The pakistan context

The pakistan context


The literature on development has long recognized the importance of the third sector. Throughout the 1980s there was an evident and growing enthusiasm for the contribution of NGOs particularly for their ability to work directly with the poor and with grassroots organisations (Turner,1988; Gorman,1984). According to Carroll (1992), it was in 1985 that official development agencies arrived at the same conclusion that the advantages of NGOs, such as flexibility, informality, commitment, and participatory style, outweighed their disadvantages and made them especially suited for the complex task of rural development projects aimed at alleviating poverty, in which physical capital is combined with human and organizational resources. By the end of the 1980s, reports from the OECD (1988), Asian Development Bank (1990, 1991) and World Bank (1991) all argued that NGOs have a particular ability to work effectively with the poorest communities.

The early 1990s saw a distinct change in emphasis, with greater weight being placed on the term civil society than on non-governmental organisation. Although this change cannot be attributed to any single factor, a number of emerging concerns may offer some insights. The work of authors such as Putnam (1993) showed the importance of non-governmental and non-private sector institutions and demonstrated that it would be useful to work with wider definitions than were typically being used. Third, it was recognized that many informal self-help groups of local citizens were important in promoting and achieving social change but that conventional definitions of the voluntary sector often excluded such associations. Finally, the legitimacy of some NGOs as agencies financed by external sources has been called into question (Hulme and Edwards,1997a). Whilst the term NGOs continued to be used, sometimes interchangeably with civil society, there was a significant shift in emphasis away from some of the traditional voluntary-sector development organisations towards a larger group of agencies also concerned with broader issues of democratic representation and the public good.

The most immediately relevant are the NGO sector and the associations of the intended beneficiaries of aid, including membership groups, self-help groups, community-based organisations, neighbourhood associations and grassroots organisations. As noted above, after a long period in which the NGO sector was viewed as the intermediary through which development assistance agencies could best work with their intended beneficiaries, concern has recently been expressed about both the capacity of NGOs and their relationships with their own societies (Edwards and Hulme,1995). Today, the second grouping may be of greater interest to development agencies, with the support offered to NGOs best being viewed as a means rather than an end in itself.


Since May 1998, when we officially became a nuclear power, Pakistan has faced problems in maintaining macro-economic stability, sustaining economic growth and delivering public services to the poor. No wonder it can be attributed to a host of other uncontrollable factors like military dictatorship, post 9/11 global scenario, but then it can also be ascribed to weak economic governance and gradual decline in the capacity of key institutions.

To strengthen economic governance a non-partisan long term strategic approach is required in which narrow political considerations are set aside and a concerted effort is made to strengthen the key institutions that form the essential core of economic governance. As the capacity of these institutions takes several decades to develop, the temptation by incoming governments to abandon or neglect institutions or policies, projects and programs inherited from the previous regime has also been a main factor in failure of the government to address the issue of a continually increasing excluded society.

These were the circumstances because of which a country of 170 million has been pushed to the brink of bankruptcy that have resulted in ever increasing excluded class, and the government's failure to curb that decline. It is in this backdrop, that the contribution of the third sector in creating an inclusive society in Pakistan not only becomes extremely important in the context of the suffering population, but also for the failing government which does take a sigh of relief when any NGO steps in and take charge of certain areas of neglect.

The third sector in Pakistan mainly comprise of Non Governmental Organizations, which runs purely on charity, funding from international donors and multinational companies. The GOP (Government of Pakistan) did not support the third sector in the past, (though recently this trend is shifting heavily in favour of third sector) hence did not see it as a rival, but embraced it in a cooperative and complementary role as envisaged in Najam's 4 C Models. Hence the third sector did not face any undue hurdles in establishing themselves in Pakistan.

The third sector or the Voluntary sector in Pakistan is mainly engaged in providing services in health, education, gender development, human rights safeguard and poverty reduction. The reasons for the growth and contribution of the third sector in Pakistan is constant engagement of the government in maintaining law and order in certain areas, as well as fighting an active war, rooting out terrorism, allocation of huge budget resources to defense spending and debt servicing. That is further augmented by the energy shortages, capital flight, political uncertainty, and lack of clarity about economic direction during the transition to civilian rule. The agenda for improvement of economic governance has not been pursued faithfully in Pakistan as its implementation spans over several decades while the elected and military governments have short time horizons. Personalized decision making according to the whims and caprices of individuals in power has displaced informed and well thought out institutionalized processes. No wonder, the majority of the populace ever witnesses any benefits or gains to them while the national exchequer is constantly drained due to the unending costs incurred by every successive regime. The effect of this unending cycle of politically motivated poor economic governance on the majority of the population is a sense of deprivation and denial of basic economic rights creates feelings of cynicism, negativism and frustration; hence the creation of a huge socially excluded society.

