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Building effective pro-people organisations

A genuine attempt is made to articulate the values and management principles which differentiate genuine People-Oriented Development NGOs (POD/NGOs) from bureaucratic service delivery NGOs. Various theories such as "Harmony Oriented Management", "Professional Management" etc are presently being expounded regarding the management of POD/NGOs.

The primary objective of POD/NGOs should be to participate in the struggle of the downtrodden and the oppressed for liberation, justice, self-reliance and a better quality of life. The downtrodden are locked into poverty while being enslaved by the structures that exploit and oppress them.

They must get out of these structures which virtually perpetuate dependency and oppression. They must also be able to assert their rights effectively to be human. The downtrodden and oppressed are the main protagonists in this regard. They are the ones who will need to break the bonds of injustice.

Activists and NGOs are only participants in the struggle and should not attempt to dominate them. Hence POD/NGOs should realize that they cannot conscientize the people. They should allow the people to experience such conscientization. POD/NGOs can only assist in the creation of these conditions and provide the necessary stimulus for such awareness. They should assist the people to organize themselves. They should support people's organizations through solidarity action, support services, technical help, advocacy and where necessary, financial assistance etc.


The most precious resource of a POD/NGOs is its personnel. This is what distinguishes it from the State sector or any other agency. All personnel attached to POD/NGOs should be committed to the people's struggle because it is this struggle that provides the justification for their very existence.

Humility and respect for people's knowledge should be there: POD/NGO personnel should have the necessary skills to analyze situations, be creative and flexible. They should also be disciplined, honest, humble, patient and have the capacity for hard work. Effective administration, appreciation of the work of others and the ability to learn from one's mistakes are some of the other skills.

Some POD/NGOs comprise members drawn from middle class groups with a professional and Western education. It is believed that some of the POD/NGOs are either dominated or influenced by the resource partners that assist them. It is therefore very important for POD/NGOs to learn from the people they are supposed to serve and assist them. They should also promote the best known cultural and religious values embodied in the communities that they are living with.

POD/NGOs should practise what they preach. Their leadership style should always be participatory. Hierarchical and bureaucratic structures should be avoided as far as possible. Every effort should be made to ensure that at least the majority are involved in the decision - making process.

It appears that this style of Management Leadership is difficult. But in the interests of all concerned every attempt should be made to follow this style of leadership. Perhaps a committee structure could be considered to bring about the participation of the majority.

It should also be borne in mind that POD/NGOs cannot follow informal policies forever. Every effort should be made as far as possible to formalize whatever policies that they follow. It would be desirable if they could at least follow a mix between informal and formal policies, in an adoptable manner suitable to the local circumstances.

Following an informal policy is certainly not a deterrent to the successful implementation of any scheme. In this regard it would be relevant to quote the success story of the Self Employed Women's Association (SEWA) of India. In fact, while implementing various development and economic schemes, it has very successfully implemented a Women's Bank which has become a model worldwide for helping women in the informal sector to gain access to credit.

Similarly Sarvodaya was also able to mobilize savings deposits of an informal nature amounting approximately to Rs. 20 million over a period of 10 years from minors resident in the remotest areas in Sri Lanka. The deposits so mobilized ranged from 25 cts. and above. It is certain that no bank or credit institution in Sri Lanka would have mobilized deposits of this nature at that time.

Although this scheme was suspended for various reasons, Sarvodaya is presently implementing same through the various Sarvodaya Shramadana Societies located in the various districts in a successful manner. It should be appreciated that as at present both the State and the Commercial Banking Sectors are presently implementing various deposit schemes for minors.

Salary policies

The POD/NGOs salary policy should be very sensitive to the specific needs of its individual staff members. They are not in a position to offer security, long-term and other fringe benefits as the private, corporation or State sectors. Funding and other agencies very often propose high salary structures which disrupt the local set-up.

This is definitely not conducive to the building up of POD/NGOs. The POD/NGO community should make every effort to ensure that these high salary structures are not implemented. Perhaps, a constant dialogue with the concerned resource partners will arrest this situation at least to some extent. If genuine reasons are adduced they will eventually not pursue such proposals. Consideration of an equitable salary policy will be conducive to the effective participatory decision-making process which involves all the staff.

Uplift/development of the downtrodden is not an easy task. Whether the systems followed are formal or informal, the objectives should be achieved. Organizations or individuals should not treat this task as a profession or a business. Perhaps, if the theme "Physical Development in conjunction with Holistic cum Spiritual Development" is followed, satisfactory results could be achieved. It is my personal view that the NGO sector is ideally suited to the task of uplifting the downtrodden. This question has to be viewed dispassionately.

The NGO sector has done a tremendous service to this country. It is unfortunate that various sectors distort the NGO ethnic. Perhaps if NGOs with the proper bona fides are allowed to operate freely and independently they will be effective community organizations. No doubt, they will be an asset to the Government.



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