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Country case study: Bangladesh

10 The role of civil society organizations and self help groups in decentralized rural development: South Asian experience, Dr P. Subrahmanyam, Bangladesh

10 The role of civil society organizations and self help groups in decentralized rural development: South Asian experience, Dr P. Subrahmanyam, Bangladesh

Decentralization essentially entails redistribution of power - political, economic, social and cultural - and is not possible without reforms in the existing power structure. Those who benefit from the existing order defend the status quo; those who feel deprived are hopeful of change - for a better tomorrow. The persistence of poverty indicates that the 'State' and the 'Market' have both failed to eradicate poverty. Decentralization as found in most parts of South Asia does not empower the poor and the disadvantaged, but helps the elite to consolidate power and perpetuate the culture of the dominance-dependence syndrome: the poor, the weak and the vulnerable continue to depend on the rich and elite and are subjected to their domination. Similarly, the market listens to those with purchasing power; the poor are excluded from the market. "Trickle down" has little effect on poverty in South Asia. However, civil society has taken up the task of organizing the poor. Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and self help groups (SHGs) are gaining force. Whether microcredit, adult and non-formal education, health, small-scale irrigation, or non-formal employment, civil society organizations (CSOs) have real strength. With emphasis on empowering the poor and marginalized, many NGOs concentrate on "the poorest of the poor", while others advocate and mobilize the poor, exert pressure on government to respond to issues of importance to the poor majority. Their methods and approaches are beginning to yield results. CSOs are mobilizing and organizing the poor to take control over their own lives. The decentralized framework provides an enabling environment; the hard work of NGOs has enabled poor people's organizations (POs) to become alternative power centres in villages where they live. NGO lobbying and advocacy have prompted governments to reassess policy and introduce change.

Though very significant (as in Bangladesh) regarding poverty alleviation, NGOs may not replace government efforts. Their principal contribution lies in being able to demonstrate participatory approaches and models that governments might follow, and they can continue mobilizing the poor to bring pressure on government to see that the poor people harvest their benefits. Learning from NGOs and self help groups can enhance effectiveness, improve efficiency and better outreach of poverty alleviation and rural development programmes. CSOs and SHGs can be effective in a genuine democratic milieu while the presence of active and dynamic CSOs, SHGs and a well-informed citizenry can ensure responsible, transparent, efficient and good governance.

In the context of poverty alleviation and rural development, it is realized that constraints to rural development are rooted in society itself. The ability of the 'State' to tackle these problems is increasingly doubted, especially from the 1980s onward. Similarly, the 'invisible hand' of the market as well is not able to eradicate human suffering through its 'trickle down' mechanism. The argument is simple: "Market fails; but so do governments" (World Bank, 1991). The worst manifestations of poverty - squalor, illiteracy, ignorance and hunger persist. There is a growing realization that both 'State' and 'Market' have failed to protect the interests of the poor and vulnerable. The silver lining in these dark clouds is the presence of CSOs applying and advocating participatory approach to development (UNDP, 1993).

This study presents select case studies of South Asian NGOs and SHGs on decentralized rural development and a brief review of South Asian development profiles. NGOs and SHGs are examined under four broad areas: economic empowerment, social empowerment, political awareness and participation and gender-related development promotion. The analysis covers the thrust of these organizations, their processes and impact and lessons that can be learned. Learning from NGOs and SHGs can enhance effectiveness and improve the efficiency and outreach of poverty alleviation and rural development programmes. It concludes that the presence of active and dynamic CSOs, SHGs and a well-informed citizenry can ensure responsible, transparent, efficient and good governance.

Decentralization in South Asia: an overview

The South Asian countries have achieved commendable progress in several sectors - agriculture, industry, science and technology - but poverty reduction remained their major challenge. The proportion of people living below the poverty line is quite substantial: 48 percent in Bangladesh, 34 percent in India, 53 percent in Nepal, and 37 percent in Pakistan. However, collaboration of government and CSOs has made it possible to achieve progress in terms of education, literacy and health indicators as shown in Table 1.

In the 1950s, the community-development was considered the best development-strategy to address many ills plaguing the majority of rural poor living in these countries. From the mid-1960s the emphasis of rural development shifted to modernizing traditional agriculture. The 'green revolution' has provided an opportunity to focus on agriculture. The late 1970s to the early 1980s saw the emergence of new efforts to implement integrated rural development programmes to remove poverty, inequality and unemployment. However, evaluations of rural development reveal that programmes either ignored the poor or helped the non-poor. In other words, they have failed to ensure that the poor receive their fair share in the benefits of economic growth. The main reason for this poor progress was the failure of these programmes to incorporate people's participation.