The answer to what has been narrated above has been provided by the 3rd sector, which comprises of various NGOs, Socially responsible Investors (SRIs), and charities like SKMT Cancer Hospital, (famously called as Imran Khan's Hospital) and Edhi Foundation, which is doing a wonderful job for the poor, sick, homeless, hungry, orphans and other socially excluded people. The basic manner of operation of these organizations lies in ensuring that they have mechanisms that attract greater investments for sectors that serve the needs of the economically more vulnerable segments of the population and transfer mechanisms that facilitate the flow of greater resources to them. Beyond these, they are effective in targeting the lower strata of the economy whilst being transparent and accountable. While on the face of it this falls exclusively within the ambit of public policy, if the right fiscal incentives exist, its implementation can be fostered for the private sector to be roped into the process of development through public-private partnership models in order to supplement the efforts of the state.

In response to the socio-economic conditions of Pakistan, a new concept is also emerging which focuses on driving development not just through public expenditure and philanthropy but through profits. It is about encouraging a new class of entrepreneurs in our society - a society that is socially responsible and able to make socially responsible investment (SRI's). SRI is not a totally new concept and ranks high on investors' agenda today, across more developed regions of the world. According to one estimate, SRIs have risen to USD 2.3 trillion in the US and EUR 1.0 trillion in Europe in recent years. In essence SRIs strive to consider both the financial return on the investment along with its social, environmental and ethical consequences. Basically, there are three overall investment strategies that include screening, shareholder advocacy and community investing. While a large majority of assets are held in socially screened investment funds or managed accounts, community investments such as microfinance enjoy strong growth rates. Social investors not only include foundations and NGOs but also Individual Investors and increasingly, professional institutional investors, including pension funds, insurance companies, universities and religious institutions.

This is something which is beginning to happen within our region. In the context of Pakistan the financial services sector's ability to deliver services to low income households compounded several times through the microfinance initiatives driven by the private sector, but given the right policy environment and incentives by the state. The state need not provide perpetual subsidies and relief but may simply create sustainable mechanisms and provide incentives for effective targeting, transparency, accountably across the board which in effect will help create a conducive environment.

However, incentives need to be provided to institutions that are committed to sustainability and provide equitable quality service delivery. On the one hand we can take the case of (Akhuwwat) microfinance, whose philosophy is based on Islamic teachings of soft loans without interest, for helping someone in need which is preferred over charity. Interestingly there is a realization today that collectively the millions of poor and low income households have immense entrepreneurial capability and buying power. They represent a most exciting and fastest growing new market. The name of the game is about creating an inclusive society and promoting inclusion and equity while striving towards social order and a more equitable Pakistan.

In addition to that, there are a number of organizations that serve the public on a national scale. Charitable and community organizations, separate from the state, have existed in many historical settings, but NGOs are primarily a modern phenomenon. Today, NGOs address every conceivable issue and they operate in virtually every part of Pakistan. Political scientists often refer to NGOs as "pressure groups" or "lobby groups," but this concept does not do justice to these organizations and their broad public influence in Pakistan. Scholars working in this area have noted that NGOs can command great legitimacy, sometimes more than national authorities. Though NGOs have few formal powers over decision-making, they have many accomplishments to their credit in Pakistan. In recent years, they have successfully strengthened health, women's rights, the rights and well-being of children, the poor and indigenous peoples.

NGOs in Pakistan operate with many different methods and goals. Some act alone while others work in coalitions. In literature, though Governments at times find NGOs a nuisance or even threatening to their interests, but officials nonetheless look to NGOs for innovative ideas and information. Officials also recognize that consultation with (and support from) NGOs gives their public decisions more credibility. There is a steady growth in numbers of NGOs which is a sign of increasing pluralism and democracy, because authoritarian governments confront them with severe administrative hurdles and harassment.

In Pakistan, NGOs are usually financed by a combination of sources. Today NGOs tap many other sources including grants or contracts from governments (very few in Pakistan) and international institutions, fees for services, profits from sales of goods, and funding from private foundations, corporations and wealthy individuals.

Roles of NGOs in Pakistan

Recently in Pakistan, it has been noted how there are more non-governmental organizations than ever before trying to fill in the gaps that the governments either will not, or cannot do. Among the wide variety of roles that NGOs play, the following can be identified as important, at the risk of generalization:

NGOs have the advantage of selecting particular places for innovative projects and specify in advance the length of time which they will be supporting the project - overcoming some of the shortcomings that governments face in this respect. NGOs can also be pilots for larger government projects by virtue of their ability to act more quickly than the government bureaucracy. An example of that would be Greg Mortenson's “One school at a time” NGO which has done a wonderful job in the western parts of Pakistan for promoting peace and education, and making sure that children go to a school rather than a bigoted religious madrassah. (Mortenson, G, Relin, D, Three Cups of tea, Penguin, New York 2006).

