in 109 districts (districts include those in the four provinces, Gilgit-Baltistan and AJK) and 2 FATA areas. The RSPs collectively work with a rural membership of community organizations of 4.15 million rural households.” The network’s successful projects include impact in the sectors of emergency response, energy, population control, health, social mobilisation, poverty reduction, rural development, and water provision.

Micro-finance schemes to help provide permanent and sustainable solutions for improving people’s livelihoods have also been very successful. Shining examples include the Khushalii Bank, and the Akhuwat foundation’s large interest-free loan network of 55 branches nationwide through which interest-free micro-finance loans worth more than 1.1 billion rupees have been given in the past decade to 99,854 familes.

Moreover, although the findings of a John Hopkins study on ‘Dimensions of the Nonprofit Sector in Pakistan’ show that 78% of NGOs operate in the rural areas of Pakistan, a Civicus report on ‘Civil Society in Pakistan’, has revealed that the feudal system and associated tribal traditions make it difficult to penetrate such areas.

The foreign assistance that the Pakistani NGO sector receives has a lot to do with the strategic importance of Pakistan in the international arena. International players realise that capacity development of Pakistani society at a grassroots level will aid in encouraging democratic governance and in maintaining stability, factors that converge with their own long-term goals for the region. For instance, as Pakistan is a nuclear power and a country faced with a terrorism problem at one and the same time, the US Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism stated in a report that:

“The new U.S. strategy toward Pakistan should involve the use of all elements of national power—including those of so-called soft power, such as public diplomacy, strategic communications, and development assistance—to counter violent extremist anti-Americanism, create a universal culture of revulsion against the use of WMD, and lower the demand for WMD by terrorists.”

According to the Centre for Global Development, “Through the Enhanced Partnership with Pakistan Act of 2009 better known as the Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill, Congress authorized (but has not yet appropriated) a tripling of U.S. development assistance to Pakistan to $7.5 billion over five years to improve Pakistan’s governance, support its economic growth, and invest in its people.” Furthermore, USAID has also provided Pakistan with over $7 billion in development assistance since 1951.

For instance, The Citizens Foundation – a network that has built more than 600 high-standard schools of its target of a 1,000 schools across Pakistan – has received considerable support from donors as it furthers literacy amongst the marginalised.

The European Union, and Germany in particular, have also been generous in providing development assistance to Pakistan. According to a Dawn report this June, “The European Union and Germany will provide 303 million euros development assistance to Pakistan during 2011-13 covering priority areas, like energy, education, health governance and trade development.”

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is also one of the largest donors to Pakistan. A Brookings Institute Report shows that “Pakistan has received more aid from Saudi Arabia than any country outside the Arab world since the 1960s. For example, in May 1998 when Pakistan was deciding whether to respond to India’s testing of five nuclear weapons, the Saudis promised 50,000 barrels of free oil per day to help the Pakistanis cope with the economic sanctions that might be triggered by a counter test…” “…Official aid is matched by large investments from Saudi princes and religious institutions. Much of the Pakistani madrassa educational system, for instance, is Saudi-funded by private donors.”

Even though civil society through the NGOs has made great strides in areas where the government has been underperforming in promoting development and awareness, these sectors, like any others, have their own drawbacks.

Firstly, there is some resistance from locals to accepting foreign assistance, and in many cases even local assistance on grounds of sectarian/ethnic differences. However, this must not always be the case, as I myself saw when I witnessed Christian and Muslim charities dividing work on the reconstruction of flood-damaged houses last year.

Secondly, the administrative costs of NGOs are usually very high, and much funding is wasted on lavish seminars and conferences at the most expensive hotels. These costs could easily be cut if there is the will to do so and if stricter monitoring is applied.

Thirdly, many NGOs do not follow up on projects once they have been finished. For effective long-term sustainability, follow-ups and some degree of supervision/maintenance is necessary in all cases.

Fourthly, militancy and lapses in security have resulted in restrictions on the mobility of NGO staff. These pose a threat to the realization of NGO projects as many NGOs issue warnings for their employees not to travel beyond secure areas and to barricade their offices with huge bomb-proof concrete walls.

Fifthly, resistance to globalisation has also been very much in evidence with several conservative sections dismissing NGOs as ‘western propaganda’ and ‘agents of the west’ –  allusions to the perceived neo-imperialism of the west.

Lastly, the lack of the profit motive, and difficulties in monitoring and evaluation result in inefficiencies in the work of the NGOs, not to mention corruption and misappropriation. Anews report from May this year spoke of an NGO quoting salaries of three – non-existant! – child protection centres for funding. Another news report from December 2010 stated that the national Accountability Bureau (NAB) of Pakistan was investigating two NGOs involved in embezzlement of funds received under the Kerry-Lugar Act while a further news reportearlier this year citied embezzlement to the tune of some Rs. 100 million by a US NGO.

In short, whereas there is indeed a pressing need for a global partnership to continue the development partnership between the developed and developing world, certain measures, especially measures relating to monitoring and evaluation should be made more stringent to make the process of development more efficient and effective. At the same time, many efforts, such as the Free and Fair Election Network, are being made to improve democratic governance in Pakistan. Best practices should be studied in detailed and emulated across the whole country in an effort to realise the collective goal of improved governance and quality of life for all citizens, and to reap the best benefits of the globalisation process we now see the world undergoing.

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One thought on “International aid: towards a responsible partnership for development

  1. An interesting article that does identify many of the challenges faced by organisations providing assistance in Pakistan. The real-story is not all grim though. Many great projects have been implemented and many great successes have been made. The local and international aid community, along with civil groups and provincial and national governments must better coordinate, communicate and respond to future disasters in Pakistan. The 2010 flood response was better than the 2005 earthquake response. No doubt any future disaster responses will have faults and we must make sure we continue to improve and continue to do all we can to help the people affected by disaster in Pakistan.

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