Table 1: Socio-economic progress of South Asian countries - some select indicators








Sri Lanka

Population below 'poverty line' Number (millions)









National poverty line (%)









GNP per capita (US$)









Life expectancy at birth (years)

















Infant mortality rate (per 1000 live births)

















Gross enrolment ratio for all levels (%)

















Adult literacy rate(%)


















N/A denotes not available.


1) UNDP human development report 1997, 1998.

2) World development report 1997

3) Human development in South Asia 1997, 1998.

There are many explanations for this. The vast majority of the poor have no organizational structure to represent them. Unorganized, isolated, uneducated and vulnerable, they often depend on the rural elite for their livelihood and security. They lack the wherewithal to act as countervailing power to the socio-economic forces that they face; however, it is now recognized that if the rural poor are not given an opportunity to participate fully in the development process, they will continue to be excluded from its benefits. This realization is evoking new interest with several alternative strategies emerging from the grass roots. The key element in all these strategies is people's participation.

Decentralized governance: According to Rondinelli, decentralization means "the transfer or delegation of planning, decision-making or management authority from the central government and its agencies to field organizations, subordinate units of government, semi-autonomous public corporations, area-wide or regional authorities, functional authorities, or NGOs". Decentralization can take such forms as democratization, de-concentration, delegation and devolution.

Democratization and the difficulty of defining its presence at the national level suggests that strengthening of groups in civil society - self help groups, cooperatives, civil associations, trade unions, professional groups and women's organizations - may nurture 'real democracy' as opposed to questionable political formalities at the top (Stokke, 1995).

De-concentration involves transfer of functions or decision-making within the central government hierarchy from central ministries to field officers or agencies. Though it results in dispersal of power, hardly any decision can be taken without reference to the centre.

Delegation involves transfer of functions and decision-making authority to local officials. Nevertheless, central government retains the right to turn down local decisions and can take back these powers at any time.

Devolution means granting decision-making power to local authorities, allowing them to take full responsibility without reference to central government. This is the strongest form of decentralization. In South Asian countries formerly under colonial rule, statutes and structures facilitate democratic decentralization, but central government retains considerable power and exercises various controls through grants and expense regulation sanctions. National planning commissions and boards remain crucial in determining priorities; socio-cultural settings impede implementation of real democratic decentralization. Some changes are taking place: India, for instance, has given constitutional status to local bodies and Bangladesh has introduced a four-tier decentralization plan.

"Decentralization" has been a popular reform strategy for at least three decades, yet it has not provided the expected result, i.e. accountable and participative institutions. Decentralization initiatives have not been properly implemented; comparing decentralization reforms across differing systems and regions found no consistent patterns to link improved institutional performance with enhanced participation; decentralization reforms are often manipulated by central authority and elite groups anxious to retain their control of state power, authority and resources and so can be seen as an exercise in re-centralization despite its relatively poor record, decentralization continues to be seen as an essential component of 'institutional capacity building' (World Bank, 1994)

Democratic decentralization as a strategy for rural development

Decentralization and efficiency

Decentralization is a necessary response to the inefficiency and ineffectiveness of local service provision in developing countries. It is a means to cut costs. Local people feel that it is their money, therefore exercise tight control over various items of expenditure, and utilize resources more efficiently. In India (Kerala), the involvement of local people through village education committees increased the attendance of students and teachers due to their accountability to the local community.

Decentralization and equity

Decentralization improves equity. If local government effectively provides services, the poor stand to benefit, being more likely to use local services. However, central government must consciously invest in building up basic human capabilities: basic education, basic health care, safe drinking water, tackling malnutrition of children and provision of family welfare services. Investment in the social sector and consequent improvement in the provision of social services not only alleviate the immediate consequences of poverty but also attack one of the major causes of poverty.

Decentralization and people's participation

Cohen and Uphoff (1977) identify four kinds of participation: participation in decision-making; participation in implementation; participation in benefits; and participation in evaluation. Involvement of local people also results in appropriate delivery of services, particularly in water and sanitation sectors as shown by the Orangi Pilot Project in Pakistan. CIRDAP's assessment of the economic impact of peripheral infrastructure on India's rural poor and in the Lao PDR are other examples. People's participation also opens an opportunity for local contribution. The government of Andhra Pradesh (India), inspired by Saemual Undong in the Republic of Korea, introduced Janmabhoomi (birthplace) to promote people's participation. Popular response was very good, particularly in renovating school buildings, hospitals and other public utilities: some were whitewashed for the first time since construction. Decentralization increases economic participation of local communities: construction and maintenance of local infrastructure directly provides employment to local people.