Third sector in Pakistan use interpersonal methods of communication, and study the right entry points whereby they gain the trust of the community they seek to benefit. They would also have a good idea of the feasibility of the projects they take up. The significance of this role to the government is that NGOs can communicate to the policy-making levels of government, information about the lives, capabilities, attitudes and cultural characteristics of people at the local level. This is clearly visible in the example given above, as well as by the example of SKMT Cancer Hospital, which is a state of the art complete cancer treatment hospital in Pakistan run by the 3rd sector despite of the financial constraints as compared to funds available to the Government.

Third sector also facilitates communication upward from people to the government and downward from the government to the people. Communication upward involves informing the government about what local people are thinking, doing and feeling while communication downward involves informing local people about what the government is planning and doing. NGOs are also in a unique position to share information horizontally, networking between other organizations doing similar work. Another important contribution of NGOs and 3rd sector is providing technical assistance and developing training capacity and use this to assist the GOP.

In some cases, 3rd sector becomes spokespersons for the poor and attempt to influence government policies and programs on their behalf. In Pakistan, it is mainly done by involving a very vibrant free media, which is swift to highlight the good work of any 3rd sector organization. Thus in Pakistan NGOs play roles as advocates for the poor, partners and advisors; and from sponsors of pilot projects to mediators.

NGOs are also involved in macro and micro tasks. Macro tasks are aimed at reform social order, reform of the public service and public policies and restructuring political economy. Together they enable institutional reforms for good governance. However micro tasks are aimed at empowerment of communities and individuals, strengthening of local institutions, sustained improvements in physical well-being. Together they enable mobilizing and strengthening of civil society. Macro and micro tasks together may lead to a socially just and sustainable economy with systems of governance that are accountable inclusive. (Fowler, J, 2000).

There are two distinct types of NGOs, working towards creating social inclusion in Pakistan, operational and campaigning NGOs. Operational NGOs mobilize resources, in the form of financial donations and materials, in order to sustain their projects and programs. This process requires quite complex organization. Finance obtained from grants or contracts, from governments, foundations or companies require time and expertise spent on planning, preparing applications, budgeting, accounting and reporting. Major fund-raising events require skills in advertising, media relations and motivating supporters. Thus, operational NGOs need to possess an efficient headquarters bureaucracy, in addition to the operational staff in the field. The SKMT Cancer hospital is a classic example of working in this manner, and one of a major source of finance is arranging fund raising events in various parts of the world.

Campaigning NGOs carry out much the same functions, but with a different balance between them. Fundraising is still necessary, but on a smaller scale and it can serve the symbolic function of strengthening the donors' identification with the cause. Persuading people to donate their time is necessary, but, in addition to a small number of people giving a great deal of time, it is also necessary to be able to mobilize large numbers for brief periods.

In terms of orientation, some NGOs in Pakistan have charitable orientation which involves a top-down paternalistic effort with little participation by the beneficiaries. It includes NGOs with activities directed toward meeting the needs of the poor -distribution of food, clothing or medicine; provision of housing, transport, schools etc. Such NGOs may also undertake relief activities during a natural or man-made disaster. Edhi foundation in Pakistan is a prime example of charitable orientation.

Then there are NGOs which are service oriented and includes NGOs with activities such as the provision of health, family planning or education services in which the programme is designed by the NGO and people are expected to participate in its implementation and in receiving the service.

Participatory Orientation is characterized by self-help projects where local people are involved particularly in the implementation of a project by contributing cash, tools, land, materials, labour etc. In the classical community development project, participation begins with the need definition and continues into the planning and implementation stages. Greg Mortenson's NGO promoting education by building schools in the western parts of Pakistan actively involves the local population, and is run on self help basis when the school is constructed.


Recently, apart from increased foreign funding, the third sector has been receiving substantial financial assistance from the government, providing the sector with greater space to carry out its activities. The government actively sought a positive relation with the NGOs as it created provision for their assistance through programmes such as the Social Action Programme, the Poverty Alleviation Fund and the Trust for Voluntary Organizations. However, the endeavors of the NGOs and the voluntary services sector backed by foreign donors and agencies - have faced significant resistance from religious organizations that accuse the former of implementing a Western agenda in the country and have openly expressed resentment against the former's efforts in the area of women's rights, honour killings, reproductive health and family planning issues. Hence we can see that there is now a realization that the Government despite its wish can not create an inclusive society on its own. We should not forget that Pakistan is a country of 170 million, and hence, wherever third sector gets itself involved in creating an inclusive society, it is supported by the GOP. The care that needs to be taken by them is to keep them focused, as one reason of the failure of NGOs in Pakistan in the past had been with this very broad based approach of operations. (Saeed Qureshi, et al 1996).

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