New Trends for the Government – NGO Partnerships in Asia


Executive Summary

Over the few years, several major changes in development approaches have taken place. Probably the most important relates to a worldwide recognition of the need for a change in the role of government in the development process. In the early years, government was seen as a provider of different services, be it provision of housing or other environmental services or even finance and technology development. In the next phase. However, other alternatives to the government provision, through the private sector, through the non – governmental sector and community based organizations became important. However, gradually it was realized that the NGOs and private sector by themselves could not really substitute the government effectively. In most cases. NGO initiatives have often had rather limited impacts and the private sector activities have generally been beyond the reach of the poor. In the current phase, the emphasis has shifted to partnerships for development. Including those between the government and NGO – CBO groups. These are new approaches and there is a need to “learn by doing”. For this, it is necessary to review these experiences to assess the type of roles which have emerged.

It is in this background that Habitat International Coalition (HIC) and its partners in different regions have undertaken a study of GO – NGO partnership in the field of human settlements encompassing several countries.

The field of human settlements on which these partnerships focus is rather wide-ranging. The focus in the review paper, however, is on the improvement of housing and neighbourhoods in urban centres and which contribute to alleviating urban poverty. In the past, both the governmental and non – governmental efforts have been piecemeal, with either limited impact on small numbers or these have not been sustainable because they failed to be participatory, relied far too much on individuals rather than attempting institutionalisation and required enormous subsidies which were simply not sustainable in the long run.

The review in this paper is set in the specific development context of the Asian region covering South Asia, a number of countries form South – Asia and Japan. Each of the studies selected from this region represents a new approach to GO – NGO relationships which have emerged over the last decade. These have helped to define the new facilitating and enabling framework which has been advocated widely but often not articulated very effectively.

Development Context of the Region

Although almost all the countries in the review, except Japan are generally classified as developing countries, there are considerable variations among them in political developments, human development status and human settlement policies. The countries are of different sizes and have variations in demographic patters especially in terms of urbanization. At the same time there are many similarities in terms of nature of economic policies, though clear differences exist in their timing. Interestingly, however, the most important differences seem to be in the type, influence and role of NGOs in these countries. Section II traces these patterns in the countries covered by this review. Though it is difficult to clearly relate development of the NGO sector in each country with on a defined set of factors it is possible to identify a few which have been important in general. These include i.) nature of governance and political system, ii.) human development status in terms of education. Health, human rights, gender inequality, and iii.) economic growth and especially the poverty status of population. More in depth analysis is necessary to provide greater insights into these relationships.

Changing Patterns of Activity Coverage

A review of programme interventions covered in the case studies clearly suggest that major changes have occurred in the perspective regarding what constitutes the field of human settlements. From the early emphasis on housing, the shift to the facilitator role has meant that activity coverage is expanded to land. Infrastructure, credit and technology. Within each of these the broad perspective has undergone significant changes as described at length in Section III. For example, for land. The early years of struggle for land rights of the poor, the emphasis shifted to tenure in SIPs and sites and services approaches. Even these were found to be limited with the emphasis moving to wider city level efforts, facilitating legislation and a focus on land markets. Similarly, in credit, while the early emphasis on soft credit has not enhanced reach, the alternative community bases delivery systems have shown that the poor can be serviced in financially viable manner. There is also a realization of the need for more integrated approaches and within each convergence has emerged as important. The main forte of NGOs, of community development and participation also shows changes with the emphasis now shifting to community empowerment through federating structures and enabling the poor to form mature political constituencies.

Changing Roles of Non – governmental Organizations: With the shifts in activity emphasis, there have also been considerable changes in the role of non – government organizations in a variety of partnerships arrangements. From the earlier emphasis on NGOs as providers of services albeit in a more effective and innovative manner, the NGOs now are engaged in a wide variety of roles. To a certain extent the NGO role is certainly influenced by the country and city context . For example with a more enlightened and supportive political leadership as in Naga and Kandy, there is a far greater, opportunity for the NGOs to play a supportive role and attempt to institutionalise the participatory approaches. Similarly, the higher literacy levels in Sri Lanka are more conductive to effective training strategies and it appears to be far easier to build up capacity of community based organizations to take on development and management tasks. In Philippines the change in government also enabled the NGOs to move form a cofrontationist to a more collaborative role where they have contributed significantly to the development of the Community Mortgage Programme. The role of NGOs have also been linked to the changing development approach. For example, the move from projects to systems has meant a change in NGO role of being facilitators between government and communities, to being technical advisors, and the new role of institutionalising system and influencing policies.

Emerging Partnership Models

The overall trend thus is towards partnerships among government, NGOs and communities. Essentially based on the case studies from this region, three types of partnerships seem to be emerging. First is an arrangement where the NGOs help in introducing participatory approaches in projects. A second type of partnership is where the NGOs facilitate large government programmes. The examples are the Community Mortgage program in Philippines, KIP in Surbaya, Indonesia and earthquake related program in India. The third type of partnerships are where considerable coverage has been achieved through alternative delivery system and frameworks. The main examples are the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh, Sulabh International in India and the recently formed Urban Community Development Office in Thailand. In all strong and committed leadership, composition of the governing board and a strong emphasis on rigorous internal management system have contributed to the success of these ventures.