Learning from CSOs and SHGs: lessons from the field

The search for solutions to problems of the overextended, overloaded and overcentralized state necessitated the search for a 'third sector'. This includes varied local and community institutions and CSOs collectively distinguished by their non-governmental status. They are useful (and an alternative to privatization) to reduce the size, activities and cost of central government. CSO initiatives are justified by increased participation and empowerment of civil society. Civil society institutions - a free press, community-based organizations (CBOs), NGOs, trade unions, an impartial judiciary and a responsive executive - have major roles to play in keeping democratic decentralization vibrant and dynamic. This study is confined to the role of NGOs and POs (including self help groups) in South Asia. NGOs can be defined as voluntary organizations not established by government but which work for and on behalf of the community, alternative structures to government. POs are democratic organizations representing community interests and accountable to them, including CBOs, self help groups and grass roots organizations. They are often flexible and loosely knit.

The role of NGOs and SHGs in decentralized rural development

With their emphasis on empowering the poor and the marginalized, many NGOs concentrate on 'the poorest of the poor'. There are an estimated 85 000 NGOs in South Asia, many in microcredit, income generation activities, education and health and women's development. Some are known for advocacy to mobilize the poor to pressure their governments to act promptly on important issues. Many NGOs work through POs and self help groups. In fact, these have become alternative power centres to the feudal and entrenched powers in their villages. NGO lobbying and advocacy has prompted agencies and governments to reassess their policies and to introduce necessary amendments. The role of NGOs will be discussed under the topics of economic empowerment; social empowerment; political awareness and participation; and promoting gender-related development. Economic empowerment is a central focus of NGO and SHG concern. Poverty alleviation, provision of microcredit, employment in the informal sector, supply of improved seeds and other agricultural implements to increase income and employment in the rural areas. The following NGOs have played a significant role in this area.

Grameen Bank of Bangladesh

The brainchild of Prof Muhammad Yunus, the Grameen Bank was started as the Action Research Project in 1976 in a small village called Jobra. Then it became a pilot project and in 1983 became a full-fledged bank. It aimed to provide microcredit to the poorest of the poor and move them towards capital accumulation and asset creation. Its innovation lies in organizing people into homogenous groups of five members. It offers loans without collateral but takes the group guarantee and uses peer group pressure to ensure its proper use and repayment. Group members hold weekly meetings, maintain close supervision and apply peer group pressure in case of non-repayment, if necessary. Besides credit, it encourages people to go in for better housing, education, environmental sanitation, health and nutrition as part of its commitment for overall social development. It has made an impact: By 1996, it had 1 050 branches in more than 35 780 villages and two million "loanees" of which 94 percent are women. Borrowers, the rural poor of Bangladesh, have become the owners of the Grameen Bank: their accumulated savings exceed $125 million with a cumulative lending of about $2.1 billion. The repayment rate is from 95 to 98 percent; and the Grameen Bank model is being replicated in 40 developing countries. There are lessons to be learned: The poor are credit worthy and are bankable; Emphasis on social development including better education improved nutrition, health and better housing for human development; Changed patterns of ownership of the means of production through microcredit; Microcredit programme is sustainable.

Small Farmers Development Programme of Nepal

Initiated as an action research project in 1975 by the Agricultural Development Bank of Nepal (ADBN) which set up a specialized window for this purpose, the SFDP programme aimed to improve the quality of life of small farmers and agricultural labourers by tapping local resources and upgrading their skills through community participation. DBN appointed a group organizer who helped motivate the beneficiaries and organize the small farmers and landless labourers into small homogenous groups of five to fifteen persons to take up project activities. By 1992, the programme affected some 140 000 beneficiary households. It was clear that gopvernment had learned that even commercial institutions such as banks can initiate pro-poor policies with social commitment. After seeing the success of SFDP, the government formulated a parallel programme specifically aimed at poor rural women.

Sanasa of Sri Lanka

The sanasa movement in 1979 began providing credit to rural poor excluded from the formal financial sector. At that time, 44 percent of Sri Lankan households were burdened with debt: 70 percent owed to non-institutional sources - mainly to traditional moneylenders at exorbitant interest rates. Sanasa is voluntary: members contribute some of their meagre savings to the central resource pool. The loans are long-term and for productive purposes. Members must save and deposit at least one-third of their loans with the society. What is the impact? Loan recovery stands at 90 percent. Community development projects, environment programmes for sustainability. It demonstrates that credit can be made available to the poorest of the poor in rural areas.

Social empowerment

NGOs do not focus only upon microcredit activities. Some work for education, health and socio-political awareness-building and empowering marginal groups through a holistic strategy. BRAC in Bangladesh, AKRSP and the Orangi Pilot Project of Pakistan and the Sarvodaya Sharamadana Movement in Sri Lanka are notable in this regard.

Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee (BRAC)

Established in 1972, it rehabilitated thousands of refugees returning from India, later moving to community development. With intensive experience in poverty alleviation and rural development, from 1976 onward it focused on the bottom 40 percent of the population, with special attention to the needs of poor women, landless and other vulnerable communities. Its delivery package includes microcredit, non-formal education, health, rural marketing and training; it is especially successful in education and health sectors. Each village has two village organizations - one for women and one for men. Each VO has 50 members divided into groups of five: members attend weekly meetings and undergo a 40-lesson course of non-formal education. The capsule course increases awareness and conscentization, a critical element in social mobilization of the poor. Human development and income generation are complementary in the framework. BRAC runs 34 334 non-formal schools where 72 percent of the students are girls and 95 percent of the teachers are women. With 2.3 million members (96 percent female) in 66 000 villages, 20 433 full time employees and 31 009 part-time staff, BRAC and other NGOs have created a social revolution in a conservative Muslim society by directing education, jobs and credit to women. BRAC demonstrated that a holistic approach towards poverty alleviation and rural development can succeed and that empowerment of the rural poor is an integral part of poverty alleviation.

Aga Khan Rural Support Project (AKRSP) of Pakistan

Initiated by the Aga Khan Foundation in Gilgit in 1982 to improve the socio-economic conditions of one million people in northern Pakistan. AKRSP follows a 'package' approach, providing basic education, health services, technical and skill training, microcredit and infrastructure projects. ASRSP forms a multi-purpose village organization (VO) and villagers are empowered to select the projects. They contribute their labour and manage the project themselves. At each stage of the project cycle, the people are involved. Participation has been the key for its success. Since inception, more than 1 964 VOs have been formed, organizing savings of Rs.220 million and dispursing loans of Rs. 518 million. AKRSP has demonstrated the practicality of providing a comprehensive package to alleviate poverty and shows that people's participation and that empowerment of local communities can be achieved.

The Orangi Pilot Project

Orangi is a suburban area of Karachi with more than a million people. Dr Akthar Hameed Khan, whose name is associated with the Comilla Approach, saw their poor condition and decided to change them through organizing community self help groups. Refusing outside help and strengthening the capacities of local people to help themselves, the Orangi Pilot Project concentrated on five areas: low cost sanitation; low cost housing; women's work centres; women's welfare programmes and education. Sanitation and housing were 'entry points'. Slum dwellers were organized to build and operate sanitation systems. The project developed low cost models by using appropriate technology and eliminated the role of contractors. The sanitation programme involves 28 000 families who built latrines connected by 430 000 feet of underground sewerage at a cost of 30 million rupees. Orangi's labour intensive, cost-effective methodology can be replicated. Convergence between Orangi Pilot Project and Aga Khan Rural Support Programme (AKRSP) offers lessons for others.

The Sarvodaya Sharamadana Movement (SSM)

Inspired by Buddhist and Gandhian philosophy, A.T. Ariyaratne founded the Sarvodaya Sharamadana Movement in 1958. Sarvodaya advocates organizing the community into groups and encourages people to plan and implement their own programmes. It mobilizes people to use their own resources, particularly labour, through participation. It was used to develop physical infrastructure such as approach roads to village drinking water sources, irrigation canals, soil and water conservation works and tree plantations. It conducts varied income-generating programmes including batik and sewing shops, carpentry, repair and printing shops. SSM has more than 7 700 staff in 8 000 villages. Its success is attributed to its commitment, leadership, community spirit, member unity, income generation, and centrally, its participatory methodology enabling the villagers to participate in all decision-making processes. As it mainstreams low-caste people into national life, it teaches that self help, self-reliance and mutual help are vital for community development.