A review of the case studies helps to also assess the critical factors which affect the success of such GO – NGO partnership. The table provides a summary of the most important facilitating factors as well as the constraints which may inhibit success. It is, clear that a strong grass roots base with strong. CBOs is a must to any partnerships dealing with lower income groups. Such groups also facilitate formation of mature political constituencies. In developing alternative delivery system, the critical factors have been strong leadership, independent (from government) organizational structures and most importantly a simple but workable idea which can help expand coverage easily. Emphasis on strong internal management systems and related MIS and feedback systems underlie the rapid and successful expansion of these models. The emerging new role of professionals with a grater participation of academics and students in these processes has also helped. The most celebrated case in this regard is the Kampung Improvement Programme in Surabaya. Another important facilitating factor has been the use of media in an effective and strategically planned manner.

Table: Factors Affecting Success of GO _ NGO Partnership

Facilitating Factors:

i) Grass roots base essential – strong CBOs make the programme effective
ii) Independent organizational structures with participation of stakeholders in the government boards. Strong internal management. MIS and feedback systems, especially in the independent organizations like Grameen, Sulabh.
iii) Critical role of sensitive, enterprising and “astute” leadership; political and bureaucracy
iv) Effectiveness of a simple but workable, cost effective idea which is easily and widely understood and accepted – Grameen, Sulabh, CCC, UCDO, tec.
This seems to be more possible in activities related to credit and provisions of infrastructure services, However, this is probably difficult in land and housing.
v) Strategic use media.
vi) Participation of students, academic institutions and committed professionals

Constraining Factors:

i) Lack of a ‘common language and understanding ‘ between government and NGOs.
ii) Inadequate transparency and rules for entrepreneurial growth of NGOs working a with government, especially as illustrated by Sulabh case.
iii) Lack of continuity of government officers due to frequent transfer. This often leads to a problem of lack of programmes. Under the HIP, however, the participation of the university provided the much needed continuity.
iv) Inadequate use of available supportive legislation, e, g. The Housing and Land Development Plan
v) Inadequate negotiation skills.
vi) Lack of skills for strategic management and weak NGOorganizations.

Table above also summarizes the constraints which when not addressed can critically inhibit success of partnership. Probably the most important of these is the Jack of a “common language and understanding” between government and NGOs. This inhibits close relationship and possibility of successful negotiation. For example, in Community Mortgage Programme, the communication was probably a problem between the financial institutions and community oriented NGOs. As the decision making structures also did not enable the Gos. NGOs and CBOs to participate jointly, the scope for sharing and understanding each others’ concerns was limited. Some of the other constraints related to the new roles which be NGOs have had to undertake And their lack of preparedness for these. For example, the NGO organizations have often lacked the management skills for strategic planning and for effective monitoring. Interestingly, the case studies from this review in fact present the significant impact the GO – NGO partnership can make when strong internal management systems have been developed. It must be recognized that this would generally mean that more hierarchical task oriented structures will be necessary. Some NGOs may view this as losing their flexibility and community control. However, the examples of Grameed and UCDO suggest that well managed organizations with rigorous internal management systems can still be responsive to their clients and enable community control in decision – making.

New Roles and Challenges

Some of the supportive and constraining factor which were reviwed above also point to the new challenges facing the NGO sector in this field. While many of the traditional roles of the NGOs will continue in some fashion, the main challenge which lies ahead is in relation to the new roles which are expected of the NGOs. On one hand, with a far greater recognition of the potential of this sector, tremendous opportunities exist for NGOs to make a significant impact on the development front. In terms of the development trends which are evident across the countries in this regional review, two main features need emphasis. These are democratic governance and decentralization and economic liberalization and globalization. Though the timing of these development have been different as discussed earlier each and every country has seen definitive movements towards these aims. As an outcome there is a need for a total review of the role of NGOs in the emerging society. Specifically it is possible to identify three new roles for which the NGOs will have to equip themselves in order to make the emerging partnerships successful.

The first is to become a Voice of the Civil Society, with a focus on developing strengths in lobbying and advocacy for the poor and the weaker sections. Most importantly, rather than mere activism they will need to build mature political constituencies of the poor, as illustrated so successfully in the Naga city case. The second role is as Managers of the Social Sector. With liberalization and a move towards financial sector reforms in most countries, it is probably also necessary to shed the negative “social sector” image attached to these efforts. Increasingly, efforts such as Grameen, microfinance activities in Indonesia, SEWA bank and many others have shown that these activities are also viable, can have large impacts on a significant scale. The third role is of Alternative Professionalism to Institutionalize Systems. The challenge is for the professional to take on different tasks, work with a new professionalism focused on institutionalising systems alternative service delivery.

The new century will begin with a greater respect for the role of NGOs in the development process. They have emerged convincingly as the Third Force in development. The challenge now is to use this opportunity in the changing development context to take on these roles, to build their own and community capacity to perform these roles well and ultimately to learn doing.