In essence, decentralization must democratize power through popular participation. Promoting rural mass participation in local decision-making is core to democratic decentralization. The following initiatives should be mentioned:


Janasaviya - meaning people's strength, people's capacity and people's creativity - was initiated by the government of Sri Lanka in 1989 in response to a countrywide youth insurgency from 1987 to 1989. In it, the poor are the decision-makers and the activists. They are identified by peer groups and are classified as very poor, less poor and the old and disabled. Each family receives Rs 2500 for two years for basic necessities for human development and to increased investment opportunities and income generation linked to a compulsory work programme; every month each member puts in 20 days work for self development and four days participation in janasaviya. In the first three rounds of implementation, 346 543 families were included; food security was enhanced and the local market became buoyant. Improvements made to housing, sanitation, drinking water, roads, plantations and land development. The importance of social mobilization for human development and enlarging people's choices was learned, as was the importance of political will and commitment from the highest political authorities.

Promoting participation of rural masses in the local decision-making process

International agencies such as FAO, ESCAP and CIRDAP have initiated participatory development projects. Following the mandate of WCARRD, FAO responded in 1980 with an umbrella programme entitled "People's Participation in Rural Development through Promotion of Self Help Organizations" built on eight pillars considered basic to poverty alleviation among the rural poor: better targeting; formation of small, homogenous groups; self organization and self-reliance; income generation and employment; lead role for local group promoters and group organizers; involvement of NGOs; participatory methods; and replicability.

CIRDAP evolved a similar participatory methodology for community participation in integrated rural development through its Community Information and Planning System (CIPS). The methodology was tested in 13 countries and it was found that success and sustainability of a project hinges on the active participation of people in all phases of a project - planning, beginning from data collection and analysis, plan formulation, implementation, monitoring and evaluation (CIRDAP, 1991). Recently this was modified to incorporate some elements of 'project cycle management' and re-named as CIRDAP Approach to Rural Development (CIRDAP, 1997). This methodology was applied to a pilot project under implementation in India and the Lao PDR In a CIRDAP pilot project on peripheral infrastructure in India (Andhra Pradesh), Rukumpally has accessed total financial resources of US$46 943 of which CIRDAP's contribution was only 37 percent. Similarly, a village called Chigurallapalli tapped US$59 895 of which CIRDAP's share is 36 percent. The balance has come from villagers and other NGO partners, donors and government sources. It shows the alliance building that the Project has developed with other partners.

In 1997 ESCAP implemented the SAARC seven sisters programme of development coordination and improved poverty project design in one district each in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. In this project, a district forum named the Committee of Agents and Beneficiaries of Poverty Alleviation Programmes at District Level (CABPAD) was created. The concept involves beneficiaries and NGOs in the district level decision-making body. District forums were linked to each other through creation of a subregional Network of Agents and Beneficiaries of Poverty Alleviation Programmes at District Level (NABPAD). Preliminary results of the project are encouraging.

Promoting gender-related development

Women suffer from the double burden of gender and poverty. UNDP (1995) documented that throughout the world, women are not treated equally with men. SEWA stands for the Self-employed Women's Association in Ahmadabad, Gujarat state, India, established in 1972. (Sewa in Hindi means service). SEWA has three types of members: petty vendors and hawkers, home-based producers and casual labourers and other service providers. Its objectives are to increase women's earning opportunities, improve working environment and enhance the status of women. It organizes women into self help groups and producer cooperatives, forms them into savings and credit cooperatives, provides seed money and trained to upgrade skills in bamboo craft, block printing, plumbing, carpentry and accounting and management. It provides legal services to women to fight for the benefits conferred by national labour legislation. SEWA extends rural development through women's leadership; helps organize women's groups in the central government Development of Women and Children in Rural Areas programme and trains government functionaries of women development department. Lessons have included social mobilization for poverty eradication and group-based approaches to enhance the bargaining power of poor women.

The Working Women Forum (WWF) began in Tamil Nadu (India) in 1978. At first it was an intermediary between a nationalized bank and its beneficiaries to obtain loans. Later, the WWF formed its own Working Women's Credit Society (WWCS) under the Tamil Nadu Co-operative Act. Each group has 20 to 30 members, elects a leader and functions in a democratic, participatory manner. Training group organizers and non-formal adult education are essential to awareness building and conscientization. It has had much impact running schools through non-formal education, health care, family planning, nutrition and environmental sanitation. Its health, nutrition and family welfare programmes are expected to cover 450 000 families in city slums and 135 000 families in rural areas. Is is well-placed for development of leadership among women. WWF clearly unleashes the creative energies of the poor by mobilizing, conscienticizing and organizing them through a participatory process. Helping government and other NGOs to develop specific poverty alleviation programmes.

GO-NGO collaboration

Synergy between government and CSOs must be tapped for the benefit of the poor. This can mutually strengthen the capacities of both and help alleviate poverty. Governments have human resources and material but lack participatory approaches. NGOs and self help groups, conversely, are known for their flexibility, ability to reach the poor and to empower marginal groups, challenging gender-stereotypes, while advocating and implementing participatory development. A convergence between the two can produce significant results. Suchs collaboration is more urgent than ever before in view of the structural adjustment programmes that are in place in most South Asian countries.

South Asian governments are learning to work with NGOs. Bangladesh is a good example. In Sri Lanka, NGOs are contractors for government programmes such as the Integrated Rural Development Programme and the Gam Udawa. In India, close cooperation between Lok Jumbish and the government to achieve primary education in Rajastan is yielding significant results. The Employment Guarantee Programme of Maharashtra and the Jawahar Rozgar Yojana programmes provide space for local NGOs to play a crucial role in their effective execution. Similarly, GO-NGO collaboration in Balochistan (Pakistan) in primary education demonstrates synergy.

NGOs for the 21st century - a vision

A new wave of democratic culture is sweeping the world. Disintegration of the erstwhile Soviet Union, the fall of the Berlin Wall and freedom in South Africa are testimony to the "democratic will" of the people. In this new wave, the people demand greater participation in civil society. Thanks to the effort of NGOs in organizing the poor, leaders are being held accountable for their actions. NGOs have increasingly found themselves engaged in issues such as the debt crisis, structural adjustment, environment issues, disaster management, sustainable development and women in development. They are also taking up issues like AIDS/HIV and trying to help the wider community.

The international environment should also be conducive to such challenges. While structural adjustment, liberalization and globalization exert some degree of pressure or offer an opportunity for the developing countries to open up their economies to international markets, rich nations are not prepared to give free access to the goods of developing countries. Moreover, the rich are reluctant to adjust their consumption levels. According to UNDP (1998), 20 percent of the world's people in the highest-income countries account for 86 percent of total private consumption expenditures, while the poorest 20 percent languish at a minuscule 1.3 percent. While the rich nations preach to the poor nations about the virtues of democracy, they are not practicing democratic principles in international institutions. It is the quota system not the democratic principle of one-nation one-vote which governs voting rights in the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Rich nations condemn corruption in poor countries but they are unable to discipline multinational organizations in bribing or resorting to illegal methods while operating in poor countries. 21st century NGOs are more likely to form a global alliance, challenge these inequities and advocate for a New World Order (NWO) based on equity and justice.


From these case studies, it may be noted that solving the poverty question does not lie in unsustainable and declining public (donor) charity, nor in one-time injections of minimal assistance. The solution to end human misery and poverty is found in harnessing the latent talent of local communities and their active participation in development. The poor do not require charity; they need access to resources, equal opportunity and a level playing field. GO-NGO collaboration should result in building human capabilities, in strengthening the institutions of civil society, in empowering people and in enabling people to stand on their own feet to shape their lives and destinies.

However, reality is not as smooth as outlined above. There are many obstacles (Oakley and Marsden, 1984). In most developing countries, political, social and legal systems do not favour citizens taking control over their lives. The state still maintains its hold in decision-making. The holders of power perceive the participatory initiatives emanating from below as direct threats to their pre-eminence and sway over society.

The success of NGOs and SHGs in promoting decentralization and people's participation should therefore be seen in the light of the following issues/questions:

(a) Whether it increases or decreases people's power to control their own lives and whether they are genuinely empowered or not?

(b) Whether it increases or decreases people's dependence on outsiders for planning, execution and monitoring and whether any capacity building is done or not?

(c) Whether it results in any decentralized governance or not?

(d) Whether it increases or decreases stakeholders' commitment to policies and projects of a given project or not?

(e) Whether it increases or decreases people's willingness to share costs and develop an interest to sustain the benefits or not?

(f) Whether it is still a top-down or a bottom-up approach. Is there any shift in the development paradigm?

The confidence and trust of vibrant and dynamic CSOs can be strengthened through a satisfactory resolution of these questions. The collective effort, wisdom and responsibility of government, civil society institutions and a well-informed citizenry are needed. This warrants a genuine democratic milieu facilitating CSOs and citizens to play their part. To put it differently, only active and dynamic CSOs and well-informed citizens can ensure responsible, transparent, efficient and good governance.


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